Long lineups and ‘abnormal exhaustion’: Daily life for displaced Palestinians in Khan Younis camp


With talks underway to extend the temporary truce between Israel and Hamas, Palestinians displaced by the war say they’re suffering from exhaustion, a continuing lack of basic necessities and fear that fighting could resume at any time.

In a UN-run displacement camp in Khan Younis, in the south of the Gaza Strip, getting access to things most people take for granted is a daily challenge, said Ismail Al-Ustad. He and his wife, Asmaa, along with their three children, travelled 25 kilometres to the camp from Gaza City and have been living there for the past 35 days.

“We suffer for everything,” Al-Ustad, 35, told CBC News in an interview. “You saw how it was for me to get water; it took 20 minutes standing in line.”

Ismail Al-Ustad has been living in the camp with his wife and three children for more than 30 days. He describes life as ‘very, very difficult.’ (Mohamed El Saife)

Al-Ustad said people in the camp are suffering “from abnormal exhaustion,” and he’s praying that everyone will soon go back to their former lives “to see to their affairs.”

His wife, 30-year-old Asmaa Al-Ustad, said she’s especially worried about the truce ending, and that “destruction will return, fear will return to the kids.”

‘Abnormal suffering’

“We suffer an abnormal suffering. Words cannot describe it,” she said.

“It’s as if our life is a nightmare. We’re in a nakba … or a disaster … all day we work just to cook a little or to find food.”

A displacement camp.
Row after row of tents can be seen at the displacement camp in Khan Younis, south of Gaza City, run by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. (Mohamed El Saife)

Hossam Zwaida from Gaza City said the camp is overcrowded and its inhabitants are living under difficult conditions. He spoke of the political uncertainty for people “who have nothing right now in the Gaza Strip.”

“Everything is ambiguous right now … so we are completely confused about our future, our children, about our people,” he said.

“We are suffering daily, every moment. We don’t have enough fresh water for drinking. We have to move long distances to get everything. Everything is very high in price.”

There’s also not enough medical care for children suffering from various diseases, Zwaida added.

WATCH | Gaza residents struggle to meet basic needs, hope ceasefire holds

Gaza residents struggle to meet basic needs, hope ceasefire holds

Featured VideoFamilies in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza, said this week that they are struggling to meet basic needs even as aid flows in amid a temporary ceasefire.

1.3 million living in shelters

On Wednesday, the sixth day of the truce, the head of the World Health Organization called for a “sustained ceasefire.” In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said 1.3 million people are currently living in shelters in Gaza.

“Overcrowding and lack of food, water, sanitation and basic hygiene, waste management and access to medication” are resulting in thousands of cases of acute respiratory infections, scabies, lice, diarrhea and other ailments, he said. “Given the living conditions and lack of health care, more people could die from disease than bombings.”

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday the Gaza Strip was in the midst of an “epic humanitarian catastrophe” and urged the world not to look away.

“Intense negotiations are taking place to prolong the truce — which we strongly welcome — but we believe we need a true humanitarian ceasefire,” he told the UN Security Council.

At the eastern edge of Khan Younis, local people who fled their homes at the start of the war were just now returning to the city because of the truce.

A donkey pulls a cart through the rubble left in Khan Younis.
A Reuters crew travelled on Wednesday with Mohammed al Najar, whose home in Khan Younis was destroyed by an airstrike and who is now living with his family in a school in Khuza’a, about eight kilometres away on the eastern outskirts of town. (Reuters)

“We were shocked to see our homes, our streets, our lands, our yards and everything demolished,” said Gihad Nabil, who was recently married and had been living in Abu Ta’imah with his wife on the outskirts of Khan Younis.

Tens of thousands of displaced people have crowded into shelters in Khan Younis, but more than three-quarters of the population of the Gaza Strip has been displaced by Israeli bombardments, according to the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA).

WATCH | The struggle to find food at a school-turned-shelter in Khan Younis:

‘The kids fall asleep from hunger’

Featured VideoUmm Al-Abd tells the CBC that there is not enough bread available to feed the kids sheltering inside Khan Younis Secondary School for Girls, and they often go to bed hungry.

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