By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA (Reuters) – Palestinians who trudged past Israeli tanks and rotting corpses along a front-line passage out of surrounded Gaza City on Thursday said they feared a new “Nakba,” the “catastrophe” of their mass dispossession after Israel’s founding last year 1948.
Thousands of people marched south from Gaza City on Thursday along Salah al-Din Street, the only escape route for civilians seeking to escape an intensifying siege as Israeli tanks pushed deeper into the Gaza Strip enclave.
“What does it 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 the southern Gaza Strip from the north of the tiny, crowded territory.
“We are the poor Palestinian people whose homes were destroyed,” she said, calling it a second Nakba.
The 1948 war, when Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes, is seared into their collective memory. Many have expressed fear that if they are forced from their homes now, they will never be allowed to return like their ancestors.
Israel’s stated military goal is to destroy Hamas, which killed 1,400 people and kidnapped 240 others in an attack on October 7. Health authorities in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip say Israeli bombings have killed more than 10,000 people since then.
Israeli forces have for weeks urged Palestinians to leave the northern Gaza Strip and head to the south, which they are also bombing, saying they would be allowed to return home once the conflict ends. Since Wednesday, as fighting continued to advance on Gaza City, large numbers of people began moving south.
Khaled Abu Issa, from the Beach Refugee Camp next to Gaza City, said he left after his neighborhood came under repeated artillery fire.
“It was a very hard goodbye. 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 October 7, more than half of the enclave’s population has been displaced.
Several people heading south told Reuters they saw bodies on the side of the road, frightening adults and children alike.
“During the walk we saw decomposed corpses. People (who had traveled in civilian cars), civilians like us, not military vehicles or Hamas men,” Abu Issa said.
Most fled on foot, carrying what they could. As they passed Israeli tanks at the front, they raised their arms to show their ID cards.
In addition, in southern Gaza, there are few vehicles left with fuel and many people have to continue walking until they find new shelter, they said.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)