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Fatima's Dream

Khuza’aFatima (4 years old) was not fully aware of what exactly had transpired with her family on that exceptionally scorching hot July summer night. She did not know why her family who lives in Khuza’a Village all the sudden had to move from their second floor flat, into to her grandfather’s first floor flat, but she did however sense that it was not for a happy reason.

Everybody looked frightened. “Um Fatima”, Fatima’s mother was screaming and crying hysterically, her father “Tafkeer Al-Najjar” seemed panicky while talking to her grandfather about bombardment and destruction and escape. She did not quite understand what these words meant, though she had heard them two years ago during the second Israeli war of 2012 on Gaza, but the war wasn’t long enough for her to fully understand what these words meant.

The word “war” was not a foreign one to the Najjar family. They had lost one family member in the war of 2008, and they were destined to lose another one in the 51 day long war of 2014.

Fatima’s father and grandfather were both farmers. Simpletons like most Gaza inhabitants, they not only lost a son and brother, but also lost their three story building in a wave of Israeli bombardment that in one moment destroyed what they have for so many years worked very hard for. Fatima was deprived from ever again seeing the house she was born in and in which she spent the first years of her life.

The family’s long and miserable journey of displacement had begun after a horrific night that the people of Khuza’a will never forget. A brutal night, it was, that forced all inhabitants of the village to leave.

Fatima was in her father’s arms; her father was exhausted by the long walk escaping his village under the blazing hot sun. On their way, they were encountered by the Israeli army, a first for little Fatima. She looked at her father as he raised his hand in surrender to avoid being shot, she did the same. For her father, it was a moment hard to forget, a moment of contradicting emotions, he was terrified for their life, but at the same time proud that his daughter has grown up and has now started to imitate his moves.

Everybody left Khuza’a which was completely cordoned off by the Israeli army; they headed for the UNRWA schools in Khan Younus. Fatima no longer feels surprised from everything going on around her, though she still can’t understand why she must live with so many strange women and children in the same place, with small windows and blue steel doors, they call them class rooms, in a big place they call a school.

Till now, all that Fatima knows about school is that it is a place you go to when there is a war. True she doesn’t know why wars happen, nor does she know who the fighting parties are, but she saw a tank, though she wasn’t quite sure what it has to do with war. She saw her father raising his hands up in the air to the man on the huge machine wearing a military uniform. Maybe she thought her father was greeting him and did the same.

Fatima used to hate bath time during her stay at the school; she felt that her mother used to suffer from it. Her brothers won’t listen to their mother asking them to get ready to receive their ration of water to wash off their sweaty bodies in the hot summer. She was always criticized by other women living in the same class room for repeatedly refusing to bathe her children in the school’s filthy bathrooms; instead she used to bathe them in the class room. As for Fatima, she kind of liked this new type of accommodation. She didn’t hate the school; she found it a place bustling with many other children she knew, which gave her the opportunity to play all the time.

Fatima felt a bit sad when her mother told her that they are going to leave the school. The little one has grown accustomed to the place. However, she quickly expressed joy when she saw tears of happiness in her mother and fathers eyes as soon as they for the first time stepped foot in their new steel home (caravan), and joined in with her brothers in cheering and singing.

Fatima went back to wondering; why do we live in a metal home, though she never really expected an answer from anyone. She and her brothers enjoyed the sound they hear from when they stomp their feet on the house floor, they repeatedly enjoyed this funny sound, but soon stopped their little game after their mother fell into a ditch and broke her leg; they thought that their feet stomping had caused it.

 The happiness of Fatima and her brothers was short lived. Soon the caravan floor started buckling, flies were all over the place, their mother constantly complaining that the sticky stuff she uses to trap flies doesn’t work, and is unable to use the kitchen or bathroom. Her husband finally managed to fix the caravan floor with cement that was extremely hard to come by. He had no magical solution though to solve the fly problem.

Fatima was happy when she started going to kindergarten. The walls were smooth and not as cold as the caravan’s metal walls, and there were very little flies too, and most importantly she got to meet many new friends.

One day Fatima couldn’t go to kindergarten, it had rained all night and the rain seeped in through the caravan’s floor and got all her clothes wet. She heard the rain all night; she liked the sound of it, thinking that unlike the very cold weather outside the caravan, the rain somehow will bring her warmth while tucked under her blankets that were provided by some humanitarian organization. It was not the only day she missed kindergarten. She got sick a few days later, and as she sat near the fire her father made in a small tin shack annexed to the caravan, she heard her mother scream. It reminded her of the scream she heard from her mother the day they rushed down to her grandfather’s flat, and thought maybe they will have to move again. It turned out that her mother’s scream was because she found a mouse in one of her cooking pots.

Fatima Tafkeer Al-Najjar is only one of dozens of children that still live with their families in metal caravans which are extremely cold in winter, and extremely hot in summer. The caravans lack the least conditions for decent human living for the families who lost their homes in the last Israeli war on the Gaza Strip in 2014.

 Fatima and her family impatiently await the reconstruction process that to them seems like a mirage.

By: Ala’a Azqool