Homeless with nothing to hold on to
Published at http://www.palestinereport.org on June 16, 2004.
by Mahmoud Habboush
“MY HOUSE is life, safety and stability… my house is a homeland,” said Hassan Emran Ashor, 52, sitting in a Red Cross tent near his demolished home, destroyed by the Israeli army during a large-scale military offensive into the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City on May 11.
“But does losing my house mean leaving my land?” Ashor’s voice rose with the question and anger crept in. “As long as my land exists and I survive, I will rebuild my house. And if I can’t, my sons will.”
During the 48-hour incursion into Zeitoun, 8 Palestinians were killed and some 110 were injured. More than 13 houses were demolished along Salah Eddin Street. It was also during that incursion that six Israeli soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb that tore their armored personnel carrier apart. That incident, and another similar one on May 12 in Rafah that killed seven Israeli soldiers, led to the by now infamous “Operation Rainbow” in Rafah.
Events in Rafah overshadowed the Zeitoun incursion, and while the southern Gazan city was the hardest hit during the Intifada, nowhere in the Gaza Strip has been safe. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, puts the number of Gazans left homeless during the years of the Intifada in excess of 21,000. Of those, the organization has been able to build shelters for less than a third.
Ashor is a husband to two and father of 14 aged from three to 27. Almost the entire family lived in the demolished five-floor apartment building. The 420 square meter building contained 9 apartments. On the ground floor there were also 6 warehouses.
Ashor lived in the ground floor apartment with his second wife. His first, and her 13 sons, lived in another apartment in the building, and the last son and his wife in a third. A fourth apartment was occupied by a 22-year-old nephew, who studies engineering at Gaza’s Islamic University.
The house itself – Ashor said it cost more than $450,000 – was built with money earned abroad. Ashor, now a taxi driver, lived in Qatar where he worked as a supervisor in the maintenance department of the Qatari Ministry of Agriculture. He returned in 1994, after the Oslo Accords were signed. His brothers still live and work in Qatar, some as farmers, others in private enterprises.
“This house was the fruit of 35 years of working outside my country with my brothers. What am I going to do now, work another 35 years?” he asked.
The cigarette in Ashor’s hand was no sooner stubbed out than another would replace it. His puffing grew incessant as he recounted the events of the night the Israeli soldiers came to the door.
“It was midnight when I heard someone in Arabic saying∫ ‘Hassan! Open the door.’ I didn’t think for a second that it was an Israeli soldier, but when I went to the door, I heard people speaking in Hebrew. I stepped back from the door, and seconds later they blew it away with explosives.”
The apartment building was to be occupied for the duration of the Israeli operation, and four of Ashor’s sons and his nephew were detained immediately.
“They handcuffed and blindfolded them, they kicked them and beat them with their guns,” Ashor said. He remembered the heavy gunfire of the first night, during which he and his family were held indoors.
“The second day at around nine in the evening, one of the soldiers told me to take what I could and get out. I said, ‘why?’ He said: ‘The house will fall.’ I asked him how and he replied: ‘We’ve dynamited the house and we will detonate it.’ Then he added: ‘By the time you count from 1 to 10 you should be out of the house. Take what you can and leave.’ I looked at my children and said ‘that’s all I can take’.”
“The children were barefoot, and the soldier said to bring their shoes, but when my wife went to the closet to bring the shoes, the soldier ordered her to stop, because he said there were explosives in the closet.”
Ashor also remembered the shock of stepping outside. He had heard the shooting and explosions, but he hadn’t been prepared for the devastation wrought.
“I couldn’t believe it was my neighborhood. It had no features left. There were no electricity poles, trees had been torn down, cars were turned upside down and there were piles of sand and holes everywhere,”
Ashor took his family away from Salah Eddin Street and stayed for a few hours with another family in the neighborhood. At around midnight, an explosion rocked the area, and, says Ashor, “I knew they’d blown up my house.”
Not long after the explosion, the soldiers left and Ashor’s first thought was for the fate of his sons and the nephew that had been detained. He found two sons in a neighboring house and learnt that the other two were in hospital but only with minor injuries. His nephew fared worse.
“I was shocked when I heard they had arrested him. He’s not affiliated to any political party, all he cares about is his studies,” Ashor said. The family doesn’t know where he is.
What will now happen to Ashor and his family is not clear. The Palestinian Authority gave the family $3,000 in emergency assistance. They stayed for ten days in emergency tents, but were eventually relocated to two apartments for which the Gaza Governorate has paid the rent. The governorate has also promised to rebuild the house.
But such things take time, and in the meantime Ashor was devastated. “After this $3,000 is gone I don’t know what will happen,” he said. “I am like a drowning person in the middle of the sea with nothing to hold on to.”
“I used to see others who had been made homeless,” the bearded man reflected. “I used to tell them, ‘May God help you.’ I felt sorry for them. Only now do I truly understand what they were going through. Only now do I see that my words meant nothing to those people; my feelings of sympathy with them were nothing.” - Published16/6/04 ©Palestine Report
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