Gaza Diary: Searching for Memories Amid Gaza’s Rubble

Scrounging around in what is left of their homes in the Strip's Shujaiyeh neighborhood, residents recall other wars and mourn their losses.

Gil Cohen-Magen

When Emad Obaid, 32, heard about the 12-hour cease-fire in the Gaza Strip a few days ago, he felt he must run to check on his house in the eastern neighborhood of Shujaiyeh, six days after fleeing it. Obaid expected the house to be damaged, but was shocked to see that it had been totally reduced to rubble. 

Standing over the rubble, Obaid started to search for any usable things he could take with him to his wife and five children back in one of the local UNRWA schools; with difficulty he pulled out clothes and blankets. He had to go back and forth a couple of times between the school and the ruins to bring the items to his wife.

“When I told my wife that we no longer have a house and that we are homeless from now on, she started weeping and hitting her cheeks. It was a huge shock,” Obaid said.

Thousands of residents of the eastern part of the Gaza Strip, near the front lines of the fighting during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge last week, sought refuge in UNRWA schools after Israel Defense Forces tanks invaded and heavily shelled the area last week, causing devastating damage to hundreds of houses and killing scores of people.

A couple of meters away from Obaid, Ahmed Jundia was also scratching around in the rubble of his house. Jundia’s mother had been killed in an air strike while walking in the street, after she had fled from her home to an Orthodox church in the old part of Gaza City.

“I thought we survived the genocide here, and we escaped thanks to a miracle, yet my mother insisted she would go out to visit her relatives. She was killed on the way,” Jundia said.

He added that he had returned to the ruins of his home to look for photos of her so he can talk to them: “I’m not looking for my money here, I only want the memories, but even the memories were burned.”

Jundia, an only son, said that when he saw people in the area fleeing their houses, he was able to imagine how it was for Arabs who fled in 1948 during Israel’s War of Independence.

“I used to hear these stories, but now I ‘lived’ one of them. I bet it’s the exact same scene. I think that now I will build a tent over the rubble of my house,” he added, picking up part of an explosive device that fell near his house.

A couple of kilometers away was the church Jundia had been talking about. Dozens of families had gathered in the yard, taking shelter from the nonstop violence in the area. Rami Ayyad, who is in charge of services at the church, said that since the first day of the ground invasion, his administration decided to cancel the prayers, and to open the church’s doors to the displaced citizens.

Asked if such a step has helped relations between Muslims and Christians in Gaza, Ayyad said he thought a gap had never really existed between people of different religions.

“We are glad we are able to help, all of us are Palestinians under the same attack – an attack that doesn’t differentiate between man and women, Christian or Muslim,” Ayyad noted.

Elsewhere in the old quarter of Gaza City, people rushed to the main market during a brief lull in fighting, after a long period of being stuck indoors. They were buying essential goods only, and not things needed for the Id al-Fitr feast being observed this week.

Majed Helo, 51, who owns a candy shop, said this is the worst period he has ever experienced in the many years he has been working. He estimated that one percent of his customers were buying chocolate in advance of the three-day holiday marking the end of the month of Ramadan, compared to previous years.

“I can understand this. It’s a war, people neither have money nor can they celebrate Id amid this mass destruction and killing,” Helo added.

At this writing, since Israel’s Operation Protective Edge began three weeks ago in the Gaza Strip, some 1,100 Palestinians have been killed. The United Nations estimates that more than 70 percent are civilians. Israel has lost 53 soldiers during the conflict and three civilians have been killed by Hamas.