New Internationalist

How do you describe Hell?

It took me ages to get through to Adham at his home in Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip.

The phone lines are down most of the time, and even when they are working, they're usually jammed by Palestinians desperately trying to contact family and friends inside Gaza. After two days I finally manage to get hold of Adham on his landline at home, and ask him if he and his family are OK.

'We are still alive,' he says. 'But you would not believe what we are going through. I have never seen or heard anything like this.'

The Jabaliya refugee camp is one of the most densely populated places on earth, with almost 107,000 people crammed into 1.4 square kilometres of thin streets, alleyways and small two- and three-storey houses stacked literally back to back. When, after eight days of bombing the entire Gaza Strip, the Israeli military invaded northern Gaza on 4 January, they drove tanks and snipers into Jabaliya, and began shelling, and shooting to kill. Adham and his family remain trapped inside their home in the middle of the camp. 'We've been locked inside our house for 12 days now,' he says. 'We can't leave - it's too dangerous.' He tells me he has been no further than 100 metres down his street since 27 December.

 Suddenly I hear the sound of heavy shooting echoing down the phoneline. 'You hear that?' says Adham. 'It is like this day and night. We have F16 planes and helicopters in the skies above us, Israeli soldiers on the streets around us, and we are all very scared. This is not like the previous invasions - this time they mean to kill us. There is no escape.'

The Israeli military unleashed Operation Lead Cast on 27 December, launching repeated air strikes at military and civilian 'targets'. Since then, at least 700 Palestinians have died across the Gaza Strip, including more than 150 children. Thousands of families have been driven from their homes, terrified of being bombed, shot or buried alive as their houses are demolished over their heads.

Adham lives near Al Fakhoura school, which the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) transformed into a shelter for some 350 locals from Jabaliya who have fled their houses. But Al Fakhoura school does not exist any more - on 6 January the Israeli military fired four artillery shells towards the school, despite having been given the exact geographical coordinates of the school by the UN. One of the artillery shells struck a house close to the school - killing Samir Deeb, his wife, eight children and two relatives - while the other three shells exploded just outside Al Fakhoura, killing at least 27 people, and maiming dozens more. Medics who were on the scene say people had arms and legs torn from their bodies by the force of the blasts, and they had to evacuate the dead and maimed while being shot at by Israeli snipers.

The Israeli military claimed Al Fakhoura school had been used by Hamas 'terrorists', a claim angrily challenged by UNWRA Gaza Director John Ging, who is adamant all the victims were civilians. But no-one is safe inside the Gaza Strip now. While UNRWA pleads for the world do something to stop the carnage, and also does its utmost to bring limited supplies of humanitarian aid to people who do not have enough food, Adham just hopes he will live to see the end of this hell.

'In my worst moments, I wonder if I care whether I die,' he says. 'Because at least then I will not have to face whatever is going to happen to us next.'

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