Gazans Return to What’s Left of Their Homes and Families

'People go into every house of mourning for five minutes, shake hands, everyone lists the dead that he knows of, and then they hurry to the other houses of mourning.'

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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A Palestinian woman sits next to her destroyed house in Beit Hanoun town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive in Gaza.
A Palestinian woman sits next to her destroyed house in Beit Hanoun town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive in Gaza.Credit: Reuters
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Despite the cease-fire, A. remained in her home yesterday and did not travel with her husband to the Shabura refugee camp in Rafah. She couldn’t bear the thought of the emptiness she would find there instead of the three families of relatives who had lived there in their simple asbestos dwellings until a single bomb fell on them Saturday morning.

“Did you know that Fathi’s [Abu Ita] three children who were killed were geniuses? Like their father, like their uncle Yakoub, the mathematician,” she said yesterday, as she delivered a lengthy report about her relatives who were killed, her work colleague who was killed, those who were wounded, those whose houses were destroyed this time, those whose houses were destroyed for the second time, those who were buried with their bodies whole, and the children killed whose body parts had to be collected.

A. heard the blast that killed her relatives, she said, and asked, “I want to understand how those soldiers are happy when they hug their own children, after they cut our children to pieces. I don’t understand how a soldier can hug his children and annihilate families. You have raised here a generation full of anger and hate. Do you think this generation will be afraid after this war? After a missile chased them in the street? This is a generation that doesn’t know what fear is.”

Her husband, S., did visit the family home yesterday in Shabura – and seven other homes of mourning in the neighborhood. “People go into every house of mourning for five minutes, shake hands, everyone lists the dead that he knows of, and then they hurry to the other houses of mourning.”

B. returned yesterday from the home of her relatives in Shabura to her own home in the Janina area of Rafah, and immediately rushed back to Shabura with her children, terrified. Her neat home was still standing, thank God, but a drone had fired a rocket into her neighbor’s home and it hadn’t exploded.

“What happens now?” she asked. “Is it going to explode? Is there someone who can dismantle it? And there are a lot of other missiles like this that haven’t exploded, all over the Strip. What do we do?” she asked her sister, but got no answer.

At 8:01 A.M., when the cease-fire went into effect, R. returned to his neighborhood near the border. “There was once a neighborhood there,” he said, wryly. During an earlier lull, a few days after he was forced to flee his home, he went back and found it half demolished, its contents burned and smoldering, with a few flames still licking at a table leg or rug. When he hurried to his home yesterday he found a pile of rubble. Since he’d been there last, it had been bombed.

“What hurts me most is our garden, all the fruit trees I planted,” R. said. “The lemon tree is black and dry, as if no one had watered it for 10 years. When I saw the garden I cried. Now we’re with relatives, we’ll go out this afternoon to find an apartment to rent… and we’ll see what happens next.

“This is what we got, from Hamas and the Israelis alike. Your house will be destroyed against your will, against your will you will die. Journalists asked me, ‘So you’re standing firm?’ And I asked, what standing firm are you talking about? We’re standing on the blood of our children, on the rubble of our homes. That’s standing firm?

“Our culture forces us to say that God will compensate us. So I say it, what else am I supposed to say? Forty years I saved to send my children to study, and I didn’t build a home, and then I built one and my dream was destroyed within hours,” R. continued. “One mustn’t express an opinion about the war. They’ll make you trouble if you say anything. I speak my mind, but others, if they say what they think, they’ll say they’re collaborators, or they’ll beat them or even kill them.

“And what did we do? Since the first Egyptian initiative – if they’d signed it, there would be 1,600 or 1,700 fewer people dead and none of this destruction. My house would still be standing. But 75 martyrs wouldn’t have brought any money to them or to Gaza. They waited until they could get money.”

M.’s house in Beit Lahia, as well as his brother’s, remained practically intact. “Some broken glass, and piles of sand in the rooms, which we’re cleaning out now,” said M. “But I’m embarrassed to talk about it in front of all the people who have lost homes and entire families. I haven’t gone to the destroyed neighborhoods so that I shouldn’t get upset, I have to make sure my blood pressure doesn’t go up.

“I’ve visited friends I hadn’t seen the entire war,” said M. “H. sends you regards. He’s fine. A missile was fired on the story above him. There’s almost no house that hasn’t been hit by a missile. If Hamas doesn’t accept the PLO’s proposals now, support and solidarity with them will disappear.”

Like A., B. also stayed home yesterday. “And it was lucky that I didn’t go out, because the electricity went back on for the first time in 10 days, so I ran to do things like laundry.”

She didn’t feel much like going out in any case. “The cease-fire exposes you to a situation a million times more difficult than what was during the war,” she said. “During the war we were focused on ourselves, on our fear of a missile, on the lack of electricity, on the water we didn’t have because there was no electricity, on the food that no one felt like eating, on the relatives who were killed. Now we’re starting to realize to what degree this wasn’t our own private nightmare. I’m much more afraid of the coming few days than I was during the war.”

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