‘I can finally take a breath’: Gazans return to devastation with hopes to rebuild

A Palestinian boy walks amid the rubble of his family's house after a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza (EPA)

Nagham Mohanna

The National  /  May 21, 2021

Many residences were completely or partially destroyed by Israeli shelling and air strikes.

After the announcement of the ceasefire in Gaza, most Gazans were looking to at last celebrate Eid Al Fitr, the end-of-Ramadan holiday that had taken place a week ago during intense Israeli bombing in the area.

But Wihda Nasser from Beit Hanoun to the north of the Gaza Strip cannot celebrate this year nor welcome people into her home as it was partly destroyed when her neighbour’s house was shelled.

“I don’t have water or cooking gas in my home. My home is not suitable for living now,” Wihda told The National.

The 56-year-old is now living in a house with seven other family members.

Wihda left her two-storey home when heavy shelling began in the area and travelled to stay with a relative in the Tal Al Hawa neighbourhood west of Gaza city, but she returned after two days.

On Thursday, a neighbour’s home, which stood 20 metres away from hers, was destroyed by Israeli shells.

“This is a residential area. All the people who live here are civilians,” Waheed Nasser, Wihda’s husband, told The National. “Why did they target us and frighten us?”

“The same house was targeted in the last war and my home was partly destroyed and cost me around $15,000 to rebuild again. I don’t have money now to rebuild the house.”

The Nassers have begun to sift through the rubble of their home to see if anything can be salvaged and to gauge whether they might be able to live there again.

At 2am on Friday, Israel and Hamas declared a ceasefire, ending 11 days of air strikes and rocket attacks.

Gazans are returning to their homes after the ceasefire to see what remains of their houses, cleaning and gathering belongings that were left behind when they fled the air strikes and shelling.

People wander among the houses that were partially or completely destroyed as water leaks from burst pipes and rubble litters the ground.

“After the heavy shelling in the area, I left home with my husband and went to the hospital, looking for a secure place,” Intissar Nasser, 43, told The National.

“I came back to my home after the ceasefire was announced yesterday. I was so choked up. My home is destroyed and not suitable to live in it,” she said.

“I couldn’t have imagined that the devastation would be like that. I haven’t seen something like that before.”

But little by little, life has returned to the streets of Gaza after 11 days of conflict. Though the situation is bleak, Gazans came out to celebrate, with some even handing out sweets in the street.

Mohssan Shalaeel, 33, from Jabalia camp to the north of the Gaza Strip, said: “Once the ceasefire was announced, I went into the street with my family members to express our happiness in victory. It was a great scene to see everybody in the streets celebrating.”

“It is true that we lost number of our people and there is a lot of devastation, but God will help us to rebuild it again. The important thing is that resistance has won and thousands of Palestinians are now reuniting,” he added.

“I didn’t sleep all night after I come back home. I turned my TV on to the news to watch the demonstrations. Today, this morning, I went into the street again. I saw the devastation clearly. I really was so sad, but everything will be OK.”

Reema Tafesh, 25, said: “I can finally take a breath. It was a great happiness. We were counting the hours. We thought that we would not survive. Now that the ceasefire has been announced, we are counting the hours to rebuild Gaza again.”

“I watched the reactions of Palestinians on TV and on social media. I was happy with people’s reactions. They were so happy. It is so beautiful to see reunited Palestinians everywhere.”

Nagham Mohanna is a print journalist at the Gaza Center for Media Freedom