Before I start to tell these accounts I need to say something about the current weather conditions here. It is very cold, there have been continuous very strong winds and heavy rain with absolutely torrential bursts. The ground is saturated and very muddy, many places are flooded. In our comparitively luxurious appartment which has continuous power because it is the building that Save the Children use and therefore has a generator to provide power when the power cuts happen, we are huddled round a heater wearing coats all day because we are so cold. What it’s like for families living in desperate conditions with no genrator so having power cuts for much of the day, 8 hours a day, sometimes more due to power rationing, I can’t imagine.
The Abu Said Family, Johr El Dyk near Gaza City
This is a beautiful farming area just outside Gaza City, the fields are fertile and the farms all look quite prosperous. Naser Abu Said the father of the family told us their story. He said that 3 years ago in spite of the fact that their house was only 300 m from the Israeli security fence on the border their life was good, they felt fairly secure as they had not been attacked in Operation Cast Lead so assumed that the Israelis knew that they were just a farming family living there with no connections to political parties. They were used to bombing all around their area but didn’t think that they were going to be targeted. On the 13th of July 2010 this changed, they were all sitting round drinking tea when the Israelis mounted an incursion, the army arrived with tanks and soldiers. At first the tanks shelled around their house injuring his younger sister, as they changed to using the heavy caliber machine guns his wife realized that one of their children was still outside and went to bring him inside to safety. While she was outside they again shelled around the house using flechette shells killing his wife and injuring his father, their child managed to run to safety inside the house. For 3 hours they were stuck inside the house unable to reach their injured family members before the Israelis eventually allowed them to go out to attend to the injured and bury his wife.
From then until 28th April 2011 they continued to live in their damaged home, but on that day the Israelis came back, everyone was inside the house when they opened fire on the house hitting it directly, injuring 3 of his children and destroying the house. It took an hour this time, calling frantically to the Red Cross and other people before the Israelis allowed them to leave and take the injured children to hospital.
Now the house is partly repaired with a couple of rooms usable but his children are too afraid to return to it so his parents and sister are living there in very difficult conditions. He is building a new house around 500m further away from the fence. This has been started but he does not have enough money to carry on the work so he, his new wife and 6 children are all living in 3 small tents with electricity for half of the day brought by wires from the town and the few posessions they salvaged inside the tents. This is incredibly hard in the summer but just now during the Winter it must be almost impossible, this last month there has been extremely heavy rain and gale force winds, it’s extremely cold. All around the house and tents there is water and the ground has been turned to mud, the tents do not keep out all of the rain so it’s very hard to keep dry and warm and using the electricity is dangerous
The Tafesh Family and their Neighbours, Al Zaytoun, Gaza City
The Al Zaytoun area of Gaza City is part of the old city, the area these families live in a very poor residential part of this area. The houses are only one storey high with small rooms and covered with corrugated iron. The narrow lanes going through them have turned to thick mud with the heavy rain and it is a 2 km walk for the children to get to school from here each day.
On the 15th of November 2012 at around 11am an F16 dropped 3 bombs onto waste ground near their houses. Although the houses themselves weren’t hit by these bombs the force of the explosion caused the corrugated iron roofs to fall in and some of the walls to collapse. When they ran from the building to try to get help a rocket was fired from a drone at them, luckily this didn’t explode or many more injuries would have occured. 10 month old Haneen Tafesh was asleep on a matress in one of the rooms and was killed when the roof fell on her, Houda her 21 year old aunt sustained a back injury for which she was initially told she needed surgery but this was cancelled and she was told to take medication for 12 months after which her back will be reassessed to see if she needs the surgery after all. The medication she has been told she needs costs 80 shekels every 6 days which is a crippling amount for this poor family to pay, before Operation Pillar of Cloud Khaled, Haneens father, was working as a baker but now his job has gone so there is now no one in the family working.
More of the Tafesh extended family live next door, like their cousins and many of their nieghbours some of the walls of their house and their roof collapsed. By sheer luck the members of the family who were inside only recieved minor injuries.
So far like their other nieghbours neither of these families have received any help to repair their homes. Khaled went to the Ministry of Works after the attack in order to ask them for help and was told that someone would be out to see what they needed, so far no one has come. They have patched the houses up to the best of their ability with damaged corrugated iron and stretched whatever plastic sheets they could get their hands on over the broken walls but both homes are totally unsuitable for living in with many gaping holes in both the roofs and walls. Now with the terrible winter weather, water is puring through the roofs and the wind is making it extremely cold, it’s impossible to keep anything dry and both families have had to try to pick the room with least water for sleeping in. Whole families are trying to sleep in one room and they’re using gas cookers or open fires to try to keep warm but filling their houses with smoke and fumes. Although they have electricity for part of the day, the amount of water getting into their houses makes it very dangerous to use so for most of the time they are in darkness, relying on battery powered torches and lights.
