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Posts Tagged ‘Hanan al-Qaq


Gaza ceasefire gives Rafah residents chance to return to ruined homes

Al-Qaq family salvage belongings during first sustained calm in four weeks – but with one son in critical condition, there is no joy
When Hanan al-Qaq reached her home at around 11am on Tuesday, she walked through the shrapnel-strewn, dust-caked rooms, over the shattered remains of doors and windows. “At least it is still there,” the 42-year-old teacher sighed. “And at least we are, just.”.
Hanan al-Qaq in her home in Rafah

Hanan al-Qaq in the front room of her home in Rafah, Gaza. The family of nine have spent most of the conflict so far at a neighbour’s house. Photograph: Jason Burke for the Guardian

Across Gaza, with the 72-hour ceasefire agreed by Israel and Hamas the night before appearing more solid as the day wore on, tens of thousands of people were saying, in a multitude of different ways, the same thing.

Others, including Qaq’s neighbours, were simply trying to salvage any belongings from the smashed ruins of their houses.

Despite the first prolonged period of calm since the conflict began four weeks ago there was little celebration in Gaza.

After a series of broken ceasefires, people have learned not to hope too hard. Most are stunned by the scale of the damage done in this most recent war. With more than 1,800 dead, and more than 9,000 injured according to the United Nations and the local health ministry, many are also grieving.

More than 9,000 Palestinians have been injured. Two of Qaq’s seven children are among them. Her son Mohammed, 20, is in a critical condition after being hit in the chest and stomach by shell fragments when the family first tried to return to their home in the southern city of Rafah on Friday.

The family had spent more than three weeks of the conflict in the home of a neighbour who lived in a safer area; the promised ceasefire lasted a mere three hours and renewed fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas caught the Qaq family exposed.

“We started running, all of us,” Qaq said. “Shells were falling. My little girl was hit. Her sister carried her. Then my son. I was shaking so much I could not pick him up. Some neighbours and my husband got him to hospital.”

Hussein al-Qaq, 47, is a garrulous civil servant, employed in the agriculture ministry. The family has lived in their breeze-block house, with its cats, and single vine, and corrugated iron fence for 20 years.

Even in peacetime life is not easy. After paying for further education for his older children, there is little left and crippling bank loans are needed to tide over tight times. “We get by, just about,” Qaq said.

rafahRafah in southern Gaza has experienced heavy bombardment in recent days. Photograph: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters.

No one has yet assessed the physical damage wrought by this latest conflict, but the economic cost, adding to that of seven years of effective blockade by Israel and, to a lesser extent, Egypt, is evident.

A biscuit factory, halfway between Rafah and Gaza City, is a smoking ruin. It employed hundreds. Huge amounts of livestock have died. Vast areas of agricultural land are littered with unexploded ordnance. Then there are the villages – and parts of Rafah itself – that have been effectively levelled.

Israeli strikes continued throughout the night before the ceasefire, while Hamas launched a final salvo of rockets minutes before it came into effect. The group have fired around 3,000 into Israel since the conflict began, officials say, killing three.

An Israeli strike overnight reduced the council offices in Shawkah to rubble. “It will take us years to rebuild,” said Adil Alibda, the municipality’s chief engineer.

Though few are yet in any condition to take stock, many in Gaza compared the latest conflict to those in 2008, 2009 and 2012. All say this has been by far the worst. “There is more destruction, much more. And so many dead,” said Sabriha Idbari, 50.

The UN estimates that a third of a million children will need some kind of counselling, at the very least.

Hanan al-Qaq, who runs an informal creche and gives private tutorials at her home, said her own daughters had been traumatised.

“They wake up at night screaming,” she said. “They have no feeling of safety. Nor do we, so we can’t give it to them. Fear has occupied our minds.”

With what Gaza has lost only now becoming clear, few are even thinking about what, if anything, might have been gained.

There is little immediate interest in the detail of ongoing talks in Cairo, which aim to make this temporary ceasefire permanent. Most people are focused on shelter, food, water or electricity.

Few criticise Hamas, at least not openly. Hussein al-Qaq insists that the leaders of all the Palestinian factions are “very good.” His wife agrees, but qualifies her husband’s praise with a quiet “maybe”.

At the UN-run school in the centre of Rafah, where nine died on Sunday after what is now thought to be an Israeli missile landed metres from its gates, not a single family has yet formally swapped the fetid, cramped classrooms for their homes. Most are scared. Some are among the tens of thousands across Gaza whose houses are no longer habitable.

“We are too frightened,” said Kamla Udwan, 55.  Around 270,000 people are currently living in more than 90 schools, the UN says.

One of those who died at the school on Friday was Hazem Abu Hilal, 24, a volunteer UN worker. At his home nearby a tent had been set up for the traditional mourning period. Neighbours and relatives sat quietly with his father.

“I want the ceasefire to work so much. I just want us to live like ordinary people, to be with my children, to watch my grand children grow up, to go to sleep, to wake, like people everywhere,” said Abdul Basit, a 55-year-old nurse. He has a 30-year-old daughter and a son, a microbiology graduate, who had recently married.

The shelling and fighting of last week – Hamas militants clashed with Israeli forces attempting to destroy tunnels near Rafah that could be used for cross-border infiltration – had prevented a proper funeral for Hilal.

The mourning tent, which should traditionally stand for three days, was erected within an hour of the 72 hour ceasefire being declared.

“When we buried the body, no one was there. People were afraid. It was too quick. It was not right,” Basit said. “I want the ceasefire to hold. I need 72 hours for the right time for mourning him.”

Jamal Dajani's photo.
Jamal Dajani's photo.
Jamal Dajani's photo.
Jamal Dajani added 3 new photos.

Palestinians return to destroyed homes and devastated neighborhoods…more than 3,000 homes were destroyed or damaged by Israel. (Photos shared by Rabab, Samer, Rita)

Get the whole picture – and other photos from Joanna Choukeir




September 2022

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