Desolate surroundings, pounded by a cold January rain

© Philippe Conti Click on image for large size
After the last Israeli army incursion in Rafah, we went to the Yebna district where we were able to assess the extent of the destruction. Some 40 houses had been destroyed, leaving more than 200 people homeless. Men, women, children, and elderly people were preparing to set up tents, which had been distributed by the ICRC, next to those of their former neighbors whose homes had been torn down two months earlier. Drained of energy and resources, the Palestinian Authority has not found housing for these families who lost everything in the space of a few hours. The situation is even more worrisome because winter has begun, and with it, cold and rain. Nothing remains of the destroyed houses. We are walking through rubble. Amid the debris we notice traces of daily life, interrupted and broken off suddenly: a shoe here, a sweater there, a casserole, and a toy. As we learn the circumstances of the tragedy, the scenario, although terrifying, sounds typical of many others. Several tanks appeared suddenly and fired. Panicked, residents fled without being able to grab anything. Then army bulldozers began to destroy the buildings. There's no point in trying to recover mementos, papers, or clothing from what remains of the house. Over the loudspeaker, a threat is issued from the nearby watchtower. It is impossible to pull mementos, papers or objects from the debris. Soldiers stationed at a watchtower threaten to fire if anyone approaches.
"If you're not gone by the count of three, I'm firing." Two months earlier, we noticed that not all soldiers bother to issue similar warnings. Without notice, two rounds of M16 machine- gun fire aimed at the ground burst from that same watchtower, splitting a crowd of "undesirables" into two distinct groups; one to the right of the shots, the other to the left. No one is likely to come back there! We are very careful not to move out of the watchtower's blind spot. As we continue through the desolate surroundings, a cold January rain beats down. No one speaks. Faces are serious. Some people stare with empty expressions. A man explains why the Palestinian police, who were present at the time, did not shoot. "If they had, it would've been worse," he says. Another man shows us what remains of his house. He has nothing. When we ask him what he and his family are going to do, he raises his eyes slowly towards the sky and, in a whisper, says, "Wait for God to take pity on us." In silence, we return to our car, which is parked a few streets away. As we make our way through the narrow alleys we think about the emotional wounds that have just been inflicted. How many people will find a way out without suffering severe psychological damage? Will it be this cold tomorrow? Will it still be raining? And will the tents be distributed today? We finally reach the car. Coughing, the engine starts up as rain pelts the windshield. After a few seconds of silence, we turn to our translator. "Are you all right?" His dignity requires that he smile, sadly. "Chouaia, chouaia," he answers. "It's O.K., it's O.K."