In some areas lay a completely flattened landscape, in others burned out buildings stood side by side with shelled houses.
Elsewhere, nothing remained but the rubble of refugee shelters and their occupants’ belongings.
Hundreds of residents could be seen fleeing the camp on donkey carts piled with blankets and what little possessions were salvageable, making them refugees twice over.
Everyone in Yibneh had a story to tell, each more desperate than the next.
Amal Yusuf sat atop a pile of rubble somewhat in a daze, staring out into the grim horizon before her, as a television camera whirred a few metres away.
Clothes, copper wires, tea kettles, and children’s shoes lay scattered all around her.
Amal’s home was demolished without warning while her eight family members were still inside it watching television. Everything she owned now lay buried under that wreckage.
“We were able to escape through some broken windows with nothing but our clothes, not even our shoes. Our identity cards, our money, our gold, all stayed inside,” said Yusuf.
“We’ve slept on the streets for two nights now. We have no food or water and I don’t have a single shekel on me. Where are we going to go now?”
Further down the road were remnants of Alamiah Sarafandi’s house. Her husband was on the roof when Israelis shot him and sent a missile flying through his bedroom window.
He fell down to the ground and broke his spine and is now in a critical condition.
The Sarafandi household came tumbling down on Anwar Mughayar and his family, who live across the street.
The UN has called Israeli actions
“We tried to run out as fast as we could but my brother didn’t make it in time,” said Mughayer.
Anwar’s brother was literally buried alive under the rubble. “We don’t know where to go now. There are no places for rent anymore.”
Vacant apartments are difficult to come by in Rafah these days. There are simply too many homeless Palestinians and too little space, according to Paul McCann, Chief Public Information Officer of UNRWA.
“We hand out cash assistance, but where the difficulty lies is in finding a place to live because Rafah is now so swamped with people who’ve lost homes. There aren’t that many places left,” he told Aljazeera.net.
Some people, like Linda al-Absi, were lucky enough to be given temporary shelter in a local sports club.
She and 39 other members of her extended family took to the streets after the Israeli army levelled their four-story apartment. All 40 of them are now living in a single room.
According to the UNRWA, 114 refugee homes were completely demolished during the Israeli raid last week, bringing the total number of demolished homes in the Gaza Strip to 12,000.
Another 117 are partially damaged and uninhabitable. About 1240 people were made homeless by the attacks, a figure which UN staff fear will go up in coming days.
Life of terror
“Every night we sleep in terror not knowing whether or not our house will get demolished or a bullet will come flying through our living room,” said Iyad Abu Obaid, packing up his things in the hope of saving as many of his belongings as possible.
Obaid was planning on leaving Rafah that night for fear he would be the next victim.
Most of the residents of Rafah are faced with a similar lose-lose situation – stay in your home and put your family at great risk, or pack up your things and leave and increase the likelihood that your home will get demolished or taken over by the Israelis.
Forty members of Linda al-Absi’s
The night of the largest raid saw at least 10 people killed and dozens of others wounded.
Dr Ali Musa, director of the Najar Hospital, witnessed the tragic scene. “Apache missiles hit a group of ten people from the same family at once. Several of the bodies arrived decapitated…it was a scene that made my blood curl … missing limbs and body party … pools of blood,” he told Aljazeera.net.
No ambulances or relief workers were allowed into the camp the night of the Israeli invasion. Instead, residents carried patients from house to house and through the narrow alleyways of the camp, until they reached the health workers.
“It was only after a certain amount of time had passed that we were given access to the camp and its victims. It almost seemed intentional.
“[The Israelis] waited until they knew there was no hope for the wounded to live,” said Iyad Awad Allah, an ambulance driver for al-Awda Clinic in Rafah.
“If we attempted to reach the victims immediately, we were shot at.”
Dr Ibrahim Makawi, who accompanied the ambulances during the raids, described a similar such scene of terror and chaos.
“As civilian health workers we felt constantly in danger. We were encircled by helicopters, tanks, and snipers.
“You are trying to get wounded people out of the red zone while your own life is being threatened, and on top of that, you have to navigate the narrow sandy roads of the refugee camp,” he told Aljazeera.net.
The Najar hospital was full to capacity that night, which meant casualties had to be transferred to neighbouring hospitals.
Since a complete closure was imposed, ambulances had to use a narrow sandy bypass, which winds through local farms.
This same road is used by all incoming and outgoing Rafah traffic during a closure. Tanks and armoured personnel carriers are never far behind and do not hesitate to shoot at oncoming vehicles, according to Musa.
One ambulance driver was killed on this road last week, and several others wounded. A premature newborn in need of incubation also died on the way.
Israel’s invasion of Rafah has
The Israeli government had said that the purpose of the raid was to locate tunnels used by Palestinians to smuggle weapons, among other things, from Egypt to the Gaza Strip. Many, however, believe these allegations are simply not true.
“I think this is exactly like the Weapons of Mass Destruction claims that the United States made about Iraq,” said Dr Yusuf Musa, vice president of the Rafah Popular Refugee Committee.
Musa says the Israelis are levelling the land near the border to create a 200m buffer zone between the Rafah separation wall and the refugee camps. Within the buffer zone will be a road leading to the Israeli settlements.
Residents of the camp whose homes were demolished had only words of anger and contempt when asked about the tunnels.
“If they really want to find tunnels, why don’t they dig near the border where the tunnels are rumoured to be, not just randomly demolish houses of poor people?” asked a resident.
The United Nations, meanwhile, was concerned with the massive nature of the entire Israeli invasion, considering the low security risk the tunnels posed to Israel in the first place.
“Our concern is that this was a disproportionate operation. The use of this much force in a civilian area is a breach of international law. Twelve hundred people were confirmed homeless and this was in order to secure a small number of tunnels.
“I believe it’s questionable how much of a security risk [they] would pose to Israel if they weren’t occupying parts of Rafah in the first place,” said a senior UN official.
“What’s happened here far outstripped what’s happened in Jenin. It’s a terribly desperate place where conflict seems every day to create more conflict and distress.”