Al-Jazeera / August 9, 2022
Palestinians lament the loss of their homes and workplaces, believe Israeli forces trying to displace people in Gaza.
Gaza City – As life returned to the streets of the Gaza Strip following the truce between Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters, Yasser Awadallah went to his workplace which has now been reduced to rubble.
Awadallah owned an aluminum workshop in a three-storey apartment building that was destroyed by Israeli bombing in the latest Israeli attacks on Gaza.
“I was sitting in my workshop as usual; suddenly the families living in the building hosting my workshop were screaming and running,” 44-year-old Awadallah told Al-Jazeera.
“They told me they received a call from an Israeli officer telling them to evacuate within 10 minutes.”
He described the difficult moment when he fled without being able to take a single piece of equipment or machinery from his workshop.
“I worked in this workshop for 20 years, it was my only source of income,” said the father of seven as he stood near where he once worked.
“My workshop is under this rubble. I lost everything and could not take anything with me.”
Israeli forces launched what they described as “pre-emptive” raids on Gaza after arresting a senior member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The bloody onslaught on Gaza that followed from Friday to Sunday killed at least 45 Palestinians including 16 children.
The three-day assault was the worst Israeli attack on Gaza since an 11-day war last year that killed at least 260 people in Gaza and left 13 people dead in Israel.
Large portions of the besieged Palestinian enclave were demolished by Israeli forces in that 2021 attack and efforts to rebuild were still under when the latest attacks were launched on Friday.
Approximately 2.3 million people are packed into the narrow coastal enclave which is about 365 sq kilometres (226 sq miles) in size, almost equal to Cape Town, Detroit, or Lucknow.
Awadallah survived the most recent Israeli missiles but the attacks may have destroyed his life, he said.
“Before the destruction of my workshop, I could hardly provide for my children’s basic needs due to the deteriorating economic conditions. Now, it is worse.”
He told Al Jazeera of the many obstacles he faced trying to do business due to the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. The provision of raw materials for his workshop, especially aluminum, was regularly disrupted due to the repeated closure by Israeli forces of crossings into Gaza, and there was never enough power supply.
“Even doing your work normally in the Gaza Strip is difficult,” he said.
“Production in the workshop was costing me a lot because of my dependence on generators because the hours of power outages extend to more than 12 hours a day,” he said.
Israel’s 15-year siege of Gaza has left Palestinians in Gaza unable to live normal lives. Israel and Egypt tightly restrict the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza, imposing a land and naval blockade, citing security concerns.
“In Gaza, there are not many options before us,” Awadallah said. “We were suffering and slowly dying under the blockade … so how will things be with the wars and Israeli military escalations that keep destroying?”
“From today onwards I am completely unemployed,” added.
Despite his apparent despair, Awadallah expressed relief that a truce agreement had been reached.
“What do we gain from wars and escalations? Nothing. Gaza and its citizens are always the only losers.”
‘Can’t believe my eyes’
As Awadallah reflected on the loss of his livelihood, Khadra Khalifa, 62, came to check on her home, which was destroyed in the same missile attack.
“I can’t believe my eyes,” Khalifa told Al-Jazeera as she stood in front of her destroyed house.
“All our lifetime effort, my husband and me, was gone in minutes,” she said.
Khalifa had lived in the house with her family of 10: Her husband, her married children and their wives, in addition to two other relatives who suffer from physical disabilities.
“We were sitting normally until we received an urgent call from the Israeli intelligence ordering us to evacuate within three minutes.” Khalifa recounted.
“We went out in great terror. I never expected in my life that this would happen to us. Everyone knows us, my children are still university students, and we have no political affiliations.”
Khalifa believes that Israel is using security concerns as a pretext to besiege homes and displace families in Gaza.
“Every war, the same scenario repeats. Homes are bombed, sometimes without warning, and many losses,” she said.
Khalifa and her extended family are now staying at her sister’s nearby house, where they will remain as they search for alternative shelter.
Palestinians made homeless by previous Israeli attacks have still not been compensated, Khalifa said, adding that she was now added to that list of victims.
“No one pays attention to us, from today we will start another journey of suffering. We will start from the zero stage, and we will try to manage ourselves like the rest of the helpless families here,” she said.
‘I don’t know what we did to them’
Nadia Shamlakh had a similar story to tell as she sat next to her ruined house and the destroyed home of her relatives who were also bombed during the latest assault.
“I don’t know what we did to them,” the 68-year-old told Al-Jazeera.
“Every war we flee our house in terror, and the house of our family is bombed without giving reasons,” she said.
In recent attacks, three adjacent houses belonging to the same family were bombed causing severe damage to the whole area, she added.
“Bombing a house does not only destroy it, but it also destroys all the neighbouring houses in the neighbourhood.”
Shamlakh recounted how on the morning of the bombing she was sitting in her house with her elderly husband, who is unable to move, when she heard screams from outside. Her sons, their wives and children were shouting for them to get out.
A call from Israeli intelligence warned them to evacuate immediately as they were about to be bombed.
“I went out barefoot. My children and relatives came to help my elderly husband out of the house. My grandchildren were screaming in terror.”
Shamlakh will not forget those moments of panic.
“I’m an old lady who can’t run. I was just wondering what did we do to be displaced like this? This is the third assault that we’ve been homeless, and our homes are being destroyed in the same way.”
Shamlakh said her family are farmers. They do not have any military or political affiliations.
“Calm has returned after three days of the aggression,” said Shamlakh as she came to inspect the rubble of her home with her 12 children and grandchildren
“Unfortunately our home won’t come back. Everything is completely destroyed,” she said.
“I just wonder how long our lives will continue this way? … We are tired of demands and pleas to the world. Nobody is paying attention to us.”
‘No funding available’
Naji Sarhan, the under-secretary at the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, told Al Jazeera that the latest attacks by Israeli forces have exacerbated the plight of those living in Gaza.
Eighteen housing units were totally destroyed, in addition to 71 units that were left severely uninhabitable, and 1,675 units partially damaged, Sarhan said, adding that reconstructions effort are still ongoing of houses damaged during previous Israeli attacks. Thousands more still need to be rebuilt.
Approximately 2,200 housing units that were destroyed in previous attacks need to replaced, but there is “no funding available for their reconstruction so far”, he said.
Damage to other areas of Gaza’s economy from Israeli attacks, such as the industrial, commercial and agricultural sectors, also requires reconstruction, amounting to approximately $875m, Sarhan said.
To ensure this crucial reconstruction work, the international community must demand that the blockade on Gaza is lifted to allow all necessary assistance and services to enter and provide relief to the people, he said.
“Rapid interventions in the field of relief, shelter and reconstruction” is urgently needed, Sarhan said.
“All donors, institutions and associations must intensify their efforts.”
Maram Humaid is a Palestinian journalist and storyteller from the Gaza Strip