Israel-Gaza conflict: Palestinian families return home in defiance of Israeli threats

Death toll in current offensive stands at 172, Palestinian officials say, of whom 77 per cent are civilians, according to the UN


Seven people were squeezed inside the ageing and battered Mercedes with two mattresses strapped to the roof and plastic sacks bulging out of the boot. This was a family on the move in North Gaza, where residents had been ordered by the Israeli military to evacuate. They were not, however, fleeing their home, but returning there, determined to stick it out.

The exodus, which had taken place in fear of an impending major military assault, is being reversed with an extraordinary display of defiance; a steady stream of people are heading back to their towns and villages, some within 24 hours of departing from them.

This appears to put Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in a difficult position over an area which it claims is the prime launching site for hundreds of rockets into Israel. Leaflets had been dropped from aircraft to the inhabitants demanding evacuation with a deadline of midday on Sunday, with the threat: “Those who fail to comply with the instructions will endanger their lives and the lives of their families. Beware”.

A senior Israeli military officer, in a briefing to the media, had maintained: “the enemy has built rocket infrastructure in between houses” at which forces will “strike with might” indicating this was likely to be on Sunday night, but without elaborating whether this would mean a land offensive. However, the officer had added: “He [the enemy] wants to trap me into an attack and into hurting civilians.” A senior Israeli official, while stressing the threat from North Gaza, had acknowledged that there was only a limited window to carry out operations before residents began to drift back.


Adding to the move back home among some of the internal refugees is the feeling that nowhere and no one was really safe in Gaza in this missile war between Hamas and Israel. The home of Dr Nasser al Tatar, the director of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, was destroyed in an attack on Sunday evening. The death toll, according to Palestinian officials, stand at 172, the UN says 77 per cent of them are civilians.

There were airstrikes by Israel and rocket launches by Hamas in the north on Monday afternoon, but nothing like the onslaught which had been anticipated. That was one of the reasons why Abdulrahman al-Karimi had brought his wife and six children back after just one night at a UN shelter, the New Gaza Elementary Prep School in Gaza, in his 11 year old Mercedes back home to Jabaliya.

READ MORE: Social media is latest battleground in conflict
Palestinian families return home in defiance of threats
Military drone from Gaza shot down over Israel

“We have had some very bad bombings by the Israelis here since the fighting began and so when we got the leaflets I thought it was going to get even worse and we may get soldiers coming in”, said the 36 year old mechanic. “But we heard the attacks have not been so bad since [the deadline] yesterday and we decided to come back. My wife and children were very unhappy at the school, there were more than 30 people sharing one classroom. So I thought why should we stay like that when we have our own home? The situation won’t be too bad, Inshallah, and we will be alright.”

Israelis take shelter near Ashkelon Israelis take shelter near Ashkelon (EPA)

Brothers Riaz and Ayman al-Farhat and their families had misgivings about leaving their homes in Beit Lahiya in the first place after the experience of two years ago when, they say, their house was vandalised and looted by Israeli troops bivouacked there. “We went to stay with an aunt in Rafah; but there were already two families living there whose homes have been bombed. We were worried about out our homes, they might damage them or, maybe this time, even blow them up, so when we heard that our neighbours were going back, we decided to as well,” said Ayman al-Farhat.

“We don’t think the Israelis will invade, they are too scared that they will lose a lot of people. At first we thought that just Riaz and I will go back. But our wives, our children, were very upset at being left behind, so we all came back.” As he spoke, there were deep booms in the background. “One could get bombed in Rafah or anywhere else in Gaza as well, we cannot be cowards over this,” Riaz al-Farhat shrugged his shoulders.

READ MORE: Video explains Israeli ‘knock on roof’ missile warning
Israeli air strike destroys home for the disabled
Middle East debate is more about fashion for revolutionary tourism than real politics

Salah Rajab, 40, had already had his house destroyed in an air strike in Beit Lahiya four days ago after a warning in a mobile call by the Israeli military. He and his family decided to stay on, at the house of one of his brothers. “I am just a farmer, I had nothing to do with politics, but they destroyed my home”, he protested. “Maybe they had false information, I will never find out. There is nowhere for us to go to. My brothers are staying and I am staying, this is our land, they have destroyed a house, but we will build again.”

A property in Ashdod, Israel, hit by rocket fire A property in Ashdod, Israel, hit by rocket fire (Getty)

For Izaak Musullam, shopping with his two year old grandson, Adham, the issue is also one of principle. “Even if my house falls down around my head, I am not going to go. It is, of course, worrying for children, but you can’t just send them away, what would a place be like without children? No we’ll stay as families, as a community.”

But some who have stayed behind in the north have chosen to leave their homes. A number of families have moved into schools in Jabaliya. “We don’t want to go out of here unless there is a ceasefire, it is too dangerous,” said Faiza Sabah. “In the meantime we are stuck here, with no one to help us. We don’t want these schools to turn into refugee camps.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths surrounding the enigmatic singer
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Life and Style
Christian Benteke of Aston Villa celebrates scoring the winner for Aston Villa
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Bill O'Reilly attends The Hollywood Reporter 35 Most Powerful People In Media Celebration at The Four Seasons Restaurant on April 16, 2014 in New York City
media It is the second time he and the channel have clarified statements
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

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn