Roa'a El-hilou is a public relations officer at IR Palestine. In this first-hand account she tells of an afternoon spent in the al-Sha’af area of Gaza in the aftermath of the recent conflict.
When I arrived at al–Sha'af all I could see before me was row after row of olive and fruit trees, and also the rubble of damaged homes. Everything before me told the tragic story of what had happened here. People were sitting in the dust and debris of their former homes. They were staring into the distance trying to comprehend what had happened to them. Some did not even have the energy to cry or to speak.
As I was there I came across ten year-old Norhan. She looked at me and smiled shyly, and started to tell me her story, “I was at school when the bombing started and my father came to drive me to our house. We packed up some of our belongings, left our home and travelled to a relative’s house which was in a slightly safer area.”
Norhan has six sisters and two brothers, "My eldest brother is in his second year at university. He studies geography and I am very proud of him,” she said. “The conflict was very difficult for me and my family. We didn’t really expect to survive as the bombs were falling all around us.”
Norhan’s father, 42-year-old Majed is struggling to cope with the aftermath of the fighting. "We didn't expect all this destruction,” he said. “There have been other military incidences in the past but the damage and destruction that you can see here now is unprecedented.”
“Once the fighting had finished we returned to see our home and found it completely destroyed and burned to the ground. When we saw it we all cried from the pain of what we had lost.”
Majed works repairing refrigerators. His shop was located in one of the areas that was heavily bombed and it was seriously damaged. He said, “This shop was the only source of living for me. The tools and equipment cost me a lot and I really do not know how to start recovering what I lost.”
Majed cannot repair his shop because no building materials or cement are coming into Gaza, so all he can do is sit and wait for the situation to improve.
"One month has passed since we left our home,” Majed said. “This is an unbearable situation, and is especially difficult because it is so cold during these winter months. I have to sleep in my car now. My children are living with a relative but their house is small and cannot take all of us. Also I am embarrassed to ask for help because I don’t want to be dependent on others.”
Norhan said, "At the moment we are sleeping in a relative’s house at night and then go back to our house during the day. My father has taken us out of school for a week because we still don’t have anywhere to live. My father said that we need time to find another apartment but a huge number of people have been displaced by the conflict and there is now a housing crisis."
Norhan took me to show me her old room. She pointed to her burnt bed and to the bedrooms of her sisters which have been completely destroyed. She said, “When one of my sister’s came here and saw her old room she was so shocked she refused to come back again. She is suffering very badly and is very depressed. All my toys and photographs have been burned and the memories of my family have gone as well.”
As I left Al-Sha’af I saw children running and playing. But they had no playground and were playing amongst the rubble of their former homes. Even in these most difficult circumstances it was heartening to see that children were still able to play and have fun.