BEIT HANOUN â€” “Watch out Jews â€” the army of Mohammed will return!” thundered mourners as thousands of Palestinians marched Thursday behind the funeral cortege of men, women and children killed by Israeli shelling the day before.
Vowing revenge with chants focusing on the seventh century battle of Khaybar, when the earliest Muslims defeated the Jews in what is now Saudi Arabia, angry Palestinians came from across Gaza to join the procession.
Seventeen corpses, spanning four generations of the Assamna family, were carried across the northern part of the territory before finally being laid to rest in Beit Hanoun’s newest cemetery.
Fighters, who joined the procession of mourners, walked through the rubble of streets torn up during Israel’s recent six-day reoccupation of the bleak town, shooting bursts of automatic machinegun fire heavenwards.
“Revenge, revenge, oh martyrs! Oh, our beloved, the response will be in Tel Aviv!” they cried, waving flags of factions and periodically firing bursts of automatic gunfire into the air.
“From our soul, from our blood, we will die for you, our martyrs!” chanted the funeral procession as it wove its way through Beit Hanoun where 18 civilians were killed by an Israeli artillery salvo at dawn Wednesday.
Carrying aloft the youngest victims, just toddlers, mourners marched through mud and raw sewage from shattered water pipes, a pungent reminder of the six-day occupation of Beit Hanoun which only ended Tuesday.
The steel treads of tanks tore up asphalt streets, ripped up medians and knocked over light poles.
Two telephone-pole repairmen working high above the funeral march hurriedly lowered the arm of their cherry picker truck when a gunman’s burst ripped past them. Women swarmed behind, crying frantically.
As they followed the corpses through the streets, the marchers walked first to the site of the shelling, then to the mosque and finally to the new graveyard in an empty field on the town’s outskirts.
“There is no more room in our graveyard in Beit Hanoun,” said local policeman Shaher Al Kurdi, 24. “It’s full. Too many martyrs.
They fall one after the other here.” Exhausted from wailing, Umm Mohammed fainted and collapsed to the asphalt.
“This is a very long walk. I came all the way from Jabaliya,” she said after friends revived her. “For our martyrs, for our sons, and to show the Jews that we are strong, I will keep on walking.” Another woman fell into the dirt on the cemetery’s edge at the end of the march. She took off her shoes and rubbed her bare feet in the sand.
The empty fields where she sat and which stretched into the distance were covered in Israeli tank tracks.
“This is our land, our soil, and our dignity,” said a tired Asmaa al-Masri, 39, from Beit Hanun.
The 17 corpses being lowered one by one into the ground were a reminder that this soil is also their graveyard. An 18th body was buried on the day of the attack.
The latest deaths came on the heels of a bloody week in which Israeli soldiers occupied this town and killed more than 50 local Palestinians.
Throughout Gaza, Palestinian wrath is surfacing. In the streets teenage boys spit at foreign journalists and hurl stones at their cars.
At the morgue before the funeral, Medhat Abu Harbeti, 42, emerged from the room where he was preparing four corpses for burial. He pulled off his plastic gloves and rubbed tired eyes.
“I’m used to this,” he said. “Every day it’s the same. I’ve been so busy. I’ve seen so many dead and so many massacres.”