Life Turned Upside Down In Gaza

Rajaa Abu Khalil and her children have lived in a makeshift shelter ever since their home was destroyed by Israeli bombing in July 2014. Ahmed Salama

Inas Abu Muhadi cannot understand that she will never see her dad again.

She remembers that her dad had a scooter. And each time she hears one, she expects to see her dad arriving home.

The young girl’s father passed away from natural causes in July 2013.

“Our life turned upside down after that day,” said her mother, Rajaa Abu Khalil. “Now, I have to be their father and mother at the same time. The burden is too heavy and I am tired.”

On top of Rajaa’s loss of her husband, the home where the couple lived with their six children in the central Gaza town of Deir al-Balah was bombed and destroyed during Israel’s 51-day onslaught in the summer of 2014.

Her eldest child, Muhammad, now 12 years old, is constantly nervous and often loses his temper.

Trauma is widespread in Gaza, which has endured three major Israeli assaults since December 2008.

The World Health Organization has estimated that 20 percent of Gaza’s population — or approximately 360,000 people — may be suffering from mental health problems caused by the 2014 assault.

Rajaa and her children had already evacuated their home and were taking shelter in a school run by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, when their house was bombed.

“Living in graves”

The family’s home has still not been rebuilt. Today, Rajaa and her children live in a caravan.

“When we moved here, we thought it would be temporary,” said Rajaa. “But the suffering seems endless. It’s like we are living in graves.”

Eight meters long and six meters wide, the caravan is “like an oven in summer and a fridge in winter,” said Rajaa.

In hot weather, the caravan has been infested with rodents, insects and snakes. The children have suffered from heat rashes, according to Rajaa. At times of heavy rainfall, the caravan has become flooded.

Her children find living in such a cramped space stressful. “I only wish I could have a room of my own — somewhere to keep my books tidy and where I could do my homework quietly,” said Ahmad, her 9-year-old son.

“Once, my mother came to visit me and I was embarrassed that I couldn’t find any place for her to sleep at night,” Rajaa added.

Rajaa’s mother lives about three miles away in Nuseirat refugee camp.

Rajaa Abu Khalil’s children play outside of their temporary home. Ahmed Salama

More than 142,000 refugee homes in Gaza were damaged during Israel’s 2014 attack, according to a recentassessment by UNRWA. Of those, more than 9,000 were totally demolished. A further 9,000 suffered severe or major damage.

“Only a matter of several hundred totally destroyed houses have been rebuilt,” UNRWA told The Electronic Intifada by email.

Explaining the shortfall, the agency added: “There are two reasons: a lack of funds and restrictions on materials allowed to enter.”

Two months after the August 2014 ceasefire, $3.5 billion was pledged by third-party states towards rebuilding Gaza.

At the end of March, only 69 percent of those pledges had been disbursed.

Meanwhile Israel limits the importation of many building supplies into Gaza, claiming that some items could prove useful to Hamas or other armed groups.

Israel restricts the amount of concrete, steel bars, electrical goods, pipes and wood thicker than one centimeter allowed into Gaza.

UNRWA reported, too, that 8,000 families still displaced because of the 2014 attack did not receive “transitional shelter cash assistance” during the second quarter of 2016.

Ashraf al-Qedra, a spokesperson for Gaza’s health ministry, said that health problems are widespread among the displaced. He told The Electronic Intifada that 300 to 400 caravan dwellers are admitted to Gaza’s hospitals each month with respiratory and intestinal complaints.

He added that the ministry does not have sufficient resources to organize medical visits to those who remain displaced.

Promises not kept

Concerns have also been raised about the structural safety of the caravans.

In May, 7-year-old Majdi al-Masri was killed when part of a caravan where his family lived in the Beit Hanounarea of northern Gaza fell on top of him. He had just returned from school when the accident occurred.

The al-Masri family home had been bombed by Israel in 2014.

Sufyan Hamad, a representative of the Beit Hanoun municipality, said that many of the caravans in the area had been assembled quickly and in a haphazard manner following the 2014 attack.

Rajaa Abu Khalil does not know how much longer she and her children will have to live in a caravan.

UNRWA has taken note of the damage to her home, but has been unable to tell her when it will be rebuilt.

“There is no cement for the reconstruction,” she said. “Until now, it’s all promises. Nothing has happened on the ground.”

Sarah Algherbawi is a freelance writer and translator from Gaza.

This article first appeared in The Electronic Intifada

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