For years, Mohammad Matar worked on constructing pipelines that moved water across theGazaStrip — from northern Beit Lahia to southern Rafah. Now, he can barely access water himself.
Matar, a 35-year-old civil engineer, was reached by phone Thursday eveninginGazaCity, where heandhis family have chosen to remain even as Israeli ground forces continue their relentless assault on Hamas.
Ina city increasingly cut off from the rest of the world, Matar described days full ofdesperationandfear.
“I have watched a lot of horror movies, but I have never watched a horror movie like this one,” he said. “I am certain that what you see on the TV is not even 5% of what we are experiencing.”
Matar says his family, like manyinGaza, is coping with food shortages. They have not had vegetables for nearly eight days,andhe can’t remember the last time he ate chicken or meat. On most days, his family cooks instant noodles over charcoal,andwhile one box typically lasts a week, he isrationingso that each will last up to 20 days.
“We are trying to conserve what we have until the situation changes — until this sad story is over,” Matar said.
The Israeli military has for weeks ordered residents of northernGazato leave for their protection,andwarned that those who do not “may be considered a member of a terrorist organization.”Injust the past week, as Israel has begun to enact daily combat pauses, an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 residents have fled south by foot, according to UNRWA, the U.N. agency that helps Palestinians.
Videos posted to social media by the Israel Defense Forces show families, some with their hands held up, down a main thoroughfare as Israeli soldiers monitor them behind military vehicles.
But after fleeing, they remain vulnerable, according to Juliette Touma, UNRWA’s director of communications. “This assumption that the south is safe is wrong,” she saidinan interview, calling Israel’s order “forced displacement” that had sent droves of people walking south, “dehydrated, exhaustedandfearful.”
“There is nowhere that is safeinGaza,” Touma said.
As a result of limited communicationanddisruptionsinaid supply, Touma said it was impossible to estimate how many residents remainedinGazaCity, adding that the north had become “the most dangerous area on Earth.”
As Israeli troops engageinstreet battles with Hamasandtheir relentless attacks engulf more of the city, Matarandhis family have remained.
“This is our fate,” he said. “But we hope God will change the situation.”
For 10 years, Matar worked on water infrastructure projects for SaqqaandKhoudary Contracting, a Palestinian construction company basedinthe West Bank. He said his projects, including building water tanksandthe distribution systems attached to them, are now destroyedandestimates that it would take months to a year to restore water to theGazaStrip when the fighting ends.
As for now, he said, “You are privileged if you can find water to wash your hands or face.”
On Friday, UNRWA’s commissioner-general, Philippe Lazzarini, said that Israel’s siege ofGaza— which has limited access to food, water, medicineandfuel for the 2 million residents trappedinthe enclave — had the potential to produce a “much larger catastrophe,” including starvation.
There is no fuel to operateGaza’s underground pumps.Andbecause there are also no bottles of water to be foundinthe stores, Matar has been relying on his neighbors’ reserves.
“I just take a bunch of bucketsandhave them fill those with water for me,” he said. “We don’t even know if this water is healthy or not.”
Beyond thefearof thirstandhunger, Matar is most worried for the physical safety of his wifeandtwo daughters, ages 3and8, who cling to his side amid the stream of explosions. He tries to distract them with gamesandlaughter, if only temporarily.
“When she hears the missilesinher sleep, my 3-year-old jumps,” Matar said. “She asked me, ‘Why is this happening?’ But what can I say?”
Matar is having a hard time falling asleep himself these days, unsure whether he will wake up the next morning.
“I sitandpray with my wife all the time,” he said. “What’s happening is beyond abnormal.”
He added: “I want this article to reach people who have the power to stop this war.”
(Published 11 November 2023, 07:27 IST)