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Losing Your Dream House

Al Shate’ Refugee Camp, Gaza Strip- It took fifty-seven-year-old Kamal Al Habil, also known as Abu Iyad, twenty-five years of hard work in construction to be able to build his own home. He built it stone by stone, memorized every inch of it, and could even tell an interested passerby how many iron bars were used in the foundations and columns. The most excruciating moment of his life was the moment he saw that house tumble down after being hit with two missiles from an Israeli F16 fighter jet without any warning.
In the last days of Ramadan, on the 22nd of July, 2014, almost half an hour before sunset,  Abu Iyad’s wife, Um Iyad, was reading the Quran in the hallway of their home in Al Sahte’ Refugee Camp, in the al-Balakhiyyah district. All of a sudden, a warning missile flew over her head, went through the wall, and landed in her sister’s home next to theirs. For a few moments, she did not grasp that it was meant for her house. She thought it had landed somewhere nearby.
All the neighbors rushed to the house and urged the family to evacuate quickly, helping them to do it fast. It used to be a two-floor, 220 square-meter house, with Abu Iyad, his wife, and their three daughters living on the ground floor, while his two sons and their families lived in two apartments on the first floor. “We could not take anything with us. We were barely able to run for our lives with only the clothes we had on,” Um Iyad said.
Many months passed while the family waited for reparations. Abu Iyad provided UNRWA with the deed of the house, but still he has not received anything. The damages were only assessed in mid-November. Half of the house was totally destroyed while the other half was only partially destroyed, but inhabitable. Nonetheless, Abu Iyad and his family moved back in. They could no longer afford to pay rent.
Abu Iyad used to work in construction inside historic Palestine, but in 2002, when Israel stopped giving work permits to Gazan workers, he lost his job. He leased two spaces in the ground floor and worked intermittently in construction in Gaza, which did not provide for much because of the siege on Gaza.
“My two sons are public employees,” Abu Iyad said. “They go to work every day, and each has a home and a family to provide for. They have not been paid their proper salaries for months. They have received only peanuts, called ‘advance’ payments on their salaries!  But they do support me whenever they can, so that I do not have to take loans from people.”
In November, Abu Iyad started to clean up the partially destroyed part of the house with the help of his neighbors. He moved back in with his wife and daughters, who were all college students. They closed the ruptured windows with cloth and lived in the doorless, windowless, cracked and broken house. And as if that was not enough, toxic substances in the rubble gave them respiratory diseases. Yet still they refused to leave. It was their home, the only place they were at ease. With no electricity, no running water, no sewage connection, they continued to live. They borrowed electricity for lighting from their neighbors and would fill water manually in plastic containers.
For the past six months, Abu Iyad has sat every day, facing the two-meter-high rubble, reminiscing over every single stone he put into this house. He still relives the moment he saw his house break down and burn with everything he owned in it. The irony of the whole thing is that the only thing that was not lost were his construction tools.

By Samah Dabbur (17 December 2014)

Translated by Fidaa Touma