The Palestine Entries: Gazan home converted into Israeli hospital, playpen

// Entry #33

Homes damaged during Israel's air and land assault on the Gaza Strip

The G. family, abbreviated per request, lived in a wide two-story building in the Zaytun district of Gaza City, one of the first areas to be invaded by land after Israel’s aerial bombardment of the Gaza Strip in late 2008, early 2009. Columns of tanks and bulldozers crawled through the neighborhood’s streets and walls, and low-flying helicopters monitored the destruction from above.

The family remained indoors, startled by the mobilization of a foreign military in front of their doorsteps but not necessarily afraid of the situation in its full magnitude. They had gotten used to the buzzing of drones and the explosions of missile barrages in and around their neighborhood. According to Deena, in her teens at the time, the family’s primary concern was to avoid windows and any exposed or open-air parts of the house. Helicopters and snipers were said to be targeting anything that moves.

Amplified by microphones, Israeli soldiers from within armored vehicles called for all remaining families to leave their properties. Although the announcements were both audible and threatening, the G. family chose not to abandon their home, even amidst the sounds of tanks rolling past the family’s location and firing shells at neighboring buildings. The family, including distant relatives who sought refuge in a familiar home with familiar people, huddled together in the center of the ground floor and slept.

The next day, the soldiers returned and again called for all remaining families to exit their homes and surrender to the Israeli military’s custody or escape deeper into Gaza. This time, however, the soldiers called the families by name. Now fearing for their lives, the G. family quickly gathered blankets and off-white plastic bags and made their way to the front door of the building. Waving the plastic bags as white flags, the family sprinted toward a nearby cargo truck and filed inside, all fifty of them, including a grandfather recovering from a recent surgery.

During the sprint, Deena noted thick white trails of phosphorus bombs trickling down on the neighborhood and lifeless bodies scattered along the city streets. She recalled being shot at and later discovered, to her utter bewilderment, that the Israeli military had taken her makeshift white flag as a green Hamas flag.

While waiting in the truck, Deena and her family heard the roof of the house cave in after helicopter gunners fired hundreds of rounds into the concrete structure. Soldiers parachuted into the building through the gaping hole in the ceiling.

Deena’s account of her family’s displacement fast-forwarded to the time when the G. family finally found it safe to return to the building a little more than two weeks after being forced to abandon the property in a Nakba-esque fashion.

The house had been converted into an Israeli military field hospital and a recreational facility, judging by the extent of the damage to the interior of the building. It had not been bombed during the air and land invasions but intense shooting, especially within the home, destroyed the structural integrity of the building as well as the concrete lining of most of the walls.

The consequences of the soldiers’ stay are too extensive to list outright, and Deena kept coming back to this point to tack on even more. Every closet in the house was either shot at or burned, every item of clothing set on fire in the process. Cooking utensils were used for medical purposes and target practice. Jars, pots, and pans featured bullet piercings and lay strewn throughout the house. Of the two televisions owned by the G. family, the larger one was destroyed, the smaller one kept safe, most likely for their entertainment purposes.

The bathrooms were dirtied with fecal matter and the entire kitchen was destroyed from within. The walls closest to neighboring buildings were blown up to form holes large enough for soldiers to move through and into other buildings. Family photos went missing and every couch, rug, curtain, and bed was knifed, sometimes even to shreds, thus rendering each item unusable.

The only things that were left unbroken were a few glass cups, each from one of the family’s many traditional coffee or tea cup sets. For example, eleven tea cups of a certain set were shot and destroyed, their pieces scattered in the cupboards, but the twelfth cup remained untouched as if to remind the family of the life it once had. Deena and her newly-wed husband found this to be the most sickening aspect of the horrid experience.

Walking through the rubble that was once their home, the G. family was surprised to find that Deena’s father’s Visa card had not been taken or destroyed by the soldiers. The family soon learned, however, that 80,000 NIS, equivalent to over $23,000 USD, had been stolen from their account.

To date, it has cost the family over $22,000 USD to repair the damage of the Israeli army’s stay which included rebuilding walls, replacing home appliances, and removing the debris and filth left behind in every room. The family has not yet completed its repairs.

Nor has the family received sufficient compensation for its losses. It was recently awarded 2,000 Euros for property damage, according to Deena’s husband, but this meager amount barely helped in the repair and rebuilding process.

The home that Deena grew up in still exhibits stark reminders of the gruesome and animalistic realities that accompanied Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip and that continue to permeate the Palestinian territories through occupation, siege, discrimination, and a total disrespect for humankind. The home and its shattered tea cups have become conventional symbols of what Israeli policy is meant to do.

Sami Kishawi

There is one comment

  1. 48Refugee

    It’s these kinds of stories that make people stop believing in in the humanity of their enemies and lead to radicalization… Why don’t these soldiers consider this when they commit these types of inhumane acts? This is why suicide bombers exist; you can’t damage a person this deeply and expect that pain not to manifest itself in unhealthy ways.

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