Palestinians trudging past Israeli tanks and decomposing corpses along a frontline passage out of encircled Gaza City on Thursday said they feared a new “Nakba”, the “catastrophe” of their mass dispossession after Israel was founded in 1948.
Thousands of people were moving south along Salah al-Din Road out of Gaza City on Thursday, the only exit route for civilians escaping an intensifying siege as Israeli tanks rolled deeper into the Gaza Strip enclave.
“What do things look like behind us? Destruction and death. We left in fear,” said a woman who gave her name as Um Hassan. She had just crossed into southern Gaza from the north of the tiny, crowded territory.
“We are the poor Palestinian people whose houses were destroyed,” she said, calling it a second Nakba.
The war of 1948, when Palestinians fled or were evicted from their homes, is seared into their collective memory. Many have voiced fears that if forced from their homes now they will, like their ancestors, never be allowed back.
Israel’s stated military objective is to destroy Hamas, which it says killed 1,400 people and abducted 240 others in an Oct. 7 attack. Health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza say Israeli bombardment has killed more than 10,000 people since then.
Israeli forces have for weeks told Palestinians to quit northern Gaza for the south, which it is also bombing, saying they would be allowed back home once the conflict ended. Since Wednesday, as fighting has edged further into Gaza City, a large number of people have started moving south.
Khaled Abu Issa, from Beach Refugee Camp adjoining Gaza City, said he had left after his neighbourhood was repeatedly pounded by artillery.
“It was a very hard departure. I was sitting safely at home and Israel came and displaced me again,” he said.
Most Palestinians in Gaza are registered as refugees after their ancestors fled their homes within Israel’s borders in 1948. Since Oct. 7 more than half the enclave’s population has been displaced.
Several people who made the journey south told Reuters they had seen corpses by the roadside, terrifying adults and children alike.
“While walking we saw decomposed bodies. People (who had been travelling in) civilian cars, civilians like us, not military vehicles or Hamas men,” said Abu Issa.
Most fled-on foot, carrying what they could. As they passed Israeli tanks at the frontline they raised their arms to show their identity cards.
Beyond, in southern Gaza, there are few vehicles that still have fuel and many people have to continue walking until they can find a new place to shelter, they said.