The blast struck just a hundred metres away from where the family stood, carrying little more than their luggage and the clothes on their backs.
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They were among the hundreds of Palestinians attempting to flee into Egypt when an Israeli air strike occurred.
“We only wanted to leave,” Sabreen, an art teacher and resident of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, told Al Jazeera. “Even escape seems to be denied for people like us, the Palestinians.”
As the Israel-Hamas war stretches into its second week, bombs have continued to fall on Gaza, a narrow strip of coastal land that is home to more than 2 million Palestinians.
The danger has prompted many families, like Sabreen’s, to look abroad for safety. An Israeli blockade on Gaza has left basic supplies scarce, and the Israeli army ordered 1 million people to evacuate last week, ahead of an anticipated ground invasion.
But displaced residents are finding access to border crossings limited — and perilous.
At the time the bomb exploded at the Rafah crossing, Sabreen’s husband Ahmed had been arranging the paperwork for their travel. They had never left Gaza before, and they were focused on the journey ahead, rather than the danger about to rain down from above.
“The ground shook, and we were suddenly enveloped in unconsciousness amidst the swirling sand,” Sabreen said.
Both she and Ahmed fell to the ground. The seconds they spent lying flat felt like an eternity. Scrambling back to their feet, they began the frantic search for their children amid the smoke.
“I couldn’t even tell if I was injured or not. All that mattered to me was ensuring the safety of my children. But even that simple task seemed impossible after the air strike,” Sabreen recalled.
Chaos spread in the wake of the blast. Children and infants outnumbered adults, according to witnesses, and families rushed to get their paperwork completed, so they could escape the missile barrage by crossing into Egypt.
Ahmed noticed that some bystanders were slightly injured. But, he added, he was “thankful to God that no one was killed”. After the bombing, he and Sabreen said they were turned away from the border crossing.
“The authorities tried to [tell us] that it was for our safety and that they would reschedule our travel later. But we think we could have gone through,” Sabreen said.
“We were told to go back to Gaza, which means back to the horror and fear and death that we had thought of escaping,” she continued, her voice brimming with desperation. “Whose fault is that? We did not even have the psychological strength to argue.”
It was a setback for their plans to cross into Egypt and, from there, travel to Istanbul, where Sabreen’s brother lives.
“My brother had sent us tourism visas to lift us from the constant fear and struggle for safety,” she said, “When he learned a war had just struck Gaza, he called me and said it is time to get out.”
Now, Sabreen, Ahmed and the children are back where they started: in Khan Younis. The family is staying at the home of their relatives, where space is at a premium.
”We are over twenty people in the same apartment,” Sabreen said, “holding onto each other’s hands and praying for our safety, right where we are.”
Their family has deep roots in Gaza. For three generations, the Abd Rabus had grown up living under the same roof, in the same city.
“Even if we could travel, our Palestinian identity would remain unwavering,” she said. “We would eventually return to Gaza because it is our home, it is our everything.”
She sees the current conflict as part of a greater effort to expel the Palestinian people from their homeland.
“We understand that Israel, through various means, seeks to displace the Palestinian people from Gaza,” Sabreen said. “However, our determination to live here, to exist here and to build our futures here remains unyielding.”
Despite the dire circumstances, Sabreen remains optimistic that her family’s struggle will not be in vain.
“Today or a hundred years from now, the Palestinian people will endure,” she said. “Resilient and persistent, we refuse to bow to the occupation’s tactics of terror and oppression.”
Source: Al Jazeera