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Yusra’s Shattered Hope of Leaving the Caravan: The Inability to Prove Ownership of a Destroyed Home

Gaza | Nurhan Al-Madhun:

She holds a piece of cardboard, waving with it near her face to get a bit of a breeze, for the surrounding air only makes the heat more intolerable, like hot wind passing through fire only to flare up its flames.

Yusra Basheer, a woman in her twenties, is one of the people living in caravans, the temporary, box-like accommodations in northern Gaza Strip. She moved there with her husband and two children, but only by force. She hopes that her house in Al-Amal (Hope) neighborhood in Beit Hanoun will be rebuilt. Like thousands of Gazans, their house was destroyed by the Israeli aggression in 2014.

“I was happy in my new house, but only for 45 days. It took us one year and a half to build it with our humble income and resources. And before I settled in, the war destroyed it”, she sighed.

She continues, as she moves the piece of cardboard up and down near her three-year-old daughter, trying to relieve the heavy heat: “I feel like we are living on a crater of a volcano, and in the winter we almost freeze from cold. Living her is continuous agony”.

Many are the dangers and nuisances of life inside a caravan: The narrow hot space, the flying and creeping bugs and rodents, the stink of the sewage. Life in a caravan is not a life.

Yusra extended her hand between piles of clothes in one side of the caravan, and extracted a medical report indicating that her husband, Imad Kafarnah, suffers from a chronic illness and is in a constant need for medication. She describes her financial condition as “below zero”, adding that she depends on the social affairs help, through a social security program, where the family receives 750 to 1800 Shekels once every three months, given according to the family’s situation and number of members.

Yusra catches her breath, before she goes on with her story: “I knocked on every door to prove ownership of my destroyed house, but without any use. I do not have any official papers or permits. That piece of land where we bult it was given to us by my father-in-law, and is considered among his properties. When the damages were calculated the authorities would not include us in the reconstruction lists, and only listed my father-in-law’s name as the owner of the property. We spent the time of the war in UNRWA shelters, then we were forced out. My husband decided to rent a house in Beit Lahia on our expense. But we could not afford the rent due to our situation, and the owner did not tolerate that. We had no solution but to go back to the caravan area, and take this box as our accommodation, although our names were not enlisted among the affected people”.

The Palestinian Ministry of Public Works and Housing had an agreement with the UNRWA and the UNDP to pay the expenses of rent for the families whose homes were completely destroyed as a result of the Israeli war on Gaza. The criteria of the allowance was set by the UNRWA according to the number of family members. A family of 1-5 members was allowed to have 200 dollars, and a family of 6-10 members would be given 225 dollars, while a family that has more than 10 members would be allowed 250 dollars for rent.

Yusra’s tone changes, as she expresses the hardship she is going through with her little family: “Most of the people here know that they will have their homes reconstructed, sooner or later. But we do not know, we have no home, and the authorities will not acknowledge our right in reconstructing our house”, she choked back her tears.

Yusra and her family are still looking for a glimpse of hope that they may find someone to help them obtain their right and rebuild their house. She dreams of a house that preserves her human dignity and privacy, shattered by injustice, marginalization, and apathy by those who do not care for their misery.