By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell
GAZA/ASHKELON Israel (Reuters) - Ramadan Subuh surveyed the packed Gaza school where he and some 2,500 other Palestinians have been sheltering and lamented the plight of civilians who have struggled to survive nearly four weeks of Israeli bombardment.
"A life of humiliation - this how we live," said Subuh, 42, whose family of 12 fled to the U.N.-run Al-Fakhoura school from Beit Lahiya, a town in the northern Gaza Strip devastated by the fighting.
"We are terrified. We know it not safe at all. No place in Gaza is safe, and everyone is taking his own chance," he said.
Some 260,000 of the Gaza Strip's population of 1.8 million have taken refuge in schools and other institutions run by the United Nations. Many are staying put for now, waiting to see if a 72-hour ceasefire that began on Tuesday holds.
At al-Fakhoura, as many as 50 people fill each classroom, and families use blankets to screen off their cramped quarters from others. Women use plastic buckets to bathe their children and wash dishes.
"You have to wait 30 to 60 minutes to get into the bathroom. You have to wait your turn to drink and ... to get your lousy meal," said Subuh, a former farmhand who used to work in Israel before Hamas Islamists seized power in Gaza in 2007.
There are 12 bathrooms in the school, but no running water in them.
"Every day they tell us: 'Wait until tomorrow and things will get better'. But tomorrow never comes. We hope the war ends and we can go back to live in our houses," Subuh said.
Al-Fakhoura was bombed in the three-week Gaza war in 2009, but was spared this time. Six other schools, however, have been shelled in the current conflict, and at least 30 people sheltering in them have been killed, and dozens wounded.
ISRAELIS SEEKS SAFETY OF PUBLIC SHELTER
Some 12 km (seven miles) to the north, across the border, three Israeli families have been living in a public shelter for the past month.
They reside in Ashkelon, a town that has been a frequent target of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip. Their older neighborhood does not have the reinforced "safe rooms" that by law must be built into new apartments, so they sought the refuge of an underground public shelter.
At its entrance, a plastic cup filled with cigarette butts stands on a round table. Inside, mattresses are strewn across the floor where people, five children among them, lie fast asleep.
A widescreen television on the wall informs them of the latest developments. Bags of food, baby formula, clothes and toys are scattered along the walls, which are covered with children’s paintings and the names of past Israeli offensives in the Gaza Strip, scrawled in different colors.
Shir Elkayam, 22, has been living in the shelter with her partner and baby daughter.
"It's been rough. It can drive you crazy. Kids can't be cooped up inside 24 hours a day for a month," she said.
"During the lulls in the fighting, we let ourselves take them out for a bit to a movie or some other place that was safe."
Elkayam said she and her loved ones were not going home yet, despite the Egyptian-brokered truce.
"We are waiting to see if the situation does calm down before we move out of the shelter," she said. "It's scary. Every siren is scary, every blast is scary."
The shelter has two toilets but no shower. Like the Palestinians in the Gaza school, the Israelis in the Ashkelon shelter use plastic tubs to wash up.
"Whenever there was a lull, I would run upstairs to do the laundry,” Elkayam said. "I don’t believe this truce. Otherwise, I would have been upstairs long ago."
Relatives have brought down food once a day, and a refrigerator was recently put in.
"It has been tense, we are very nervous. We spent a lot of time just watching the news," Elkayam said.
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Kevin Liffey)
- Unrest, Conflicts & War
- Society & Culture
- Gaza Strip