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Palestinians Collectively Return To North Gaza

Above photo: The destruction of Al-Faluja Neighborhood near Jabalia Camp in the Gaza Strip on January 1st 2024. Photo: Muhammad Mahmoud Balousha / Youssef Fares Channel.

‘We Will Not Be Displaced Twice.’

Palestinian journalist Yousef Fares reports from Gaza for Al-Akhbar.

In the old streets of Gaza, the road connecting the northern governorate of Gaza with the eastern neighborhoods of the city, such as Al-Tuffah, Haraat al-Dara, and Shuja’iyya, has become the only route for the residents of the northern Gaza Strip to reach the western areas of the city. This is due to the constant attacks on the direct routes that traverse the western neighborhoods. Over the past few days, this road has been traveled by hundreds of families who have decided to return to the neighborhoods recently vacated by the occupation forces.

From Beit Lahia and Beit Hanoun to Sheikh Radwan, Al-Alami, Tal al-Zaatar, Al-Sika, and even Sufatawi and Al-Tawam, the residents, after more than three months of displacement, have taken the incredible risk of returning home. “We have nothing to lose; we know our homes are destroyed, but a tent on the ruins of our house is a million times better than the life of displacement in shelters,” says Haji Souhaila Al-Safi in an interview with Al-Akhbar. Sitting on a cart pulled by a donkey, accompanied by 10 members of her family, covered with blankets and clothes, she adds: “We will not be displaced again, and there is nothing left to fear. Our lives are in Allah’s hands, not Netanyahu’s.”

As for Abu Mahmoud Akil, he packed his belongings to return to the neighborhood of Tal Al-Zaatar after spending about two months in the industrial building belonging to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Refugees (UNRWA) west of Gaza City. Despite the continuous artillery shelling in the area he plans to go to and he is steadfast in this plan to return. The man, carrying a large bag covered with blankets on his back, says, “We are going back, not just because we are tired of being displaced, but because we live in a peripheral area in northern Gaza, and staying there is resistance to the enemy’s plans to displace and uproot us. Today, the resistance has played its role, and now it’s our turn to stay in our homes despite the difficult circumstances.”

In Tal Al-Zaatar, the ground operation has completely cut off the electricity grid, sewage lines, and water supply, and the utterly destroyed streets of the neighborhood which require the dexterity of a circus performer to navigate them. Those who choose to return there will have to walk for two hours every morning to get water. Despite its high salinity, the locals use this water for cleaning, drinking, and cooking. Additionally, the neighborhood, located east of Jabalia camp and strategically elevated compared to the surrounding neighborhoods, experiences a severe wave of loneliness in the evening: it has no electricity and not a single source of light breaking the darkness. To add to this, the darkness of nightfall always accompanies an increased rate of occupation artillery strikes.

Despite the challenges, the influx of residents to the neighborhood increases day by day, as there is something far more important than the difficulties of this life. Abu Alaa, a father of three martyrs, whose house and four of his relatives’ houses were destroyed, said in his interview with Al-Akhbar, “Today, we returned to Tal Al-Zaatar, and we walked in the middle of the street until we were photographed by a reconnaissance plane. I am proud to live in a tent that leaks during the winter, proud that I spend every day searching for water and firewood, and proud that I live through all this suffering because all of this is in defiance of the Israeli arrogance. We thought we would be displaced from northern Gaza as soon as they said, ‘Go to the south,’ but today, we defeat them by staying here despite the fear and difficult conditions.”

In the streets, there is a significant debate about the future of the residents who left the northern Gaza Strip for the south. In her interview with Al-Akhbar, Umm Saber al-Rashayida said: “The ghosts of the first migration haunt my thoughts; they told us then it would only be for two weeks, and we would return, but we stayed for 80 years.”  She added, “The Nakba is deeply rooted in my mind, so I did not leave. That’s why I returned to the Al-Sika neighborhood, even though shells fall around us all day and night.”

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