A family in Gaza struggles to rebuild following repeated Israeli attacks

on 23 Comments
The Abu Sa’ad home in Jahr el Deek. (Photo: Ruqaya Izzidien)

37-year-old Nasr Abu Sa’ad is holding a demonstration with his children outside the United Nations in Gaza with the aim of convincing them to rebuild his home which was shelled five times in July 2010 and another four times this April. Here is his story.

Somewhere in the north-east of Gaza, there is a beautiful patch of land. There are watermelons bursting from the earth on the left and chillies popping out from the right. The fields roll endlessly in parallel symmetry. There’s a church tower to the east and people kissing the ground to the west. It’s the kind of place you would dream of retiring to. It is serene and idyllic. Olive groves become lemon orchards. I simply do not have the words.

Four of the Abu Sa’ad children. (Photo: Ruqaya Izzidien)

At the bottom of the butternut plant garden is a wall. It reaches high into the air, like it is trying to cheat its way into heaven. A few hundred metres in front of the wall lies a shell. This shell once was home to a man called Nasr, his wife and their five children Alaa, Sa’ad, Jabel, Baha and Maysaa.

Eleven months ago Nasr’s wife, Naama stood in front of their home and from a mound, about 500 metres away, a bomb was tossed at her. It was a nail bomb. It shredded both the house and the mother, God rest her soul.

Naama bled out as ambulances were prevented from reaching the house, which is in Jahr el Deek, in the north of the Gaza Strip. Five tank shells were also fired that day. The excuse given was that terrorists were suspected of being in the house.

On April 28, 2011, Nasr’s home was shelled again, four times, destroying the bedroom which held all the keepsakes belonging to Nasr’s wife. The first shell rocketed through the bedroom, where Nasr was resting, leaving behind it more hole than wall.

Damage to the Abu Sa’ad home. (Photo: Ruqaya Izzidien)

“It was dark, the electricity cut as soon as the attack began. I was afraid to move, too scared to even turn on the flashlight on my mobile. I was afraid that they would shell again if they saw any movement. But then I heard children, crying for me to get them out from under the rubble. I went into the corridor and could see Alaa underneath the rubble, but I could only see Maysaa’s hand sticking out”, said Nasr. “It was terrible. I didn’t know where my other children were and feared they had been killed.”

After his wife was killed, Nasr applied for assistance to have his house rebuilt. He told me that the United Nations had explained to him that his house wasn’t damaged enough to warrant being rebuilt. Since it was shelled again in April, Nasr has been attempting again to have his house rebuilt.

On June 19, Nasr and his children will head to the United Nations building in Gaza to stage a protest, hoping to pressurise them into rebuilding his home. Currently they are living in a tent, a few hundred metres away from their skeletal house.

“The only thing that keeps me here,” explained Nasr, “is that this is my home. My brothers and I worked so hard to buy this land. We used to live of the price of a packet of cigarettes in order to save enough money to buy this farm.”

As I sit down with Nasr, his children pop their heads out of a door, grin cheekily and scurry out of sight. The eldest, Baha, is 12 years old and has a sombre face. He doesn’t giggle with the others, but holds on determinedly to his youngest brother. His height barely reaches my elbows but he carries more weight and responsibility than I could ever pretend to understand.

(Photo: Ruqaya Izzidien)

Nasr shows me what remains of his house. He carefully tidies the rubble as we stumbled through, as though he was straightening a pillow. The bedroom, which used to contain all of his wife’s possessions, is utterly destroyed. All that remains, aside from the shards of splintered mirror and unusable furniture, is a dusty Quran. All evidence that she ever existed has been obliterated.

There’s no longer a roof. The staircase is cluttered with unidentifiable pieces of house corpse and the central wall to the house has so many bullet holes that it looks like a sieve. It seems voyeuristic, as though I’m witnessing a vulnerability that is taboo. I reach the upstairs and I’m greeted by half-walls in every direction. This should be a landing, with rooms separated by walls. But I can view the inside of each room simultaneously, through the innumerable rifts in the walls. I see right into the decimated bedroom through a hole taller than me and out to the garden, through another. I am overcome with such a sense of paradox that my brain physically begins to ache. Through the bomb-hole to the outside, I can see red flowers and cucumber plants. I see a freshly-harvested wheat field and a grazing cow. The juxtaposition does not make any sense and I will never, ever be able to reconcile the two images with one another.

