Suzan Beseiso made four unsuccessful efforts before managing to cross into Egypt via Rafah and avoid the Gaza Strip’s shelling. The 31-year-old American Palestinian, who is among the handful of foreign passport holders permitted to exit the enclave since last week, claimed to be in grave danger each time.
She added in an interview on Sunday in Cairo, where she had traveled over the Sinai Peninsula by car, “Every time we went to the border, we got bombed and freaked out.” “Bombs are going left and right.”
The only crossing out of Gaza that does not border Israel, the Rafah crossing, was shut down for almost two weeks due to diplomatic wrangling over terms for allowing aid to enter and evacuees to leave after Israel imposed a total siege on Gaza in retaliation for a raid by Hamas on October 7.
Since then, some refugees have gone, and a trickle of aid has been trucked into Gaza; however, the arrangement is precarious and was interrupted on Saturday before picking back up on Monday.
As Israel’s military assault has been more intense throughout the month-long conflict, the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza has gotten worse, forcing many of the 2.3 million people living there to flee their homes to find safety and shelter.
Having lived in Gaza for almost half of her life and the United States for the other, Beseiso claimed to have experienced food and water shortages, restless nights during airstrikes, and being jammed into a single room in a stranger’s home with family members.
“It’s just a horror movie that keeps repeating,” she said. “No rest. Absent food. Absent water. You are always fleeing from one location to another.”
She once heard a strike fall close to where her mother, father, and nephew were waiting outside as she and her sister and cousin were in a rest area near the border. She became alarmed. She claimed that while they had just almost escaped, the family had to take a scary cab journey back into Gaza after the Palestinians got an order to close the border.
“On our way to the house, gunships were bombing the beach area, and the bombs were just flying on top of our heads, left and right, and the airplanes were just bombing as well.”
The Displacement History
Eventually, following discussions with the US, Israel, Qatar, and Egypt, the first foreigners and some Palestinians in need of immediate medical attention were permitted to begin leaving Gaza on November 1.
Egypt has firmly opposed any proposals for a mass exodus from Gaza into Sinai, in part because of Arab concerns about a fresh wave of permanent displacement that would replicate the “catastrophe” that Palestinians refer to as the 1948 war that resulted in their forced migration or flight from their homes.
Beseiso was lucky to be among the first group of around 7,000 foreign passport holders who were allowed to exit. However, she was conflicted because she didn’t want to go through the suffering of being separated from her 89-year-old grandmother when she was uprooted from her hometown of Jaffa 75 years prior. She remarked, “It’s like you die or you leave.” “What do you decide on? Your first recollections, your house, your country, or your existence.”
Her grandmother began yelling that she didn’t want to go as the family left their home in Gaza, and Beseiso had to convince her to go.
She said that when traveling through Sinai, her grandmother expressed mistrust towards recently constructed homes, inquiring of the driver about its purpose and announcing that she would only be in Egypt for a month before heading back home.
Others who had to part from loved ones also experienced that agony. Another Palestinian-American, 19-year-old Jana Timraz, arrived in Egypt with her sister and 3-month-old son, but not before arguing through the night with border guards over her kid’s exclusion from the pre-approved list.
Her siblings, parents, and spouse—all of whom are not citizens of the United States—were unable to pass.
After reaching Cairo, she remarked, “I am here in Egypt, but my heart is broken over my family and my husband who I left behind.”
As the bombing increased, 78-year-old Yusra Batniji relocated from northern to southern Gaza, first residing in a house with 30 people until she and her husband Youssef, who was dealing with several health issues, headed to the border.
Although she was born in Gaza, she is a citizen of the United States. In 2005, she bought the property next to her home and planted palm, lemon, and olive trees.
After reaching Cairo, she remarked, “I prayed to God before leaving my home so that I would come back to this house, even if it was just dust.”
“I hope people go to my house and take the dates and olives, so they don’t go to waste.”