Gaza conflict: Withdrawal of Israeli soldiers reveals the shell-strewn detritus of humanity

Villagers return to their homes, mourning dead loved-ones and trying to regain normality

The remnants of the Israeli forces’ occupation of the building during some of the fiercest fighting of the month long war – half-empty cans of food, bread, the wrapping of a toothpaste tube, a Star of David scrawled on the wall – were still evident as Tamer Abu Rujeila told the story of the breakout from Khuza’a.

This large outlying village east of Khan Yunis and close to the Israeli border was unreachable even for the Red Cross recovering dead bodies, until Israel forces began their weekend pullback. It may be weeks before the full details of what happened here in the last 10 days of July emerge.

But even by the standards of other destruction in Gaza, the sight of the razed houses and mosques at the entrance to the village – and deeper inside it – takes the breath away.

In the area occupied by the Abu Rujeila clan, 14 of its members were killed when air strikes destroyed at least four residential buildings.

Among the dead were Tamer’s uncle Hilmi – whose body has still not been found – and his 21-year-old son and 27-year-old daughter. In what is normally the local children’s psychiatric support centre – a large firing hole in one wall – Tamer, 38, a local businessman, described how after Israeli tanks entered the area on 22 July, 50 extended family members sheltered in the building – damaged but still standing – he occupied with his wife, Maysaa, and their four children.

Even when the attacks became more intense two days later and the group moved to a neighbouring building, Tamer says he didn’t want to leave despite Red Cross advice to do so.

“We thought if were going to die we should die here with dignity,” he said.


But the next day there was a major explosion which the family attribute to a large device, an elongated barrel apparently part of mine clearing equipment and still lying in the rubble, but which they remain convinced fell from the sky. Either way the windows of their building blew in and even Tamer was ready to leave.

Waving white flags, the now 85-strong group began their gingerly escape through a neighbourhood alive with gunfire. “There were 30 children and 25 women,” Tamer said. “The rest were men. We carried four old people on our shoulders. But some of the children were refusing to leave as they were so scared.”

Tamer’s son Ahmed, 8, injured by shrapnel in an earlier strike, told his father he would rather die at home. So with the tanks only metres away and struggling to keep together despite the shooting, the fathers held or dragged their unwilling children with them. At the now devastated entrance to Khuza’a, they assembled with almost 3,000 other locals for the journey to the relative safety of neighbouring Abasan. Tamer – who first returned to inspect his home on Tuesday – said that 35 of the 3000 were injured by shooting at some point on their journey. Before the Abu Rujeilas left for shelter in Khan Yunis, another uncle, Ismail, 52, was killed in an air strike on Abasan. The serious fighting in Khuza’a is not in doubt. On Sunday, against a background of shelling, a middle-aged resident told us his son had been killed taking part in a Hamas ambush on an Israeli armoured bulldozer. The battle must have spread to this area after the Abu Rujeilas left. Refusing to disavow the fighters, Tamer said: “We are all resistance.”

But Tamer was adamant that his extended family were civilians. Indeed he says that their IDs were checked by Israeli troops at the entrance to the village.

Elsewhere in Gaza, people took advantage of the calm to return to their devastated homes and inspect damages.

A shrapnel-holed wall in the Sobhi Abu Karsh school in Gaza City’s al-Shejaea neighbourhood A shrapnel-holed wall in the Sobhi Abu Karsh school in Gaza City’s al-Shejaea neighbourhood
People trickled back, making their way over buckled roads, through dangling power lines and overturned trees to inspect their neighbourhoods.

Along the way, rows of flattened buildings alternated with moderately damaged structures – and rare buildings with no damage.

Cars and donkey carts loaded with household goods and mattresses filled the streets and queues formed at banks as people waited to withdraw cash from ATMs.

Utility companies worked frantically to repair downed electricity and telephone lines. Back in Khuza’a, neighbours brandished a casing of a tank shell marked clearly as Made in the USA, with its serial numbers intact. And a lone bulldozer sifted through the rubble looking for the remains of Hilmi Abu Rujeila.

peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits