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7 Family Members Evacuated! Help still needed for next steps

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My name is Mohammed Arafat, a Washington, DC resident and a loyal taxpayer. I am initiating this fundraiser for my family members who are in Gaza, most of them are in the South and one sister is still trapped in the North.
-South of Gaza (Raffah) in a tent: My Parents, three sisters (Sahar, Alaa, and Samah with her husband and 7 kids), and three brothers (Yousef, Yasser, Faress). only 7 needs to evacuate for now.
-North of Gaza (Jabalia): My sister Asmaa and her husband and son, Mohammed.

My plan is to get 7 of them out for now, but unfortunately, doing so comes at a high price. More details on the evacuation process out of Gaza, including how much it costs, can be found here: https://amp.theguardian.com/global-development/2024/jan/08/palestinians-flee-gaza-rafah-egypt-border-bribes-to-brokers

Below, I am writing the story of my family from the perspective of my youngest brother, Faress, a volunteer nurse, who was trapped at Al-Shifa hospital for 40 days before being reunited with my family in Raffah, who are now sheltering in a tent.

My family's uncertain future in Gaza has led us to this plea for assistance, your generous donations will help secure our family's next phase and restore their stolen hope. I don’t know how I will live my life if anything happens to them. “This is our only way to survive,” as my mom puts it.
Please consider supporting my family and sharing our story and this request with others who may be willing to help. If you have any questions, I left my social media profiles in the bottom. Feel free to drop me a message and I will answer any questions.

Introduction
My name is Faress Arafat, and I am a 22-year-old volunteer nurse currently sheltering in a tent in Gaza with my parents, my sisters, and brothers. Our family's life took a devastating turn when we were forced to leave our home in Northern Gaza, left with no choice but to seek refuge in a tent. I wish to share our story with the world in hopes of gathering support as we navigate this challenging time.

Below, I have organized many of the updates I have sent to my brother, relatives, and friends to share my experiences as a nurse and communicate the hardships my family has survived since October 2023.

40+ Days Trapped at Al-Shifa Hospital: My Personal Story
At the beginning of the war, I was practicing my nursing field training at Al-Shifa Hospital, the biggest hospital in Gaza. I found myself helping people, especially kids, whether medically or even supporting them emotionally and psychologically. I spent over 40 days at the hospital while it was besieged by Israeli tanks. Outside the hospital there were hundreds if not thousands of displaced people sheltering in fragile tents.


During these days, I did nothing but focus on treating civilians, trying to escape the feeling of being besieged, suffocated, lonely, hungry, traumatized, and the many other feelings that I can’t find equivalent meanings for in English.


I remember witnessing some terrifying stories of patients and even my colleagues arriving at the hospital in need of care . One hospital colleague, Hassan, arrived crying. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me that “they bombed our home and my grandfather's houses,” he responded, tears filling his face and dripping on his cheeks. “I'm waiting for them in the ambulance."

I didn't know what to do. It seemed I had to leave because I heard that my family also needed to evacuate to the south. I hesitated for a moment, and then I found my other colleague, Hadeel, crying too, along with her neighbors and our other coworkers. They all had lost contact with their families, and there was heavy bombing in their residential areas.


One time, I remember having a case that involved a little girl, the sole survivor of her family. She had no name and no one to care for her, and because her head was bleeding I knew that she needed a head X-ray. After waiting in queue, we finally entered the room, and the doctor asked, "What is this girl's name?" My response – "Unknown 44" – left him puzzled until he realized there were 43 others like her, unknown and nameless before her.

I also cannot forget that night when I was heading to grab a cup of coffee, the distant wailing of ambulances growing louder. A flood of the wounded arrived, carried on stretchers—children, women, and the elderly.

I screamed, my voice breaking, asking people, "What happened?” "They bombed our school while we were sheltering inside. We're dying," some responded. I hurried, along with the on-duty team, to the extension area, our hands moving with urgency as we tended to wounds, changed dressings, conducted examinations, and made referrals. Every person was wounded and almost everybody was bleeding. Those not bleeding were filled with fear and trauma.


After a while, a father, whose children were drenched in blood, stood before me. "They bombed our house!” he told me in a hoarse whisper, and I could tell he had been crying. “Check the kids first, and you can check me later, please!” My hands steady, my heart aching. I stitched and cleaned the wounds of the children, then turned to tend to the father. In the silence that followed, I whispered a prayer for forgiveness, my faith momentarily eclipsed by the horrors before me.


Perhaps you are wondering how my colleagues and I were eating at the hospital, housing thousands of patients and displaced people. Well, our usual meals were cans of fava beans cooked over a makeshift fire of cotton and alcohol! Sometimes we would go days with just one meal and some salty water. Sometimes, we felt we were not hungry at all because of the horror that surrounded us.

During these 40 days, I could barely reach out to my family, who lived in our now-damaged house in the Al-Zaytoun area of northern Gaza. My family was hosting other families at our house, and I was freaking out that something might happen to them because I heard news that bombing was everywhere.

During the Israeli siege around the Hospital, I could not reach my family at all. For days (which felt like years) I could not hear their voices or know anything about them. Frightening thoughts came to my mind, especially when I learned that Israeli tanks were in my family’s neighborhood and they were targeting our neighborhood. Unable to make contact with them, I really thought something terrible had happened to my family.

After days of not reaching them, I learned that they had evacuated from the North to the South. So at that time I was in the North, stuck at the hospital, and they were (and still are) in the South somewhere.

Hospital Evacuation and Frightening Journey
On November 18th, we were allowed to evacuate the hospital with the help of the Red Cross, and it was such a terrifying experience. Here is what happened to me and my colleagues when evacuating. Once I left the hospital’s main gate, the displaced people who were outside were gone, though their tents and belongings were still there, damaged and collapsed. It was my first time seeing Israeli soldiers, tanks, and bulldozers. It was terrifying: all of them were pointing their weapons at us. To be honest, I was very scared because I felt that my life would end at any moment. We kept walking, raising our hands in the air, and I could tell they were recording us from far away and telling us where to go from the north to the south.

We walked for dozens of miles on foot, and tanks and bulldozers were around us. Houses were destroyed. Cars were burnt and crashed. Decayed bodies were all around us, and the smell of death was everywhere. The Gaza I saw was no longer the Gaza I had known. We walked all the way from Al-Shifa Hospital in western Gaza, through Al-Wehda Street and towards Salah El-Deen Street in eastern Gaza. We were about 10,000 people, including patients, displaced people, doctors, nurses. Many of the injured who could not walk were being pushed in wheelchairs, and many others were being helped by other displaced people.


Once we reached Salah Al-Deen Street, we found a donkey cart, and we rode it all the way towards the Israeli checkpoint that separated the north to the south on Salah El-Deen Street.


Right before the checkpoint, we got off the cart and continued walking. Because I love cats, I felt bad whenever I saw dead cats in the street. They were everywhere! I tried my best not to cry, but I did. Trees were uprooted and burnt.

The checkpoint was approximately seven feet by 15 feet or so, a small gate the thousands of people in our group. We were asked to cross the checkpoint one by one! But suddenly, everyone got into it at the same time due to fear, and those who fell there either got injured or even died.

I remember a small child fell under people’s feet. I also remember an old man fell too, and I tried to help him, but I fell too. I unfortunately was forced to rescue myself and just run.

After the checkpoint, the soldiers were calling names of people they wanted to interrogate. We walked for about two miles after that checkpoint until I found another donkey cart that would take me to where my family was.

Reunion with My Family and Tragic Circumstances
My family was in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza. After a long day full of terrifying adventures, I finally made it to where my family members were staying. I cannot express how good it felt to see my family members alive and in good health, although they had all lost weight and I could read stories of horror and sorrow on their faces.


And Oh My God, the house they were staying at was full to overflowing with people from different parts of Gaza. My family was crammed in one room with other family members, and just looking at that, I realized the miserable situation they were going through.

I found out that my youngest married sister, Asmaa, and her son and husband were still in the north and they never left. My family had completely lost connection with them. Plus, my oldest sister, Samah, and her seven kids and husband were somewhere else in the south.

I spent a few days with my family members, and they told me horror stories of what they have seen and witnessed. They told me the families they were hosting had been scattered from everywhere. They also told me our family home was damaged just a few hours after they evacuated! If they had stayed there, they would have been either dead or injured.

Surviving in the Refugee Camp: Paying for a Shelter
After a few days in Khan Yunis, we were asked to evacuate to Raffah. We did not know anyone in Raffah to shelter at their house. We just went with the flow and fled to Raffah. We arrived there in an area full of refugee tents, so we decided to join them. At the beginning, we thought we would be provided with a tent but unfortunately, these tents were not free, and they were not provided by any NGOs or UN agencies. My dad paid more than $500 to build one of these. Luckily, we could afford it while many, many others could not! We bought the wood and the plastic tarp, and my dad, who used to be a builder in Jerusalem and Gaza, used his skills to construct our tent.


It broke my heart knowing my skilled builder and engineer father was now excitedly building something, yet each pin he placed in that tent replaced memories of our now-damaged home, abandoned at the war's onset.

Unfortunately, this tent does not protect us from anything, not even from rain or wind, but at the end of the day, it has been shelter. Trying to keep our spirits up, my dad has been telling us this is “an adventure that teaches us a lot,” which makes me sad.


We found a sewage well, so my dad built the tent atop it. That sewage well served as our new restroom.

At the refugee camp, we sometimes wait for long hours to secure a few cans of fava beans and water, sometimes leaving empty-handed. We don’t have enough blankets, mattresses, pillows, or spare clothes. Showers are out of the question. Gravel and sand constitute our beds, and we have been enduring bone-chilling, dark nights that only brighten when bombs drop.


My dad built a tent for my oldest sister, Samah, and her family, and now they are our neighbors. He also built one for my uncle and his entire family, and they are also other neighbors. Unfortunately, we still don’t know much about my sister Asmaa and her family, who are still somewhere in the north.

This is how we start our day. We wake up very early in order to try to be the first ones to stand in the long lines for food and drinkable water, hoping we get lucky. Once we secure our meal for the day, we try to gather logs of wood to start a fire and heat our bodies up in this incredibly cold weather. If we are lucky and get wood, we start the fire, and we can usually make some tea or coffee. The fire is usually surrounded by dozens of my family members. Whenever I feel down, I escape to take some alone time, which is almost impossible in the tent, so I go anywhere with my laptop or notebook to start journaling or writing diaries.


What really distresses me is the privacy issue. I have two sisters who are living with me, and I have no idea how they manage their female-hygiene routines. It pains me that they can’t have privacy, so we usually leave the tent for them for a few hours so they can manage their lives.

Now we have been living in this tent for over a month, and we have no idea how much longer we can handle it. This is simply not a life humans should have to endure, and we know that we--and everyone around us--deserve better.


Struggles and Hopes as a Nurse in the Refugee Camp in Raffah
Currently, I function as the nurse in the refugee camp. As our parents taught us through their hard work in providing for us, I have a deep love for helping my people. Staying at the camp is the right decision for me, even though I wanted to volunteer at the nearest hospital.

When I was forced to leave Al-Shifa hospital and relocate to the south, I brought along some medical supplies and essential medications that I believed would be useful in the camp’s conditions. I began informing refugees at the camp about my presence and offered myself as a resource for anyone.

I observed a high number of injured individuals in the camp who had evacuated their homes or hospitals. Many children are exposed to illnesses such as stomach flu and numerous other infections.

At the camp, with each passing day, more individuals arrive and set up new tents, using minimal restroom facilities, resulting in the spread of more germs and viruses.

Sometimes, I use my own money to purchase medications from nearby pharmacies. Usually, once the pharmacy owners learn it is for the refugees, they provide the medicine for free.

If I can’t find the required medicine, I travel long distances to the nearest hospital and get medicine, or I accompany patients to those hospitals to ensure they receive the proper treatment.

Undoubtedly, it’s mentally and physically draining, but this is my calling, and it’s currently the most crucial task. To be honest, this drive fuels me to do more, hoping for an end to this tragedy.

Before the war, I harbored a dream - to stand out among other nurses. I aspired to pursue further studies and attain my Masters degree. I had commenced my studies at the Islamic University ofGaza, which now lies in ruins. I was also selected, along with a few other nurses, to volunteer at Al-Shifa.


Rebuilding After the Devastation
Our life in the camp is not a life deserved by humans. We don’t know what the next phase of the war will hold, but all that we know is that we have to be ready for the next phase. Your support at any level would mean the world to me and my family. Life's been tough, but your support will help us in rebuilding our lives in the days ahead and will encourage us to know that others know our story. Your kindness touches our hearts, making a real difference in our lives. Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a significant difference in providing us with the necessary resources to move forward. If you are not able to donate at this time, please pass this page along to other people who might be able to help.

If you would like to receive updates on my family’s situation, you can follow my brother’s instagram’s page or mine: https://www.instagram.com/gazanindc/

You can also read the full story here of my family:
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  • Anonymous
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  • Tara Starek
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  • Anonymous
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  • Ivette Cosio
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  • Ria Shah
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Organizer

Mohammed A
Organizer
Washington D.C., DC

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