Eva Bartlett | In Gaza
1 February 2009
In Tuam, Attatra, on day one of Israel’s declared, and immediately-violated, ‘cease-fire’ an old woman stood beside the wreckage of her 2 room cement block home. The tracks of the bulldozer which felled her home were still deeply rutted, painfully visible.
The house next her to her pile of rubble was still standing, but gutted by fire. Mohammed Abu Khusah had 19 people depending on the house whose kitchen, along with all of the bottom floor rooms, was burnt out. Upstairs, too. Six rooms upstairs completely black-stained and ravaged by fire, five downstairs.
Clothes taken out of cupboards and drawers, strewn everywhere. Sniper holes: 2 in front room, 2 in back room, 2 in a room looking onto a wide open area below. Hebrew writing, message unknown but intent suspicious, on many of the walls.
On the other side of the old woman’s rubble, another pile of blocks which had been three 3 level homes, housing 18, 10, and 6 people each.
Behind those ruins, down a slight rise of rubble, Khitam Abdel Majid sat in the dirt, shawls draped around her, surrounded by the men of her family and by twisted metal support beams. She told me that their 3 story house was bulldozed on the 15th day, along with everyone inside. Pointing at a corner room with cloth draped over the gaping hole, she explained her family was sleeping in the room. “It’s cold in there, freezing all night.”
A hand-written sign poking out of the heaps of concrete and house entrails denotes Wael el Khaldi’s former house. His house sits amidst yet another wasteland of destroyed homes. Atop the rubble, a wheelchair belonging to a 23 year old member of el Khaldi’s family sits squashed. One of the Red Crescent medics holds the crushed prosthetic legs belonging to the same amputee.
The Red Crescent teams are scouring the ruins, taking stock of blown out windows. Facing the massive destruction and 10s of destroyed houses in this northwestern area of Gaza alone, counting shattered windows seems trite, irrelevant. But the RC is doing what it can to immediately alleviate the suffering of Palestinians who can at least still stay in their homes, internal damage and desecration aside. It is winter, and the nights are cold. A window covering makes the difference between completely frigid nights and moderately tolerable nights (without electricity or gas, no means of heating except with blankets, if these have not been burned or tarnished).
Accompanying the RC team, I see a number of houses in a short time. No time for in depth testimony taking, just a surface view and understanding of each family’s tragedy.
Mohammed Ali laments the loss of the trees lining his family’s house (trees, as ever, are an important theme in Palestinians’ narrative: life, continuity, providing nourishment). “It took 12 years to cultivate these trees. We had oranges, lemons, olives, dates…” And a nice tiled patio, too, all razed with the swat of a gargantuan military bulldozer.
The next door neighbour’s front wall is missing, bulldozed. His porch swing sits inside the open room, the support beams buckling and cupboards bare for all to see.
“Henna kan fi bab. Mish maujoud,” the owner tells me. [There was a door here. It’s gone. (so is the wall, obviously)].
While the roads are only dirt lanes, the houses are spacious in this neighbourhood, and well-spaced apart. The lift would be good here, near the sea, were it not for numerous factors: the siege, the wanton destruction… We stop at a lovely olive and light green washed stucco house, again lined with trees (papaya, lemon, orange, date) and tastefully landscaped. Above the smiling faces which greet us and try to sit us down for tea, a gaping hole much larger than the original window. Bullet holes less-tastefully puncture the finish.
A villa, a seeming mansion, sits off the road, top floor window blackened from the chemical fires which raged inside. Professor Mohammed Okasha stands in his ruined kitchen, a vast kitchen arranged western-style, as is most of the house. “All of our clothes were burned. All of them. Everything,” he laments the losses in his house.
We move through the house, the walls are a uniform dripping-soot-black, and he explains:
“Every year, I went to Britain, photocopied books by Israeli authors which had been translated from Hebrew into English. Avi Schlaim, Benny Morris, Ilan Pappe…”
Many houses later, less time, I’m only able to jot down notes, impressions.Many houses later, less time, I’m only able to jot down notes, impressions.
– 5 rooms damaged; missile, tank, and bulldozer. 25 people in the house, soft eyes. Background music is firing from Israeli gunboats off the coast. Importance of something as simple as plastic sheeting.