“Hamdillah Assalama” (thank God for your safety), the residents of Jabalia Refugee Camp repeat whenever they meet each other in the dusty roads and lanes of the camp. Groups of people are paying condolence visits at dozens of condolence tents scattered in the camp. The scene is eerily remniscent of the way that people here celebrate and congratulate each other on major religious holidays, such as Eid al-Fitr.
Underfoot, sand mixes with the ash of tyres scattered along the roads of the camp. Every night, the residents burn the tyres in order to create a shield of smoke thick enough to jam the signals of the Israeli drones crisscrossing the sky.
In each street you enter, you cannot help but see coloured flags over the houses of martyrs. Neighbours and volunteers receive guests on behalf of the families of the victims.
Shoes and the lower hems of our trousers were so blackened by the ashes of the burned tyres. Most of people on condolence visits carry small radios in their pockets to follow the latest news of Israeli attacks through trustworthy local stations. Some local journalists met us, enthusiastically calling out: “Hamdillah Assalamah.”
We headed to the condolence tent for Ibrahim Hamdan, 50, who was killed when an Israeli fired a rocket near his house in the neighbourhood of Tal al-Zatar, east of Jabalia Camp. Two cousins from the Afana family were killed and five civilians were wounded in the same strike. The Hamdan family could not erect the condolence tent near his house in accord with Palestinian tradition, as they feared the drone would fire again. Relatives and friends of Hamdan thus set-up the tent in a “safer” place in the heart of the camp.
Hundreds of plastic chairs crammed under the tent were filled with guests offering their condolences. We had small cup of the Arab coffee and a date (Arab tradition), then headed to other tents.
We deliberately used alley-ways in order to avoid the endless and indiscriminate Israeli gunshots. The residents of the camp covered the narrow alleys in an attempt to hide their movement from the drones. Two women were stretching pieces of canvas to cover the alley near their houses, while some people were busily reconstructing their damaged houses in preparation for the coming winter.
“Hamdillah Assalamah” was repeated thousands of times by people who meet inside the narrow lanes of the camp. A very fat man was so ashamed because he caused a traffic jam. He edged up against a wall and our clothes scratched along in the opposite one as we passed him.
Pictures of the victims were affixed to the walls. Children were pointing at tens of their classmates. The names of the victims were written in bold, coloured letters.
Walid Abu Sharar, 14, was staring at the picture of his classmate Suleiman Abu Foul who was killed when an Israeli tank struck him with a rocket.
“You see, this is the picture of my classmate, his body was torn to pieces when the tank bombarded him,” Walid said. “They are criminals. Why they kill us, I do not know”.
Walid added that he spends the nights sleeplessly, worried about the horror of Israel’s unremitting shelling.
“Every night I cannot sleep, I cannot read, I cannot do any thing. The sound of the gunshots and bombardment plunge me in a horrible mood, so I become so eager for the morning,” he added.
Walid, and hundreds of other students, do not go to school nowadays because Israeli tanks are positioned near his school.
In the first day of the aggression, an Israeli tank hit the wall of the UNRWA’s preparatory school and shot a missile at a group of residents killing and wounding scores.
Ambulances are parked in different corners in the camp, “waiting” to evacuate expected victims. The drivers were in a “stand-by” mode, waiting for a message on their radio.
Mohammed Saad Al-Deen was walking, hands clasped behind his back, near the closed market. His kids were following him.
“Hamdilla Assalamah,” I said to and asked him if his family and his house are okay.
“My children are still alive, but I do not know what happened to my home. I fled it, we sleep at my brother’s house,” said Saad Al-Deen, who lives in the northern tip of the camp.
Tens of families at the northern and eastern tips of the camp have left their houses. They moved to their relatives or friends seeking temporary accommodation.
At least fifty houses, kindergartens, and stores were completely or partially destroyed by Israeli tanks and bulldozers during the attack.
Beneath the garage of the camp, an anxious man (from the Filfil family) was trying to drive a car. Following the exchange of “Hamdilla Assalamahs” he said that he was going to the hospital to visit his cousins.
The night before, an Israeli missile had penetrated the window of the home of Ghazi Filfil, 49, while his children were asleep.
All the members of the family, including a 2 year-old daughter, Wissal, were carried to hospital. Wissal is still receiving treatment at Shifa Hospital of Gaza.
“Hamdillah Assalamah,” Wissal.