As we head outside, Nasr points to the garden path and looks at me. “This is where she was martyred,” he said gently. “She was just standing right here.” The garden is decorated with pink and red flowers, behind which are metal sheets, still bearing the scars from the nail bomb that hit eleven months ago. There are gashes the size of my forearm and the house has such injuries that I never believed existed outside of slasher movies.

“They shoot at us almost every day,” Nasr spoke up. “They were shooting today; at our plants and at the earth.” In the few hours that I was at Jahr el Deek, I heard at least two drones and saw an apache helicopter. Jeeps strutted along the border kicking up dust. And in front of Nasr’s home, a single white sheet is tied atop a wooden stick.

I find myself clumsy with my own limbs, unable to coordinate my thoughts or actions. I am overwhelmed with what feels like a fist in my sternum as I try to process that flag. It is, simply, forcing a family to apologise for having their mother killed.

Nasr walks me back to his olive grove, near the tent where he is living with his children. He spoke again, “There is only one thing that would drive me off my land; my death.”

The while flag flying out the Abu Sa’ad home. (Photo: Ruqaya Izzidien)

Ruqaya Izzidien is a British journalist and cartoonist based in Gaza

23 Responses

  1. seafoid
    June 17, 2011, 10:07 am

    Reflections on the Evil at Our Doorstep


    When we witness instances of extreme evil, human nature often moves us to classify such individuals as crazy. Through this classification, we try to separate ourselves from them and classify the evil as the exception and the decent as the rule. In this way we are also able to maintain our myth of stability, which requires a belief that the people around us can be expected to live by a minimal moral code. Stability requires predictability and the removal of radical evil from the calculation.

    I am a teacher and a Jew. I was raised on a tradition that taught me that all people are created in the image of God, and whosoever destroys one life it is as if they had destroyed a whole universe. I make no claims of moral consistency, nor of moral perfection, neither personally nor on behalf of the society in which I live. But I do know that murder is happening on my doorstep. Innocent people are being slaughtered beyond comprehension and an evil government is being granted the room to implement its evil policies.

    link to hartman.org.il

    • DICKERSON3870
      June 17, 2011, 1:04 pm

      RE: “Reflections on the Evil at Our Doorstep” – Hartman

      MY COMMENT: What disturbs me is that Hartman does not seem willing to even consider the mere possibility that the Netanyahu/Lieberman regime is itself “evil”. Consequently, by far the most significant aspect of his “reflections on evil” is the implicit presumption that the Netanyahu/Lieberman regime is not “evil”, but rather “good” (or, at least, “O.K.”). Personally, I find that rather shocking.
      Doctor, heal thyself! The “evil” at your doorstep might well be (partly, at least) your own (and/or that of your own regime).

      P.S. FROM IRA CHERNUS, 01/20/11: “…White Americans, going back to early colonial times, generally assigned the role of ‘bad guys’ to ‘savages’ lurking in the wilderness beyond the borders of our civilized land. Whether they were redskins, commies, terrorists, or the Taliban, the plot has always remained the same.
      Call it the myth of national security — or, more accurately, national insecurity, since it always tells us who and what to fear.
      It’s been a mighty (and mighty effective) myth…”
      ENTIRE COMMENTARY – link to tomdispatch.com

    • Mooser
      June 17, 2011, 2:59 pm

      Oh my freakin God! Okay, I read the excerpt posted by Dickerson. So I, a little later said to myself “Don’t be lazy, click the link and read it!” So I did, and got the first big surprise of the day. The article is not about Israel !!

      • NickJOCW
        June 18, 2011, 9:19 am

        The same thing happened to me! I couldn’t believe this was Hartman on Israel, and followed the link in a state of incredulity and bewilderment. It was almost a relief to find his concerns were for the Syrian middle classes rather than the Palestinians next door since it at least it explained why the sky had not fallen down.

  2. pabelmont
    June 17, 2011, 10:49 am

    I wish the people who praise, or who excuse, Israel’s various attacks on Palestinians could read this post and the Hartman excerpt.

    There is a particular form of evil which is observing evil and excusing it, or calling it good. It is this sort of evil that seems so attractive to AIPAC and its stalwarts (and the MSM which refuses to allow Americans to so much as hear of what I’ve called “Israel’s various attacks on Palestinians”).

    • seafoid
      June 17, 2011, 11:33 am


      Hartman is the embodiment of how sick the Zionist religious establishment is. His website has enough material for several PhD theses on how far from its own morality the settlers have dragged the religion.

    • Mooser
      June 17, 2011, 3:01 pm

      Pabelmont, you might want to read the entire Hartman piece.

  3. Lydda Four Eight
    June 17, 2011, 11:55 am

    wow. such cute kids. so much devastation with death of their mother and the repeated (5!) shellings. i wish there was more info on why/ who threw a nail bomb at the mother, this is ridiculous and horrific.

    • ritzl
      June 17, 2011, 11:41 pm

      Not once but twice (“a” nail bomb). She was killed by the second flechette (strictly illegal) round as she was running to check on one of her kids.

      Israel uses this house for target practice. It is a few hundred meters outside the 300 meter exclusion zone. What has happened and is happening to this family is clearly premeditated and the definition of heinous. It’s simply and literally cold-blooded murder.

      link to electronicintifada.net

  4. seafoid
    June 17, 2011, 12:07 pm

    The European banking crisis intensifies and the endgame is near and when the losses of the big banks have to be recognised it is going to hit Israel very, very hard. The end could come sooner than we think. Israel is building up into a disaster at the same speed as the Eurozone.

  5. justicewillprevail
    June 17, 2011, 12:09 pm

    Evil and sick. I wish Israelis would be so kind as to remind us what crime this family have committed, or what mortal danger they present to their mollycoddled lives. Oh yes, that’s right, they believe in the wrong religion, so therefore they deserve to die. And they have been there for generations longer than Israelis, so they are an embarrassing reminder of who is actually indigenous there. So they deserve to be punished and treated worse on a par with European Jews and gypsies under Hitler. Israelis like this aren’t human, they are perverted sadists with triumphalist fantasies, sick deluded brutes, who should be charged and locked up, were Israel a civil society.

  6. LanceThruster
    June 17, 2011, 12:16 pm

    Great excerpt, seafoid. I see the picture of those kids and the story of them losing their mother (my father was a widower, my mom died before I turned 2) and the bile rises in my throat as I think of the standard Zionist memes (“future terrorists”, “cockroaches in a bottle”, etc.)

    [heavy sigh]

  7. Kate
    June 17, 2011, 1:32 pm

    Lydda, more information from Harriet Sherwood in Johar a-Deek, Guardian Friday 16 July 2010:
    link to guardian.co.uk

    Mother of five killed by Israeli artillery fire close to Gaza buffer zone

    Three relatives also wounded in shelling on Gaza border, as family say no rockets were heard being fired before attack

    A mother of five was killed by Israeli artillery fire when she went to fetch her two-year-old son from outside her village home close to the “buffer zone” created by Israel along its border with Gaza.

    Three of her relatives were wounded in the shelling earlier this week, but Red Crescent ambulances were not permitted to reach the family for several hours.

    According to the woman’s husband, Nasser Abu Said, 37, the attack began without warning at about 8.30pm on Tuesday with two shells being fired as the family of 17 sat outside their house in the village of Johar a-Deek. Apart from Nasser and his 65-year-old father, the entire group was women and children.

    “It was completely quiet, there were no rockets being fired or we wouldn’t have been sitting outside,” he said, referring to Qassam missiles launched by militants into Israel.

    His sister and his brother’s wife were injured by shrapnel. The family moved indoors and called an ambulance. “About 10 minutes later the ambulance called back to say the Israelis had refused them permission to come to the house,” said Nasser.

    His wife Ne’ema, 33, soon realised their youngest son, Jaber, was not among the children she was attempting to calm down, and was probably asleep on a mattress outside that he often shared with his grandfather.

    As she went to fetch the toddler, another shell landed. “I called to my wife three times,” said Nasser, who realised his father had also been badly injured in his leg and stomach. “I could hear small noises coming from her. I knew she was dying.”

    Via Palestinian co-ordinators, the IDF told the family that anyone going outside the house would be shot dead. Nasser began to tend to his injured father, knowing he could not reach his dying wife.

    “I was holding myself in, especially in front of the children,” he said. The children were crying hysterically and some had wet themselves, he added.

    After two hours, an ambulance was allowed to reach the family. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), which investigated the incident, said Ne’ema and her wounded relatives were taken to al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital in Deir al-Balah, where it was confirmed she had died from shrapnel wounds.

    The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) said it had identified a number of suspects close to the border. “An IDF force fired at the suspects and identified hitting them,” it said. The incident was being investigated, it added, but declined to say why ambulances had not been allowed to reach the family.

    Since the three-week war in Gaza that began in December 2008, the IDF has continued to fire on Palestinians it suspects of launching rockets at Israeli civilians or attempting to attack Israeli forces. It created a 300m-wide buffer zone on Palestinian farmland adjacent to the border with Israel and warned it would shoot anyone seen within the forbidden area.

    The Abu Saids say their land is not used by militants to fire rockets as it is open ground in full view of an Israeli watchtower at the border 400m away….

  8. Mooser
    June 17, 2011, 2:53 pm

    Don’t worry, all this suffering will be invalidated when Guilty Feat tells us he, personally, doesn’t approve of this kind of thing. And he will tell us how much we suck.
    And Witty will bring us to an awareness of the sufferings of the Israelis who did the demo work. Now our sympathies will be properly adjusted. The whole world sucks.
    And Hophmi will tell us it’s all legal under Israeli law. So I guess there’s really nothing to worry about. Israel rocks!
    Or maybe I’m wrong, and they will hurry on past this post? You never know.

    • LanceThruster
      June 17, 2011, 7:21 pm

      Thank you, Mooser for a timely reposting of this link.

      I kept wondering why this line of “argument” found here was so depressingly familiar.

      link to elderofziyon.blogspot.com

      • Sumud
        June 18, 2011, 4:30 am

        Well Lance, I see the quality of discourse at EoZ is as juvenile as ever. And I see about 20 of your comments have been “flagged for review”. Can’t let any countering viewpoints even be seen can they? Pathetic.

      • LanceThruster
        June 20, 2011, 4:23 pm

        Thanks Sumud for providing witness.

        Every post that countered their clueless assertions got promptly “disappeared.” The blog owner say he doesn’t do gatekeeping, but that posts that the readers flag get blocked. The message says “flagged for review”, but nothing seems to return from the review graveyard.

        I see that vile and ignorant mindset and imagine that same attitude holding an assault rifle at an Israeli checkpoint.

    • LanceThruster
      June 17, 2011, 9:12 pm

      Now in BINGO form!!

      link to rys2sense.com

    • RoHa
      June 17, 2011, 10:42 pm

      Thanks, Mooser. Your summary has saved us all a lot of time and a huge dollop of verbiage.

  9. seafoid
    June 17, 2011, 5:47 pm

    Great work, Ruqaya. Allah ya’teek al afya.

  10. Chaos4700
    June 17, 2011, 10:21 pm

    Articles like this remind us why sites like Mondoweiss exist in the first palce.

    • annie
      June 17, 2011, 10:44 pm

      i know, it breaks my heart.

  11. Sumud
    June 18, 2011, 4:54 am

    I knew about Naama Abu Sa’ad’s killing with a flechette but I didn’t know the house had been shelled again in April of this year. Not satisfied with killing the mother of the family, they wanted another go, monsters.

    Israel has a long and gruesome history of using flechette weapons, especially in Gaza. Reuters cameramen Fadel Shana (and several others, all civilians of course) was killed by a flechette in April 2008. Reuters own report on the death:

    Fadel Shana killed by Israeli tank

    There were multiple reports of Israel again using flechettes during the Gaza Massace of 2008/09. Amnesty International report from January 2009:

    Wafa’ Nabil Abu Jarad, a 21-year-old pregnant mother of two, was one of those killed. Her husband and her mother-in-law told the team that the family had just had breakfast and were outside the house drinking tea in the sun.

    That same day, at the other end of the street, 16-year-old Islam Jaber Abd-al-Dayem was struck in the neck by a flechette. He was taken to the hospital’s intensive care unit but died three days later. Mizar, his brother, was injured in the same attack and still has a flechette lodged in his back.

    In the village of al-Mughraqa on the morning of 7 January, a shell struck the room where Atta Hassan Aref Azzam was sitting with two of his children, Mohammed, aged 13 and Hassan, aged two and a half. All three were killed. The six other members of the family who were in the house fled to the nearest school for shelter. The team examined the bloodstained wall by which the three were killed. It was full of flechettes.

    Also from the Amnesty Report, for those who aren’t familiar with what a flechette missile is:
    Flechettes are 4cm long metal darts that are sharply pointed at the front, with four fins at the rear. Between 5,000 and 8,000 are packed into 120mm shells which are generally fired from tanks. The shells explode in the air and scatter the flechettes in a conical pattern over an area about 300m wide and 100m long.

    In short their killing power is immense compared to the piddly Qassam rockets Gaza militants periodically fire. And Israel gets away with it.

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