Palestine Letter: An endless cycle of loss in Gaza

Tareq S. Hajjaj

Mondoweiss  /  May 23, 2023

Palestinians in the past, present, and the future all share one variation of the same story. Those who lost their homes and families in 1948 are still losing their homes and families today, as the cycle of loss repeats itself.

It’s Monday evening and I’m sitting in my office at home, which is a separate room in my house. In front of me, outside the window, there is a huge piece of land that belongs to my neighbor.  It is full of very old trees like olives, lemons, figs, and pomegranates. All the trees are stuffed with different kinds of bird nests. 

This environment means everything to me. Though  I only own my house, I’m connected with everything outside – I know everyone in the neighborhood, all the streets, and all the corners. So when I come home to this place,  I sleep with relief and security, because I know this is my home, and it belongs to me.

I imagine losing a home, and the mental destruction that it leaves behind, waking up from the shock and realizing that everything is gone. Not just the house itself, but your favorite view from the window, or the best spot for the sun in the afternoon. Memories on the walls, the pictures of kids next to their kindergarten graduation certificates, and maybe the family roots. It’s home, and every family puts everything they love inside it.

Here in Gaza, the people who are not killed when their homes are turned into rubble by Israeli bombs are called ‘survivors’. But in reality, they cannot really be called such. How can you be a survivor if you have lost everything?

Following five days of Israeli attack in early May, 2,516 people in Gaza became homeless, according to an official government report. I went to see some of them after the war ended. 

Jehad Abu Obaid, 40, is a father of four kids and lives in a family building in the Al-Falouja area north of Gaza. He stands amid a fallen house of three floors, his hands raised up in the air, as he cries out to God about the damage in front of him. The entire house, and everything inside, is destroyed. The walls have crumbled, the columns are dented, and the roof is cracked in many places.

“There was a wall here, and a TV I just bought four days ago for my kids. I saved the money for it little by little for my kids,” he told me. “Where is my home? It used to be here,” he cried.

The building was home to three families, including Jehad’s. Now, they are all homeless. Jehad is a worker in Gaza, and he makes an income of 20 shekels ($5.45) per day. He spent over 10 years saving up the money to build his own floor in the building. A warm home for his family was always a dream for him, and he finally completed it around one year ago. Around the time Israeli bombs destroyed his house, he had just scraped the money together to buy a TV for his kids. 

“This is all I have in my life, I spent my entire life securing a home for my family, there were times I wished for a meal of a fruit and I forbade myself so that I could build a home. It’s the only place that covers us and our families, where should we go now?” he asked with hands full of dust as he searched the rubble for anything he could salvage. 

“These are not only stones fallen down and destroyed, these are also my life and the years I spent building my home, one stone by another, and Israel bombed it for no reason.”

Jehad and his family are not the only people who are in these conditions after the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza. And to be honest, this is not the most upsetting part of the story.

I have reported hundreds of similar stories about different people whose homes have been bombed during the Israeli attacks on Gaza. Before this month, the most recent attacks were last year, in August 2022. The last one before that was in May 2021. 

This year, I was reporting the stories of people like Jehad at the same time we were covering the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Nakba. It made me think that the Nakba is not a past event, it’s an ongoing reality on the ground. As I write these lines about Jehad, it is not just a story of this latest war on Gaza, but it is part of the larger story of the Palestinian Nakba. 

One year after another, we report the same stories of losing homes and beloved ones for people in Gaza. In these recent attacks, we were reporting on people who fled their homes in 1948 and came to Gaza, and now, they lost their homes again in 2023 during the latest attack. 

The picture that is stuck in my mind is one of Palestinians in the past, present, and the future all suffering the same reality, all sharing one variation of the same story, so long as we are living under occupation. Those who lost their homes and families in 1948 are still losing their homes and families today, as the cycle of loss repeats itself. 

Tareq S. Hajjaj is the Mondoweiss Gaza Correspondent, and a member of Palestinian Writers Union