BEIT LAHIYA, GAZA - The Israeli military has told residents of several neighborhoods in Gaza that they may return home, seeming to indicate that the operation to destroy infiltration tunnels has ended in these parts of the enclave. However, most Gazans say they do not believe they will be safe.
Late morning in Beit Lahiya, north of Gaza City. Although it is a work day, this is a ghost town. Most residents fled during the Israeli military incursion here.
The purpose of the incursion was to eliminate tunnels and rocket sites of the Hamas group that controls Gaza.
Residents were warned ahead-of-time to leave the area for their safety. But some chose to stay. Hassan Gabayen was one of them.
“We are staying in our homes for our land and our God. We’re trying to protect our people here. We’re not going to leave. We will only leave as martyrs,” says Gabayen.
He says some families came back after the Israeli announcement. But most just took a few belongings and left again.
Many of them took refuge at facilities like a U.N.-run school in Gaza City. It is now a village of 2,100 inhabitants. Officials say no one is leaving. Eman al-Kahlot, who stays here with her extended family of 18, explains why.
“We don’t believe in what Israel says because yesterday (Saturday) a family from here went back. They bombarded and the family died. So the Israelis say one thing and do something else,” says al-Kahlot.
Residents say the facilities are strained but there is enough help to survive. Yet, even here they are not safe. Several U.N. schools have been hit recently. Dozens of people were killed.
“For me there is no future. I hope in the future our children will have their rights, have their freedom as in other countries. Because the life we have here is nothing,” says al-Kahlot.
Back in Beit Lahiya, Mahmoud al-Atar expresses a similar despair.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re staying here. Maybe we’ll die. I don’t know, but it will be an honor. We’re not going to a U.N. school because people are dying there, too. We prefer to die in our homes.”
Some residents no longer have homes to return to. For the others, any cease-fire will only announce more hard times, of reconstruction and rehabilitation.