Jabaliya’s Rayan tent camp residents
In Jabliya’s Rayan emergency tent camp, 69 tents have been set up to serve a homeless population of 500 families, averaging from 5 to 12 people per family, whose homes were blown apart, burned, or razed to the ground by Israeli forces during the 3 weeks of attacks on Gaza. The tents, the barest of structures, are not sufficient against the heavy rains of the past days.
“The water came into our tents and flooded the floor. How are we supposed to live like this?” Abu Nimer, 52, asked.
Just 2 toilets serve the female residents, with males using the bathrooms in the mosque across the street.
Closed borders and and reports of over a thousand trucks of donated supplies in Egypt and Israel, not in Gaza, mean that blankets, mattress, and basic supplies are not being provided to the homeless of Rayan tent camp, nor the other camps of desperate families around the Gaza Strip. Just as they were denied the right to flee during Israel’s thorough bombardment of every area of Gaza, the newly-homeless are now being denied the right to emergency shelters, emergency assistance (blankets, clothing, mattresses, medicines, foods) and re-building supplies. The calculated and brutal siege continues; the facts on the ground worse than ever.There is no prospect for families to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” in the fashion that one outside of Gaza can do. Here, there is absolutely no prospect of work, of income, of a means to rent a temporary accommodation, of a means to re-build an Israeli army-destroyed home, of money to replace clothing and books and delivery trucks bombed by invading soldiers…
The only thing that is not lacking in Gaza is the will to work: people are desperate for work, no one wants to receive handouts. But they are being forced to because our countries are willfully imposing this siege on the Palestinians of Gaza.
One of the camp’s volunteer coordinators explains the dire circumstances of the 500 families whose homes have been fully destroyed, and the 600 families whose homes have been greatly damaged and are unsuitable for inhabiting. Relief money, he says, has not yet materialized. He wears a pained expression as he explains that there’s no way to provide the needed services for people who are displaced out of their homes. These people have been through hell, and it isn’t ending.
The only tangible and noticeable aid is the bags of bread some camp kids were carrying for their families’ meals.
According to the coordinator, many of the residents formers houses valued $50,000 and upwards, not including furniture and personal belongings.
Abu Nimer is vocal about his exasperation: “There’s no blankets, no mattresses, no food…How can I take care of my children on this?” He urges a visit to his burnt out home, to the destroyed homes of his neighbours and friends.
Paralysed and Homeless
Beit Lahia resident Hani Safi is just 18 but holds the burden of caring for his family and his paralysed father, all of whom may any day be thrown out of their current safe-haven. His father, Fudall, had a stroke several years ago which left him in his current state. Prior to the attacks, this was manageable, but after the next door 6 floor home was hit by F-16 strikes and toppled on to Safi’s home, their small 1 story is a mess of broken asbestos tiling and crushed walls.
Hani’s brothers and sisters, numbering 7, share one room of a distant relative’s home, along with immobile Fudall and Hani himself. “We may have to leave any day. Our relative only has a two room house and he needs the space. We have no where to go,” Hani explains. A university student like his older siblings, Hani has until now only been studying and but faces the prospect of quitting university to find work in a region where work is not to be found.
Some streets away, in the Beit Lahia project neighbourhood, Ali Hassouna, father of Nimer, walks from room to burnt-out room, relating the extent of the damage caused by the tanks shells which he believes were white phosphorous.
“We were sleeping here in the salon,” he begins his account. “The shells hit at around 3 am on January 17. You can see the damage: everything is destroyed, by fire, by smoke, by water leakage,” he says, referring to the resulting damage throughout the house, problems which are compounded by the rains. “This was a bedroom, with much of our furniture and clothing. It’s all burned.”
Abu Nimer, is 52 and now struggles to house his family of 10 in the remaining room, quasi-intact but bearing the signs of structural damage to the walls and ceiling, including what looks like phosphorous burns from the shelling. The room is cramped for one person, impossible for a family of 10.
“My eldest son is married and normally lives in this room. But I had to ask him to live at his wife’s house because we have no where else to stay,” he says.
He says that an engineer visited the house and recommended against staying in it, the damage to the structure and the electrical wiring too great and dangerous. But, Abu Nimer says, they have no choice.
He moves to the kitchen, with a balcony hosting an array of trees, scorched and dead. Everything is sooty black and ashes. “We have to do everything over the fire now. Even water for washing has to be heated over the fire.” Hassouna sees some irony in his situation: “Luckily, there is a lot of firewood now,” he says, gesturing at pieces of broken furniture and burned doors.On the floor below, the home of Abu Nimer’s brother, Mohammed Hassouna, is also affected by the shelling fire and the F-16 missiles which exploded and took down 2 houses across the street from him.
His house, too, has significant structural damage-cracks permeate and split the walls, wooden doors are exploded from the bombs’ pressure, and windows throughout the house are shattered -and water damage from the destruction above his home. The combination of blown-out windows and dank air makes the nights colder and sleep more unattainable.
“Our house is still standing, at least,” Hassouna says, “but its no place you’d want to live,” gesturing at the leaky ceiling and stained walls.
The Hassouna’s friend and neighbour Mohammed Khaloud still can’t get his head around the recent attacks on Gaza.
“I’m 46 and I’ve never seen anything like this. This is how they try to destroy Palestinians’ spirit,” he says, referring to the mass-destruction of civilian areas throughout Gaza and the terrible resulting living conditions of a devastated, massacred population still under siege.
His house likewise suffered fire from Israeli tank shelling and, aside from the physical damage to the home, Khaloud himself is damaged. “I’ve been having trouble breathing ever since the fire. I feel like I am choking most of the time,” he says, pulling out medical reports and a referral for exploratory surgery in his throat.
“It’s because of whatever chemicals caused the fire,” he asserts. “Since I breathed that in, when I was trying to put out the fire, I’ve been sick.”
Just 4 families of many in the densely populated Strip where the large-scale bombing may have stopped but the daily injustices and siege on everything from mattresses to grains continue.
*Hani Safi and paralysed father Fudall
*left: Safi home, destroyed from the demolition of the next door house, hit by an F-16 missile
*Neighbour’s house, hit by F-16 missile
*Abu Nimer surveilling what is left of blankets and items from his burned-out house.
*The room which had all of the furniture and clothing in it, burned and destroyed
*the balcony hosted several fruit trees, destroyed by what is believed to be white phosphorous fire
*a tarp over the destroyed roof does not sufficiently keep the rain or cold out.
*the ’salon’ area where the 9 family members slept when their house was shelled with what they believe is white phosphorous.
*what is thought to be a white phosphorous fire stain, in the one remaining room the family can use.
*everything is done by fire: cooking, heating water for washing…
*fire wood supplied by ruined doors, window frames, furniture…
*neighbouring house also damaged by what they believe is white phosphorous shelling
*house across the street was hit by F-16 missile.