One of the strange anomolies of Gaza is that the main refugee agency UNWRA is only mandated to help families who were first displaced in 1948. The many internally displaced families from years of occupation, house demolitions and repeated attack since 1948 have to fend for themselves. They receive little or no help and rely on the rest of their extended families for what help they can give. For the poor this is disasterous.
As we huddle round our heater in our appartment, which is undamaged, just not designed for cold weather, I wonder how they manage to survive at all.
The Abu Zour Family, Al Zaytoun, Gaza Cty
Nearby to where the Abu Zour Family lived in Zaytoun there used to be the Israeli settlement of Netserim. Hannad, the Grandmother, tells us of how their area suffered from many attacks from the settlers and there was a watchtower at the end of the road from which there was often gunfire into the street. At one time they were confined to their home for 4 days, during which time they were unable to leave, even to get food or water and they ran out of both. During Operation Cast Lead they witnessed a huge amount of destruction in the area around their home but were fortunate that time, their home was not hit.
However during Operation Pillar of Cloud, on the 19th of November, 26 members of the Abu Zour Family were inside their home sleeping when at approximately 2am the building next door to theirs was targeted and destroyed by an F16, their building was hit by 2 missiles from a drone. Within minutes of this attack while the family was trying to eacape from the building through the dense smoke they said they couldn’t see anything even though they used any lights they could find, their home was destroyed by another bomb from an F16. 3 members of the family were killed, Eyads wife Nisma Helmi Abu Zour aged 21, his son Mohammed Eyad Abu Zour aged 4 born during Cast Lead killed during Pillar of Cloud and his cousin Sahar Fadi Abu Zour aged 20. 4 children were severely injured and had to go to Egypt for treatment afterwards. Fouad aged 5 suffered severe head injuries and goes to hospital daily for treatment. Mahmoud a cousin aged 5, severe head injuries and was eventually sent to Tunis for 28 days for treatment, he still has to have the hole in his head checked and dressed every 2 days in hospital. Hadil Eyads daughter also had a head injury. Hannand a cousin aged 13 had injuries all over her body and was in a critical condition, she had to have 2 major surgeries in Egypt, thankfully she seems to be recovering well now. Fatima aged 14, Mahmouds sister sustained 2 bad fractures to her left leg, the only one who was able to be treated in Gaza but she still suffers pain and limps badly. Isra, the 19 year old wife of Eyads brother Mohammed recieved fractures to her spine and now can’t walk. Aahed Hamdi Al Qatati aged 34, from another family living in the same building was also killed in the same attack.
Eayd who is still obviously very shocked by what happened to his family told us about that night. He talked about how before the bomb Mohammed had come to his bed twice during the night because he couldn’t sleep and how he had settled him, how after the 1st missile strikes he had gone to lift him because he was obviously badly injured and how he had carried him, trying to get him to safety. Eyad also recieved an injury to his shoulder while he was trying to carry Mohammed away and the F16 blast happened, what he didn’t realize was that Mohammed was already dead. It wasn’t until he woke in hospital to hear people talking about ‘the father of the Martyr’, he asked who they were talking about and was told. His wife Nisma was killed when she wasn’t quick enough getting out of the building and was caught in the F16 bomb blast along with the rest of the injured children. He talks about how the children cry every night and ask where there mother is, he has to tell them that she’s in heaven.
When the children who had been sent to Egypt to recieve hospital treatment returned to begin with they were too frightened that Fouad would go into shock if he was told the truth about Mohammed, when he asked they told him that he was still at Shifa Hospital, Fouad carefully looked after toys waiting for him to return. Fouad has several major scars on his head and has obviously suffered some brain damage, we were told he couldn’t talk when he first returned but is now beginning to speak again. Hadil, his younger sister, had a less severe head injury but now refuses to leave the house to go as far as kindergarten as she is too afraid.
When asked what she would say to the outside world the grandmother Hannand said “We did nothing for the Israelis to punish us in this way. I have never seen bombs like this before, the Israelis said that they were targeting empty areas but where are the empty areas in Gaza? When I see injured Israeli children I am very sad, children should be kept out of war but they bomb the children in the Gaza Strip. I hope for peace for all.”
By Theresa in Gaza
Some photos courtesy of http://desde-palestina.blogspot.co.uk/