Returning to find a city filled with rubble

Fetching water is an arduous task in Khan Younis. 

Naaman Omar APA images

Massive destruction has been inflicted on Khan Younis in southern Gaza.

The city’s residents were forced to flee en masse when Israeli troops invaded in December. The ground offensive lasted several months.

When people returned, they were shocked to see what remained. Many areas of the city were almost unrecognizable.

People either had to set up tents where they used to live or try to reclaim part of homes that had been damaged – often badly – and move back in.

Khaled al-Sir, 50, had to evacuate his home in the center of Khan Younis during January. He went to the outskirts of the city and sought basic shelter in a tent.

It offered no real protection from the elements.

“I kept on getting sick during the winter months,” he said. “When temperatures began to rise, it was as hot as hell inside the tent.”

After he heard that Israeli troops had withdrawn from Khan Younis, Khaled returned to inspect his house.

It had been struck by shells and largely destroyed. Yet Khaled said he decided to move back in “without hesitation.”

Despite being told that Israel had laid waste to the city’s infrastructure, Khaled felt “it would be better to spend all day searching for water than to return to the tent.”

“I was happy to see neighbors and friends again,” he added. “I felt that my soul had been given back to me.”


Marwa al-Louh, 40, lived behind Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis.

“The Israeli army completely bulldozed my home,” she said. “There is no trace of it.”

Marwa had evacuated Khan Younis and gone to an area near Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city. When Israel invaded Rafah a few weeks ago, she came back to Khan Younis.

“I cried a lot when I found that my home was a pile of rubble,” she said. “But I did not despair and set up a tent where my house used to be.”

Her daily routine now includes joining a long queue for water.

Although she takes some comfort in being reunited with neighbors, she said that “it is difficult to live in a city filled only with rubble.”

“The situation here is very depressing,” she added.

Salem Daqqa, 28, had been displaced from Abasan, east of Khan Younis. When he returned a few weeks ago, he encountered total destruction.

It is impossible for farmers in the area to work as it is close to the boundary with Israel. The Israeli military has a tendency to open fire at anyone approaching the boundary.

Even though Israel has removed ground troops from the area, its airstrikes against Abasan are continuing. Several members of one family were killed in one such airstrike recently.

“We are tired of being displaced,” Salem said. “We have decided to return home, even though there is still a big danger.”

Salem previously worked selling vegetables – grown by local farmers – on Jalal street in Khan Younis. He had a stall near the Bank of Palestine.

“When we went back to the city, I was shocked by what I saw on the street,” he said.

“The shops and the banks were completely destroyed – as if there had been an earthquake in the area or a nuclear bomb was dropped on the street.”

Ruwaida Amer is a journalist based in Gaza.