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Amidst the ruins, the grief

For the last few days the sun has been shining and Gaza has been bright and warm. It makes you feel better, everyone says; more optimistic about the day ahead. But when it comes, the rain in Gaza is ferocious; it lashes down in torrents, soaking the streets, flooding the roads and chilling the bones.

The rain is particularly miserable for people whose homes were destroyed in the recent military offensive, many of whom have nowhere to go except tents or the overcrowded houses of their relatives, some of whom are hosting 30 or 40 people in their homes. At the end of last week I took two British lawyers to Izbat Abed Rabbo in the northern Gaza Strip. As we drove north from Gaza City the sky got darker and cloudier, and then just as we arrived, the rain began to lash down.

Izbat Abed Rabbo lies about one kilometre from the border with Israel. During the recent offensive it was decimated by the Israeli military, who drove their bulldozers over some houses, dynamited others and occupied many more. The soldiers trashed the homes they occupied; tearing the furniture apart, writing obscenities on the walls, shooting bulletholes into the beds, and sometimes even leaving bags of shit for the Palestinians to clear up afterwards. The area is now in ruins.

We left the car and began to walk across the mud, so the lawyers could see the scale of the destruction for themselves. We passed one building, a large two or three storey house that had collapsed into the shape of a large concrete tent after being struck by a projectile. A man was sitting in the dark interior lighting a small fire.

‘Is this your house?’ I asked him.

He nodded. ‘Yes. It was. But the Israelis destroyed it when they invaded us.’ He said his name was Munir Abed Rabbo. We left him there, hunched over his smoky fire amidst the ruins that used to be his home.             

The rain got heavier and we started to look for a shelter. A man beckoned us over to a tent. I recognized him as Khaled Abed Rabbo, whose family is from this area. On 7 January, during their ground invasion of Gaza, the Israeli military ordered Khaled’s family out of their home, and one soldier shot towards them as they were standing in front of their house in broad daylight, holding up white flags. Khaled’s three young daughters, Amal, Souad and Samaa, were shot. Two-year-old Amal and seven-year-old Souad were both killed instantly. Four-year-old Samaa survived, but was critically injured, and is now in hospital in Belgium, apparently unable to walk. Her father is heartbroken. He has not been able to visit Samaa while she’s been receiving treatment in Belgium, because he can’t get out of Gaza.

As the rain beat on the canvas tent walls, Khaled showed the lawyers photos of his three daughters on his mobile phone. The lawyers were lost for words, and afterwards we stood in silence listening to the rain.

‘Do you come here every day?’ I asked Khaled, because I know his house was also destroyed, and the family is now living with relatives nearby.

He nodded. ‘Yes. Where else can I go?’

Izbat Abed Rabbo is haunted by men like Munir and Khaled, who wander amidst the ruins as though trying to salvage something from the lives they used to have before the Israeli military invaded here, and changed their lives forever.    

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