Everything I loved has gone

Returning to what remains of Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza. 

Khaled Daoud APA images

I read the news on Telegram: Israel had withdrawn from parts of Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza. That is where I was born and raised.

As soon as I heard about the withdrawal, I couldn’t wait to return to Jabaliya. I had been forced to leave there a few weeks earlier – when Israel began its latest ground invasion of the camp.

So I rushed back to my neighborhood, despite how it was risky to do so. The information I had seen was still not confirmed.

As there was no fuel for transportation, I had to make the trip on foot.

On my way back, the scene was ghostly. Most of the buildings I saw were destroyed or damaged.

The streets had been bulldozed. Dead bodies were scattered everywhere.

I wasn’t expecting that my area would be the worst. Yet when I reached it, I could not recognize the place.

I doubted whether I was really in my area. Only one thing made me certain that I was – meeting my neighbors and friends.

They all looked exhausted and downcast. The massive destruction inflicted on the camp clearly had a profound effect on them.

While walking over the rubble in the neighborhood, I saw and heard both women and men crying and screaming. It was horrifying.


I could not believe what I was seeing. It felt like I was in a nightmare.

I rubbed my eyes to try and get a clearer view. Nothing changed.

While walking, I saw civil defense crews pulling dead bodies from under the rubble of houses in the camp.

Many houses had been attacked with their inhabitants inside them.

People took their last breath beneath the rubble. Civil defense teams were unable to reach the camp as the bombardment was so intense.

Many of the bodies were decomposed. Heads had been separated from other body parts.

I had never seen such horrifying scenes before. The decaying bodies smelled so bad that I thought I would throw up.

While on the way to where I lived, I saw the three schools I had attended. They were destroyed.

They are no longer schools.

Next, I passed by a clinic that had been run by the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA). It was set up to serve families like ours, who had been uprooted from our homes during the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine between 1947 and 1949.

I got free care in this clinic when I was sick. Now most sections of the clinic are either damaged or destroyed.

The clinic and UNRWA’s schools were near the popular Jabaliya market. It is no longer a market.

Before the current war, its shops sold fruit, vegetables, clothes, jewelry and cosmetics. The shops don’t exist any more as Israel has obliterated them.

My favorite café was named Raba. I used to meet my friends there in the evening.

We would talk about how to improve our lives.

Like so many of my peers, I was unemployed after graduating from college. With Gaza under a blockade long before the current war, we had very few opportunities.

The café doesn’t exist any more either.

Even the grounds of my favorite football club – Jabalia Services – have gone.

Everything in the camp has gone. None of the places that I loved remain.


My greatest shock came when I saw that our two-story house was in ruins. I felt that my heart was escaping from my body.

I couldn’t hold my tears back as I looked under the rubble for any of our belongings that might remain.

After a long search, I found my watch. My brother, who now lives in Belgium, had given it to me as a birthday present.

My hands were shaking as I picked it up and held it. For a moment, I smiled.

The remains of Osama Abu Jaser’s home. 

I also found some clothes and things from our kitchen.

Nothing else.

Our house provided shelter to my parents and my five siblings, including my widowed sister. Her two children also lived with us.

And during the current war we had hosted 20 relatives following their displacement.

We are homeless now. We have no choice than to be scattered between different houses of our relatives, who live in western Gaza.

We have stayed with them since the latest ground invasion.

Even if my family considered pitching a tent on the rubble of our home, we would have no water. The wells in the camp were destroyed, too.

Nobody can live without water.

My heart was full of sorrow as I left the camp after seeing our destroyed home.

My mind was full of questions.

How will we live after the war ends?

Where will we go?

Who will rebuild our home?

How long will it take for it to be rebuilt?

I asked these and other questions all the way to the house where I am taking shelter. Then I became extremely tired.

I forced myself not to think about our circumstances.

So long as this war continues, we do not know if we will still be alive tomorrow.

We have lost our home. Nothing is left but our souls.

Osama Abu Jaser is a writer based in Gaza.