‘If there was a ceasefire, I’d go home,’ Gaza’s war-weary IDPs say

Displaced residents of Gaza have mixed hope for whether a ceasefire will happen soon – but all are eager to return home.

Gaza truce thoughts April 2024
Residents of Gaza have mixed thoughts about whether a ceasefire will occur soon [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

Deir el-Balah, Gaza – The word is a weary wish in Gaza, as much a source of searing disappointment as the last emblem of hope.

It has also been on the lips of protesters worldwide, who for months have demonstrated against the carnage of Israel’s war on Gaza.

The word is “ceasefire”, an end to the Israeli assault that has pummeled the Gaza Strip for seven months – killing at least 34,683 and injuring at least 78,018 more in a drawn-out Israeli retaliation for a Hamas-led attack on its territory on October 7.

Several rounds of ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas in recent months have failed to end the bloodshed or even achieve a temporary pause, as happened last November.

The source of the talks’ deadlock is that Hamas wants a permanent end to the war and the assurance that Israel will not invade Rafah, the refuge for nearly 1.5 million Palestinians.

In ongoing negotiations in Cairo, Egypt, Israel has agreed to only a 40-day pause in fighting and said it will forge ahead with its Rafah offensive regardless of whether a deal is reached.

A potential ceasefire keeps internally displaced person (IDP) Abeer al-Namrouti glued to her phone day and night, the displaced Gaza resident often falling asleep to news bulletins still playing near her head.

“I’m going to keep listening until I hear the word ‘ceasefire’,” al-Namrouti told Al Jazeera.

The 39-year-old, who has eight children, left the town of al-Qarara in Khan Younis after munitions struck her home, destroying it. The attack also injured her and her husband and they had to undergo weeks of treatment that is still ongoing for her husband.

From the tent they live in now in central Gaza’s Deir el-Balah, she heads to the nearby Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital to get the medication her husband still requires and administers them to him via IV. It is a difficult life, but she remains determined.

Al-Namrouti is hopeful about a ceasefire this time.

“[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is holding things up – every time things move a little, he puts obstacles in [place], but this time I’m more optimistic than the past,” she said.

While months of shuttle diplomacy have failed thus far, if a deal is reached, the family will go back to the town they lived in.

Gaza truce thoughts April 2024
Al-Namrouti with her husband and one of her sons in April 2024 [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

“I know we won’t have [even] a tent back there or anything, but all that matters is that we’re on the land that belongs to us.

“I’m going to go back there and set up a tent and just stay,” she concluded adamantly.

‘It’s never happened so far’

Wael el-Nabahin, 48, came to Deir el-Balah from Bureij with his family and set up a slightly unusual tent, the family has a television to watch the news, and even a washing machine.

“I wanted my family to be a bit comfortable and not live in abject disaster. We watch the news all the time to see what’s going on,” el-Nabahin told Al Jazeera.

But the father of four is sceptical of a ceasefire deal any time soon.

“There’s been talk of ceasefires before, but it’s never happened so far,” he said.

If there was such a deal, however, he is determined to return to Bureij, despite his house having been burned down.

Gaza truce thoughts April 2024
Wael al-Nabahin set up as comfortable a tent as possible for his family [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

“If there’s a ceasefire, the first thing we’d do would be to take our tents and go back to where our houses were. We’ll set up there,” said el-Nabahin.

It is this weariness that Louise Wateridge has seen among Palestinians she has worked with in Rafah. The spokesperson with the UN refugee agency for Palestinians, UNWRA, says a ceasefire is the minimum demand for the war-weary Palestinians.

“People here are so tired. There is continuous fear, continuous displacement. The only hope they have is a ceasefire … No matter who you are, the feeling here is we need an immediate ceasefire.”

‘It’s going to end, world war or not, it’s going to end’

For Mahmoud el-Khatib, simply staying alive to see the war end would be significant.

“My house has been destroyed, but it’s not about the house or a car or whatever, it’s more about how we now see that simply surviving is a victory,” el-Khatib told Al Jazeera.

The 55-year-old father of eight has been displaced from Juhor ad-Dik, forced to move between Deir el-Balah and Rafah in the south in the past few months.

“We’re all optimistic that there will be a ceasefire and that we’ll be able to go back to our homes, to the north, back where we belong,” he said.

Gaza truce thoughts April 2024
Mahmoud el-Khatib feels that simply surviving is a victory [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

“If I were to feel safe, everything would be fine, even if I’m in a simple tent.”

And while many diligently follow the news in hopes of a deal, Raed Abu Khousa has had to take a break. Keeping tabs on the war daily took a toll on his mental health.

The 45-year-old father of eight has been displaced for the last four months from Bureij after his home was badly damaged.

Despite now living in a tent, which he says is increasingly difficult with summer approaching, Khousa has cautious optimism about a truce deal.

“I’m not super optimistic, but it does feel like we’re closer to something. And if it’s not this time around, we’re closer to a solution,” he told Al Jazeera.

“It’s going to end, world war or not, it’s going to end. As Muslims, we believe that God will bring us success, and what is asked of us is that we are patient and wait for Him.”

Gaza truce thoughts April 2024
Raed Abu Khousa stopped following the news daily when it became too stressful [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera