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What we know about the northern Gaza evacuation ordered by Israel's military


There's been a dramatic turn today in the Hamas-Israel conflict. Israel has ordered effectively half the population of Gaza to flee their homes. At the same time, many people in Israel are deciding to leave, and the U.S. is chartering flights for Americans. And all of this is happening under continued Israeli bombardment and Palestinian rocket fire. NPR's Daniel Estrin brings us the stories of people leaving their homes.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Gaza woke up to the news that Israel's military had ordered all residents of Gaza City and northern Gaza to leave for southern Gaza. In all of the wars Israel and Hamas have fought over the years, never has there been such an order. Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari.

DANIEL HAGARI: They knew that this would happen as a result of their brutal and ruthless massacre in Israel. We are not fighting the people of Gaza - the civilians, the residents. We are fighting the terrorist organization Hamas.

ESTRIN: Israel's military says it cannot guarantee the safety of people who remain. This evacuation order applies to more than a million people. NPR's producer in Gaza, Anas Baba, left with his family to southern Gaza and told me he saw families packed nine or 11 to a car, and those who couldn't afford the transportation left on foot.

ANAS BABA, BYLINE: It's a catastrophe. There was people, OK, who walked 45 kilometers on foot - families.

ESTRIN: But NPR's longtime driver in Gaza, Mohammed Draimley, was reluctant to leave. I reached him on the phone. His first-grader, Aboud, was with him.

ABOUD: (Non-English language spoken).

MOHAMMED DRAIMLEY: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Then Draimley put his dad on the phone, who said he didn't want to go anywhere. "I'm not with Hamas. I'm just a human being," he said. "I'd rather die at home."

(Non-English language spoken).

But the kids, I told him. If you stay, that means your grandkids will stay.

(Non-English language spoken).

Think about it. Think about it, I told him.

But the thing is, where is half of Gaza's crowded population supposed to go? Lynn Hastings is the U.N.'s top humanitarian chief here. She told me the U.N. is already sheltering 300,000 Palestinians, and their shelters could run out of food and water in days.

LYNN HASTINGS: There is absolutely no possibility of the United Nations to take in 1 million people who are fleeing from the north. We simply just do not have the infrastructure or the capacity.

ESTRIN: Egypt also shares a border with Gaza, but it's keeping it closed now. Egypt has shown no desire to host half of Gaza as refugees. In Israel, there are also people who want to leave. And unlike in Gaza, they can. At Israel's international airport, embassies have set up booths and card tables, organizing charter flights to help their citizens leave, including the U.S. embassy. All American carriers have canceled flights to and from Israel. Jessica Shamriz is leaving her Israeli husband behind to take care of his parents while she goes with her two kids to her family in Colorado.

How are you feeling now?

JESSICA SHAMRIZ: Stressed. Just haven't eaten in a while. We feel safe in Tel Aviv, so it's really confusing when my family is panicking and telling us to get out as fast as we can to come to an airport without a flight. My family is just really panicked because we had family in the Holocaust that didn't get out. They chose to stay. And my family is reliving that trauma, so we're trying to not have happen what happened.

ESTRIN: After I leave the airport, NPR's Gaza driver, Mohammed Draimley, calls me.

DRAIMLEY: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: He and his family were finally on the road, headed south, when something happened.

DRAIMLEY: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Our longtime driver in Gaza just called me and said that his dad went out of the car and said, I've changed my mind, I'm going back home - took a car and went home. Now our driver is - just has no idea what to do. He's in the middle of the streets. The roads are full of cars of people fleeing, fleeing, fleeing, and his dad got cold feet. He has no idea what to do. I'm going to call our former...

I call NPR's former producer, Abu Bakr Bashir, who now lives in the U.K.

I just talked to Mohammed. Mohammed is saying, I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted. I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do. He's in the middle of the street. I told him I'd call you.

ABU BAKR BASHIR: OK. Well, the other thing is I've - I also asked other friends of mine and family, cousins to move to the south. One of my cousins, actually, his son was injured - OK? - was hit. We didn't know how badly.

ESTRIN: Oh, my goodness.

BASHIR: So the thing is, moving around with a car isn't safe either. I hope people leave. But, like, I just cannot tell them to leave, and they get hit while trying to leave. You know what I mean?

ESTRIN: By the end of the day, our Gaza driver calls with good news.

DRAIMLEY: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: His dad has finally agreed to evacuate with the family to southern Gaza. They're staying with another family. Can you finally relax a little bit? - I ask him. He says...

DRAIMLEY: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: ...Aww - there's no relaxation.

(Non-English language spoken).

DRAIMLEY: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Tel Aviv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.