An exodus of Palestinian dual citizens from the Gaza Strip began Sunday at the Erez crossing, with several hundreds making their way out of the coastal territory as Operation Protective Edge entered its sixth day, with no cease-fire in sight.
They began making their way through the crossing in the hours before a bombing campaign the IDF said would begin at noon, planning to pass through Israel to Jordan and then to their final destinations.
The crossing was a hive of activity Sunday morning, with consular staff from several countries including Romania, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere trying to make their way into the terminal and the Strip to coordinate the evacuation of their citizens.
The biggest contingent was comprised of 150 Americans, according to US Jerusalem Consulate press attaché Leslie Ordeman. Another large contingent was expected later from Romania, which according to two Romanian officials included around 100 people.
Also at the crossing was a small group of Gazans, number unclear, who were waiting to be taken for medical treatment at Israeli hospitals.
Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma said that on Thursday the embassy began encouraging its citizens to leave Gaza, and that so far about 22 had registered to leave, including five who had already made it through the Rafah crossing on Saturday into Egypt. He said the total would be in the “low dozens,” and that those refusing to leave include one woman with disabled children in Gaza who wants to stay and look after them, as well as others who are simply not too concerned about the situation or prefer to stay behind with their family.
Sharma said the evacuation “just reflects the deteriorating security situation in Gaza,” adding that the violence “only appears to be increasing and not decreasing and we believe a cease-fire is at least a few days off so we’re urging them to leave.”
Dr. Akram Mushtaha, a Gaza native who now lives in Houston, said that he has been trying to leave the Gaza Strip for several days already in order to get his two daughters out of the area. He came with his daughters and wife for summer vacation, and said that he wanted to stay and possibly use his medical training to help people in Gaza, but that he is leaving for the sake of his children, aged 17 and four.
“I don’t want them to go through that experience. They were scared and they were crying whenever they’d hear the sounds... and ask me why did we come here.”
Rawan Mehana, 21, of Dallas, Texas, was at the crossing with her parents and her sister Noor, 10, and brother Muhammad, 13, on Sunday, seemingly in high spirits though clearly ready to leave.
Sipping a soft drink, Noor told The Jerusalem Post that “it’s very scary, of course we’re not used to it, when it started it brought me to tears. It was very close by.”
Rawan said they came to Gaza City for her sister’s wedding three weeks ago, though the wedding now seems like a much longer time ago.
When asked what they would do when the air strikes take place, she said that “that’s the problem, Israel always says ‘we give them warning strikes,’ but where do you want them to go? We have no shelters, so you stand in the middle of the house away from the windows and hope for the best.”
She said the whole experience was “truly mortifying,” and when asked what she hopes happens now, she said, “I think a cease-fire that’s fair on both sides, to make the Palestinians feel their lives are worth something, but also to bring peace to the hearts of civilians who are suffering in Israel. I don’t want them to be terrified either.”
Looking visibly-shaken, 34-yearold Ayed Al-Hamdani made his way through the Erez crossing with his wife, en route to Norway, where he said he has lived for 17 years.
The two of them had been visiting in the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza since March, and a few days ago decided it was time to leave, with Ayed saying, “there’s nowhere to run, nowhere that’s safe in Gaza.”
When asked how he feels leaving family back in the Strip, he said that “It’s all so terrible. It doesn’t feel right to leave, but what can you do? All you can do is hug them.”