Somewhere between 8-10 January 2009, during Operation Cast Lead, Israeli forces bulldozed and destroyed the Abu Daher family’s home and farmland in Qarara, in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. Almost 4 years later, this family of 9 is still displaced and living in an iron and nylon tent in east Qarara, where they are currently unable to start any income-generating projects to support themselves.
For Afaf Abu Daher (37), the events surrounding their displacement are hard to re-live: “Our house was about 300 meters from the border fence. There was frequent shooting, shelling and rockets. The children could not even go to school sometimes.
The Israeli occupation forces also conducted incursions and was arresting people. Then, one day, we heard through a microphone announcement that everyone should vacate the area immediately because it would be targeted.
We had nowhere to go, but we left and went to stay at the UNRWA school in Qarara with other families. About 2 days after the announcement, our house was bulldozed and completely destroyed. Most people had left, but some had stayed on.I remember my husband’s cousin remained behind and he was killed in his house. 120 houses were destroyed in that area during the operation.”
The family stayed at the UNRWA school for about a month before renting a modest house in Qarara. They stayed in that house for another month, and then set up a tent on their land: “Initially, we thought that we would go back to our land and maybe find someone to help us rebuild our house, but that was not the case. We could not continue renting a house because it was too expensive, so we came here.”
Over the years, life has gotten progressively harder for the Abu Daher family, especially since they have no proper roof over their heads: “It has been very hard for all of us. My children and I all sleep in one room, on mattresses on the floor. There is a hole one of our walls, so we sleep next to the neighbor’s sheep. This is where I cook and this is where we sleep. Last time it rained, the floor was covered in water and we did not sleep. We have tried to change the nylon on the roof, but it does not help much. The children never bring their friends home because they are ashamed. They meet their friends in the street.”
Afaf reflects on the projects she had before their house was destroyed and the conditions her and her family are currently facing:
“The land we had was 7 dunnums. We had our house and farmland there. There were about 700 olive trees, and we also kept sheep, chicken and cows. We sold the milk and cheese we made in the market and had a steady income to sustain ourselves. Right now, nobody has a job and we are barely surviving. This land is too small to begin any project. Only 2 of our children go to school now. The others stay at home to help their father with odd jobs and collecting rubble from buildings. We cannot afford to take them to school. We rely on help from the UN and anything else we can get. My husband is ill and can barely work. He gets 800 shekels to work for the government for 1 or 2 months in a year. That money only stops us from dying.”
Losing their home has also taken a toll on the emotional state of the Abu Daher family: “My children are traumatized from the war and I also have nightmares. One of my sons has seen 3 dead children and a child whose head was decapitated. This has traumatized him and he wakes up shouting at night. He has also started sleep walking. I have my own nightmares, but I try to counsel my children and explain to them what has happened. We also have people coming from the Gaza health centre to provide counseling for us, from time to time.”
As for the future, Afaf just wants the best for her children: “We had a house and life was okay, then suddenly we had nothing at all. I am looking to provide for my children. I want them to live and not struggle to survive. I want to work, save and be left to live in peace. I do not know what to expect for the future. Everything is just so bad right now. We are refugees from Bersheva, so UNRWA is supposed to give us a housing unit, but we have been waiting for a home for years now. We don’t know when we will get one, but we will just wait, as always.”
The direct targeting of a civilian object constitutes a war crime, as codified in Article 8(2)(b)(ii) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Similarly, under Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the destruction of private property is prohibited unless rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.
The ongoing enforcement of a ‘buffer zone’ along the land borders of the Gaza Strip results in the violation of numerous human rights provisions, including the right to adequate shelter contained in Article 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
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