Al-Jazeera / May 25, 2023
Adel Atallah escaped the Israeli blockade of Gaza in 2007 to build a life in Sudan, only to flee conflict once again.
Gaza City — Growing up in Gaza, Adel Atallah was accustomed to the sounds of war. But he wasn’t expecting bullets and blasts to upturn the stable life he had carefully built in Sudan for 16 years.
After the unrest in his adoptive country erupted on April 15 between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Atallah decided to leave Sudan and return to Gaza.
“My only thoughts were of my children, family and their safety,” the 45-year-old father of five said.
“The situation exploded suddenly, and then things escalated until it became crazy. The sounds of bullets and gunfire did not stop around us. Even corpses were on the streets,” said Atallah, who lived in southern Khartoum.
According to the Interior Ministry in Gaza, 281 Palestinians have been evacuated from Sudan since last month.
“I did not think about it [leaving] until the Palestinian embassy announced the start of the evacuation of Palestinians after the first week of the conflict,” said Atallah, who left Gaza for Sudan in 2007 to escape the Israeli blockade.
“My relatives in Sudan at that time convinced me to come, talking about good job opportunities in several fields there. I succeeded in finding a job. Then I got married and had my children and built a stable life,” Atallah, who works in construction, told Al-Jazeera.
The embassy repatriated Palestinians on two routes. Those going to the West Bank were evacuated to Jeddah and then Jordan. Those going to the Gaza Strip like Atallah left Sudan through the Arqin land crossing with Egypt, then moved on to Cairo and the Rafah crossing, the only crossing point between Egypt and Gaza.
“It was a gruelling four-day journey,” Atallah said of the trip that started on April 29.
He said they set off by bus and took a long detour to get out of Khartoum to avoid fighting and RSF checkpoints.
“We were on [edge] the whole way out of Sudan,” he said. “We had heard that there were communities whose buses were attacked during the evacuation by the [RSF]. We were afraid that the same thing would happen to us, but thank God, it did not.”
‘Spent best years of my life in Sudan’
Reflecting on his return home, Atallah said the moment he was back in Gaza and saw his extended family, it “eased a little of his grief” after he had left behind a life as well as property, money and belongings in Sudan.
“Gaza may not be a safe place for me and my children. On the contrary, it is a place full of military escalations,” he said.
But “the war we know is better than the war we don’t know,” he added.
“At least there is an understanding of the current situation,” he said, explaining that he’s well aware of what’s happening around him and who is firing bombs or rockets.
“Here, you’re among your family. But the matter in Sudan was scary, random and incomprehensible.”
“I was afraid that I would die with a random gunshot or that someone would come to kill me and plunder my house.”
He isn’t thinking of returning to Sudan except to bring back his money and belongings, but then he will come back to Gaza, he said.
“I spent the best years of my life in Sudan, but recently, things have deteriorated in a way that does not allow me to continue,” he said.
“I did not expect all these battles and bloodshed to happen. The Sudanese people are good-hearted and peaceful people.”
‘I witnessed Gaza’ in Sudan
Lina Suleiman, 23, was a fourth-year medical student in Sudan and has a year and a half left before her graduation.
“The four years in Sudan were quiet and special. I did not find it difficult at all to adapt and integrate into the country and my studies,” she said.
Suleiman lived in an industrial area, south of Khartoum, which was close to the RSF sites where the fighting first broke out.
On the morning of April 15, Suleiman and her two flat mates woke up to the sounds of air strikes, gunfire and shelling that lasted for hours and then extended for days.
“That day I saw all the scenes of wars I witnessed in Gaza,” she told Al-Jazeera. “The electricity went out, then water, and the internet started coming and going. We were trying to understand what was going on, to no avail.”
They next saw RSF fighters besieging the area, and their street was soon deserted. It was only through calls with friends outside Khartoum did Suleiman and the residents in her building understand what was going on.
After two days, the situation worsened with the lack of water and food, and the fighting intensified. Suleiman managed to make it to another friend’s home using a neighbour’s car and a backstreet.
“Unfortunately, I could not take any of my belongings, even my official papers. My friends and I left everything in the house.”
It wasn’t easy to leave Khartoum even when the evacuations by the Palestinian mission started because she had sent her passport for renewal and didn’t have any identity documents, just her phone. It took her four hours to walk to the embassy in the middle of the night, trying to avoid any soldiers.
Suleiman managed to get a temporary travel document so she could board evacuation buses and reach Gaza on May 3 after a four-day journey.
Her mother, Ahlam Suleiman, 52, spoke of the anxiety that the family lived with since the conflict in Sudan began.
“I was in contact with her every minute, but the internet was cut off and I was following the news all day,” she said, adding that the last message she received was that her daughter had managed to get on a bus with Palestinian families. And then there was no contact for four days.
Suleiman has dreams of completing her degree. “I hope from my heart that the situation will stabilize and that I will return to pursue my university studies. It is very difficult to see my efforts of four years wasted in moments.”
Maram Humaid is a Palestinian journalist and storyteller from the Gaza Strip