Life in Gaza Strip refugee camp Khan Younis

GAZA -- In Khan Younis refugee camp in the middle of the Gaza Strip, residents
went about business as usual early Sunday evening, shopping for groceries and filling roadside cafes.

Residents said that Khan Younis is a safer place to be right now than Gaza City to the north and Rafah—a stronghold of militant offshoots that even Hamas can’t control—to the south. But no one is really safe in such “closed” quarters, said Sami Harb, a resident of the camp, as his three-year-old son played on his shoulders.

On Sunday evening, Harb’s family gathered in the darkness of their modest home in Khan Younis camp; the power out and the hum of drones—even here, in the “quiet” part of Gaza—a constant overhead.

Basil Harb, a university lecturer, said he had started to add a new level to the family home last week before the Israeli air offensive started, but decided to put work on hold for now. “I still need to knock down a wall,” he said, and then added with a grin: “I thought
about calling the Israelis to send a drone to do it. But what if they sent an F-16 instead, and then the whole house would be flattened?”

His brother Sami and their aging mother burst into laughter. But the mood turned dark a moment later. Death has become so normal here, Basil Harb said. “War, after war, after war,” he said.

His four-year-old son Majed was playing outside Saturday when a nearby explosion shook the whole house. Harb ran outside to make sure Majed was okay, and found the child unfazed, playing in the dirt.

Talk of a ground invasion here in Khan Younis is fraught with worry. Some see it as inevitable, and others believe that Hamas is strong enough to deter it this time around, said Harb.

“People say the Israeli troops are afraid of coming into Gaza,” he said.

As the Harbs’ electricity flickered back on, and the family rushed to charge their cell phones, crowds swarmed into a local mosque next door for the evening prayer. Following the prayer, an imam delivered a fiery sermon filled with local news. Palestinian fighters had shot down an Israeli Apache helicopter over Gaza City to the north, the imam announced.

Rumors of downed Israeli aircraft have circulated for days—always turning out to be false. But some grumbled that this bit of news came from Israeli television channel 10—so it must be true—and they worried that it would most certainly lead to a ground invasion.

Gaza City was largely deserted Sunday night, as periodic explosions shook the city and lit up the sky. Drones hummed and Israeli fighter jets roared overhead.

Abigail Hauslohner has been The Post’s Cairo bureau chief since 2012. She served previously as a Middle East correspondent for Time magazine and has been covering the Middle East since 2007.
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Washington Post · November 18, 2012