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Toys on a Cold Caravan Floor

Shujaeyya, Gaza- The car drew closer to our destination; its wheels rolling slowly on the muddy unpaved road. The driver suddenly stops and points towards what is supposed to be our end destination. We found ourselves before a fence made of corrugated tin sheets, which in order to reach you need to walk through a huge puddle of mud. Here lives the Habeeb family alongside the eastern limits of Shujaeyya neighborhood at the east end of the city of Gaza; the streets on which they were tossed ruthlessly as a result of the 2014 war after the Israeli army bombed their family home into pieces.

The children were playing beneath a leafy olive tree just a few meters from a huge pile of rubble where their house once stood. Just by looking into the children’s eyes, you can see the bitterness and anguish that tell the sad story of the disaster that befell them and forced them to play outside in the bitter cold of winter. We asked about the family home, the children pointed to the pile of rubble, we asked again, where does the family live? One of the kids led us to the tin fence. Despite efforts by officials to provide these families with caravans to live in, the sights of destruction and miserable living conditions were still clearly visible all around us as we walked.

The door to their new caravan was a broken door that the man of the house managed to put together from pieces here and there. The caravan is elevated 50 centimeters off the ground and sits right next to the rubble of their destroyed home. Children’s toys scattered all over the place tell the horrible story of what befell them. We looked around and saw pipes feeding into the water tanks on top of the 60 square meters Omani-provided caravan that they have been living in since November 2015. Next to it lay a smaller 25 square meter modern caravan provided by Jordan. Though the family was in desperate need for another one, they were only allowed to have one. “Um Mohamad”, the lady of the house, said that the family’s living conditions have changed dramatically. Her husband says; in the past nine months since the war, we moved between three different homes, the U.N. paid rent for only one of these houses for three months. Our children were exhausted from the constant moving from one school to another.

The father cited to us the many issues burdening him, including the hefty rentals he has to pay, which ultimately forced him to ask for a caravan to live in. He is out of work, has no steady income for him and his family to live off, the amount of food he puts on his family’s table depends on how much Turmos (Lupines) he can sell off his hand pushed cart, and it is never enough to satisfy his family needs in such harsh circumstances.

The family settled down after one whole year of moving their caravan from one place to the other, it cost them three hundred Shekels just to get their caravan transported to the location where their house used to stand, it hasn’t however made life any easier for them. The rubble of their house is still there; they told us they haven’t removed it yet because they can’t afford the cost for the removal.

The caravan lacks many basic daily life needs. The lady of the house must do all washing by hand outside the caravan; she tells us she had to borrow some money to pay for the removal of some of the rubble in the hope of finding some of their belongings that might have survived the bombing.

The family says that they were registered as beneficiaries by the Kuwaiti fund to rebuild their home, but haven’t received a single penny for months now. The children constantly look tired and distraught from living in the caravan, it is very humid and very cold inside and unfit for human living for a long period. It is only with help from some neighborhood notables that they were able to pay for repairs to the caravan that become necessary from time to time.

Um Mohamad doesn’t cook inside the caravan for fear of electric shock or short circuit. She tells us of the terrible sounds strong winds make when blowing against their tin fence, and her displeasure that she didn’t get a chance to clean the ground underneath the caravan before they set it down, which made it a haven for rats and other rodents. She fears for her children in winter and in summer, and brings it to our attention that the caravan is entrusted to them, and needs to be returned intact after they rebuild their destroyed house. Little Aya and her brother Mohamad express their shame that they live in a caravan, but Aya says that despite the destruction of their home, she wants to grow up to be a journalist in order to expose the crimes the occupation committed against them. Her brother wishes to become an architect so he can rebuild their home once again.

The two children spoke to us while looking at their toys scattered amongst the rubble of their destroyed home. Two other children of the family, Deema and her brother Motaz talked about how much they miss their computer which they lost under the rubble of their home, and that their father cannot afford getting them a new one.

The children suffer from many issues, least of which is bedwetting, and despite the large number of organizations dealing with psycho-social issues for children and families who went through the war; no one came knocking at their shabby caravan door.

To the Habeeb family, life and death seem to be one and the same; they still suffer greatly because of the very slow pace of the reconstruction process. Their children are still suffering, waiting to get back to a normal life by which they can regain their lost childhood.

By: Reem Jaaror