They barely made it: Shortly before the Israeli military took control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing on May 7, Ayman Mghamis and his family were able to leave for Egypt. Since then, the Gaza Strip’s main gate has been closed to people and aid deliveries.

But not all members of Mghamis’ family were there: his mother and brother had to stay behind in Rafah. The family had found refuge there in recent months, similar to more than a million displaced Palestinians, all looking for a supposedly safe place in this war.

“The plan was for us all to leave the Gaza Strip together. Now all I think about is my mother and brother and how to get them out of Gaza, especially now that Rafah is closed,” Mghamis says by phone from Cairo. The family has to deal with their own worries: Suddenly they are refugees in a foreign country and there is also the uncertainty of whether they will ever be able to return home.

The family did not have enough money to pay for everyone to leave the country. In recent months, the “fees” for an exit permit have risen exorbitantly. These have to be paid to a travel agency and middlemen if you want to get on the list of approved travelers. Mghamis was only able to raise the necessary money with the help of an online crowdfunding campaign.

Now he can only watch from a distance as the Israeli military gradually expands what was initially described as a “limited” ground offensive in eastern Rafah. There was also heavy shelling again in the north and center of the Gaza Strip and new fighting in areas such as Jabaliya, from which the army had already withdrawn.

“I communicate with them every two to three days; there is often no internet or a stable phone connection. “It’s nerve-wracking,” Mghamis, a hip-hop artist and musician from Gaza City, said of his family members left behind. “We are here, they are there, and I can only hope nothing happens to them. I can’t get that out of my head.”

Mghamis and his family were also displaced several times during the war. They had spent the past few months in a tent in Al-Mawasi in western Rafah.

In early May, the Israeli military ordered residents to evacuate the eastern neighborhoods of Rafah and move to Al-Mawasi, a sandy area on the western coast of the Gaza Strip – an area that, according to aid organizations, is unsuitable for accommodating hundreds of thousands of people due to a lack of infrastructure.

Since then, the United Nations estimates that more than 800,000 people have left residential areas or their tents. Many who have not yet received an evacuation order have also set out – out of fear of the army’s advance and intense shelling.

Ayman never wanted to leave the Gaza Strip, his homeland, he says in an interview. But now the war has forced him to make this decision so that his children are safe and he can build a future for them.

Khalil Khairy from Gaza City, who has been displaced several times with his family, also had to organize his way back from Rafah to Nuseirat, a refugee camp in the center of the Gaza Strip that dates back to the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

He had already organized the departure. “We were shocked when the Israeli army entered Rafah and the Rafah border crossing was closed. I waited nearby for a few days for our names to appear on the list,” he says on the phone in Nuseirat. But that didn’t happen anymore.

The 74-year-old and his family arrived in Rafah in March 2024. Some family members had already been able to leave the Gaza Strip in recent weeks, but he stayed behind with his wife, one of his sons and his grandchildren.

“I live in a nightmare of daily survival. I’m an old man, but my children and grandchildren should actually have a better life,” he says.

Just two weeks ago he was hoping that both sides would agree to a ceasefire. But then indirect talks between Israel and Hamas in Cairo about a temporary ceasefire and the release of some hostages ended inconclusively. It was only on Wednesday that the Israeli cabinet agreed to resume negotiations.

Despite international pressure on Israel to refrain from a full-scale invasion of Rafah, the Israeli military has expanded its advance in recent days. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said the military must enter Rafah to oust Hamas because its fighters are hiding among the local population.

More than 35,500 people have died in Gaza in nearly eight months of war, according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health. Around 80 percent of the 2.3 million inhabitants have been displaced several times, and large parts of the enclave are considered to be completely destroyed.

Israel started the war after Hamas advanced into southern Israel on October 7, 2023, killing nearly 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducting about 240 people into the Gaza Strip. Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by many countries, including Israel, Germany, and the United States.

Israel’s offensive in eastern Rafah and renewed fighting in the north and center of the Gaza Strip have led to a further dramatic deterioration in access to essential goods such as food, water and medical care.

“All predictions about the consequences of an operation in Rafah have come true. There is almost no food left and humanitarian efforts are stalled,” UN emergency coordinator Martin Griffiths said in a post on X on Saturday.

The critical humanitarian situation played an important role in the decision of Karim Khan, chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), to seek arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for alleged crimes against humanity.

Khan accuses them of being responsible for starving civilians as a method of warfare, as well as indiscriminate killings and targeted attacks on civilians.

The chief prosecutor also requested arrest warrants against Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim Al-Masri and Ismail Haniyeh for war crimes.

In recent weeks, Israeli authorities have opened two border crossings in the north of the Gaza Strip, the Erez and Erez West border crossings. But fighting in the north makes the distribution of aid uncertain, aid groups say. And on Friday, for the first time, loads of aid arrived in the Gaza Strip via the temporary pier built by the US, although there were problems with deliveries in the following days. The Rafah border crossing remains closed.

On Tuesday, the UN Palestinian relief agency UNRWA and the World Food Program (WFP) announced via

John Kahler, a Chicago pediatrician and co-founder of the humanitarian NGO MedGlobal, is in daily contact with his Palestinian team in Rafah. Kahler was on his third mission to the Gaza Strip when the Rafah border crossing suddenly closed. Much of the international aid effort is focused on the Rafah area and is now having to be relocated because of the military offensive and fighting.

“I was informed that we need to move our primary health center and our nutrition stabilization center because they are in the area that is being evacuated,” Kahler said by phone. He is now primarily concerned about the safety of his employees in Rafah.

“It’s absolutely frightening,” he says. “You have to trust that the attacking party will respect the coordinates you give them.” The MedGlobal Clinic has so far only been hit by shrapnel from a nearby explosion.

Kahler describes the situation in the besieged area, which he experienced first hand during previous missions during the war, as “dystopian”. The lack of basic supplies also makes his work with children more difficult.

“As I treated the children, I realized that the parents were literally unable to implement 100 percent of the advice I gave them,” he says, citing the lack of clean water, diapers and medication.

On Sunday, at least 27 people were killed in air strikes on the Nuseirat refugee camp, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. Khairy, who has sought refuge in the area, says there is no end to the fighting in sight.

“This crazy war must stop. “Politicians have to find a solution that ends people’s suffering,” he says. “I don’t know how, but this is what everyone in the Gaza Strip wants, including me.”

Author: Tania Krämer, Hazem Balousha

The original for this article “Gaza: The daily fight for survival in Rafah” comes from Deutsche Welle.