Rafah, Gaza – Nineteen-year-old Yousif Abu Shaaban and four members of his immediate family had been awaiting evacuation from the besieged Gaza Strip via the Rafah border crossing with Egypt for days.
A U.S. passport holder, Abu Shaaban was informed by U.S. consulate officials that he and his family were eligible to leave the Gaza Strip. The family was staying at a school near the Rafah crossing, looking for a way to leave the enclave, away from Israel’s relentless bombing campaign that began on October 7.
U.S. officials had advised Palestinian-Americans in Gaza – who number 500 to 600 – to move closer to the crossing point for possible safe passage to Egypt.
Residents were told they had five hours last Saturday to evacuate, but by the end of the day no one had been able to get through. A week later, they remain in limbo, not knowing when they will be able to leave – even as Israeli bombing continues and a ground invasion of Gaza looms.
On October 21, US officials said they had received information that the crossing could be opened to allow dual citizens to leave the territory – as first aid trucks from Egypt entered Gaza.
But it is already too late for Abu Shaaban and his family: the delay in evacuations cost the life of his 14-year-old sister.
On Thursday, after three days at school, the family returned home to Gaza City to collect some more belongings.
“It got late and we decided to sleep in the house and return to Rafah the next morning. Suddenly we heard bombings. We stayed in a ground floor room. Shortly after, our metal front door was bombed inward, and the bombing took place in front of our door. »
“My sister was martyred. Who will bring her back to me? Abu Shaaban, who was also injured by shrapnel in the face, told Al Jazeera where the family home is located.
His father, aged 44 and blind, was seriously injured in the arm following the bombing which occurred at 11 p.m. (8 p.m. GMT) in the night. “I am the sole financial provider for my father. He doesn’t move without me. He is blind and now his whole arm is missing.
Her eight-year-old sister Jihan was also injured.
Abu Shaaban was born in the United States when his parents moved there so his father could earn a master’s degree.
“This is the fault of the negligence of the embassy and all parties supposedly responsible for me. I demand an international investigation into why this happened to me, to my home – why my sister was martyred,” Abu Shaaban said. “I will bring them to justice.”
“Several days, representatives from the American consulate called me and told me to come by. I would go – I would risk my life and I would go – from Gaza City to the border post,” he explained.
British authorities also called on their citizens in Gaza to move south and sent them messages telling them to be on alert in case the crossing was opened. Up to 60,000 British citizens live “in Israel or Gaza”, according to the BBC.
Navigating “the danger zone”
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Rafah, another dual US citizen said last week that the situation was “desperate”.
“I am an American citizen. My country told me to come here. We went through hell coming here. It is a war zone stretching from central Gaza to the Gaza border. And now we go home empty-handed,” he said.
“We don’t know what’s going on, why we were told to come and when we’re going to get out of here. »
The man said he had a message for US Secretary of State Antony Blinken: “If we were Israelis, would this happen to us?” The American Israelis have already left. They leave every day.
“Palestinian-Americans cannot leave. Palestinians of other nationalities, of whom there are many here, cannot do this either. They all have wives, children, elderly people. They cannot continue crossing the dangerous zone to reach the border,” he continued.
“A single shell could kill us. »
At least 4,137 Palestinians, including more than 1,500 children and 1,000 women, have been killed in Israeli airstrikes on the besieged Gaza Strip since the latest escalation began on October 7. Some 13,000 others were injured.
Israel began its bombing campaign on the enclave after fighters from the Hamas armed resistance movement launched a surprise attack on Israel, killing around 1,400 people.
Al Jazeera correspondent Hisham Zaqout gained access to the Rafah crossing last week. He said preparations were being made for aid to enter Gaza, but several obstacles still remained.
“Israeli raids have left large holes in the main road that will be used by convoys to deliver aid to the Gaza Strip, making it impossible for aid buses or trucks to pass through, but Egyptian teams are currently covering them so that they are functional. again,” Zaqout said. Israel has bombed the Rafah crossing at least four times.
“We are also awaiting the arrival of UNRWA teams to ensure that the crossing is ready for the passage of aid,” he continued, referring to the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees.
“Another problem is the delivery of aid inside Gaza. The UN will hold negotiations on this subject with the Egyptians, UNRWA officials and the Israeli side.”
Around a million Palestinians inside the Gaza Strip have been displaced from their homes over the past two weeks, with many suffering from the dire humanitarian situation there. On October 9, Israel announced a “total blockade” to cut off supplies to Gaza, and there is now a severe shortage of water, food, electricity and fuel.