Tuesday, January 6, 2009

As Besieged Families in Gaza Flee Homes for Shelter, Schools Become New Refugee Camps

The Guardian, January 6, 2009 - Mahmoud Khalil looked around the classroom and decided the safest place for his children was under the desks.

UN officials had reassured the father of five he and his family would be protected by the large blue and white flag flying above the UN-run school turned refugee shelter. But with the sound of large explosions on the edge of Jabaliya refugee camp, just north of Gaza City, and his children still terrified from the trauma of their escape, Khalil was taking no chances.

"They will kill us anywhere. If they can bomb the mosque, if they can kill small children, if they can blow up our parliament, why should they care if they bomb this school? They don't care what the United Nations thinks. They don't care what the whole world thinks," he said, when reached by telephone.

The 38-year-old mechanic arranged a cluster of desks in the corner of the classroom and laid blankets on the floor under them for his children - the youngest three years old, the eldest 14 - to lie on.

"God willing, that will protect them," he said. "They are terrified after what they have seen. Explosions near our house. Everybody running away. The Israelis dropped leaflets and said on the radio we must all get out or they will kill us because they are going to bomb our houses."

But where to flee? In other conflicts refugees move across borders or to quieter regions. But Gaza's 1.5 million residents are trapped behind the long Israeli fence, dotted with machine gun posts and watchtowers, that makes their home a prison. There is no way out.

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