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Families in Khuza’a forced to live in shipping containers as politics prevent Gaza reconstruction

Israel/Palestine
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Two-year-old Ahmad Najjar scooted on his rear end across the dirt in front of the shipping container he and his family live in the Gaza farming village of Khuza’a. Unable to walk because of a genetic condition and lacking a wheelchair, Ahmad resorts to dragging himself by his hands. His grandmother, who also can not walk and is blind, sat and wailed inside the container in sweltering heat. “I’m so hot! God help me,” she moaned while rocking back and forth. The Najjar family’s stately home in Khuza’a was one of 100,000 homes damaged or destroyed during Israel’s war on Gaza in 2014 that killed more than 2200 Palestinians, most of whom were civilians. Eight months after the final ceasefire reconstruction in Gaza has not begun, and the Najjar family is is forced to live in a donated shipping container just across the street from the four-meter-high mound of rubble that used to be their home.

Ahmad’s father Youssef Najjar, 46, mostly blind and afflicted with nerve damage, stood over his mother and broke into tears. “In this caravan, our life is all about suffering,” he sighed.

Seventy-four other families, mostly from the larger Najjar family live in the caravan as well. Makeshift pathways have been cleared through the rubble, and the biggest chunks were piled up to form a massive hill where a tent sits on top and overlooks the grey moonscape of destruction. In the distance one can see Khuza’a’s farmland and Israeli towns across the border, as well as intermittent Israeli pillboxes equipped with remote-control machine guns aiming into Khuza’a.

Ahmad Najjar smiles in the container his family now live in across the street from the rubble of his home. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Ahmad Najjar smiles in the container his family now live in across the street from the rubble of his home. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

With their lives hanging by threads, the families living in the caravan are among the most vulnerable Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip. Every day is a crisis, and each season brings new difficulties which the residents are ill-equipped to confront.

I first met the Najjar family during a severe winter storm in January. The day before my visit, their container was flooded with rainwater and sewage nearly a meter high. Unable to walk, Ahmad was trapped inside and nearly drowned before being rescued. The day after my visit, heavy rains again flooded the caravans.

Throughout the winter, the uninsulated containers were iceboxes. In freezing temperatures with heavy rains and hail, families had no choice than to build fires in the containers in order to stay warm. “At night, I can’t get warm with eight blankets,” Youssef Najjar told me in January.

Now as summer approaches, the Mediterranean heat is turning the poorly ventilated containers into sweltering boxes. The caravans are unsanitary and cramped — sometimes with a dozen people per container — and makeshift additions built from wood and scrap metal have been attached. “We used to live in a big house and we suffered from the heat,” Youssef Najjar said. “But that doesn’t compare to what we live through now.”

Throughout the winter, promises of reconstruction kept a glimmer of hope among the population of the caravan. After donors gathered in Cairo and $5.4 billion was promised to rebuild Gaza, only a fraction has been allowed in as Israel, the Egyptian coup regime, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have colluded to prevent delivery of construction materials. Any hope has long since evaporated and the bitter reality of the siege is now undeniable.  “Rebuilding my house is a lie. I heard about reconstruction in the media. It’s all bullshit,” Najjar remarked.

Worse yet, rumors are afloat that the caravan may be evicted by the owner of the land, leaving the families with absolutely nowhere to go. “As much as I can talk about it, it’s not enough — I can’t put it into words,” Najjar told me.

Lacking a wheelchair, Ahmad Najjar scoots on the ground around the caravan. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Lacking a wheelchair, Ahmad Najjar scoots on the ground around the caravan. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Dan Cohen
About Dan Cohen

Dan Cohen is an independent journalist and filmmaker based in Palestine. He tweets at @dancohen3000.

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18 Responses

  1. bintbiba
    bintbiba
    May 11, 2015, 1:13 pm

    No words !!!

  2. just
    just
    May 11, 2015, 1:32 pm

    It’s these reminders of the minute- by- minute torment that the Palestinians of Gaza are forced to endure that are really crucial to profile and tell. So thank you, Dan, for your devotion to bring the world the awful truth and reality, and for your tireless support of the otherwise voiceless, nameless, faceless, and forgotten Palestinians.

    I am sure that there are too many people all over that think that this suffering family should just be grateful that they survived last summer’s massacre, and be happy that the IOF is not trying to actively kill them right now. The GoI is trying, anyway~ with this slower and very gruesome torture.

  3. truth2power
    truth2power
    May 11, 2015, 2:22 pm

    This makes me feel …. sick! Is this Dalia’s family – they have the same name? Dan, can you not get this on something mainstream? What sort of a world are we living in?

  4. amigo
    amigo
    May 11, 2015, 3:53 pm

    Zionism has much to answer for and the day of reckoning is coming.Maybe not the day after tomorrow , but it is coming.

    I would not want to be a zionist apologist when that day arrives.Of course many of them will conveniently become opponents who spoke out bravely against it —-always.

    Somebody on another thread mentioned the White South Africans who magically changed their colours when matters went against them.

  5. Neil Schipper
    Neil Schipper
    May 11, 2015, 4:49 pm

    100% of the blame on Israel?

    0% of the blame on Arab priorities & choices?

    The misery is real. Its use is cynical.

    • just
      just
      May 12, 2015, 9:21 am

      “100% of the blame on Israel?”

      Yes, Neil ~ 100%.

      “The misery is real.”

      What are you doing to alleviate it?

      “Its use is cynical”

      Nobody’s using anything/anybody. Reporting the truth about Israel’s despicable cruelty that results in continued misery for Gaza is obviously what you object to.

      • DoubleStandard
        DoubleStandard
        May 12, 2015, 12:41 pm

        There could be reconstruction if Hamas would not just steal all the materials and use them to rebuild its totaled military infrastructure.

        I realize that many people on this site probably hope that Hamas will reconstruct those tunnels (and probably wish that they had managed to realize their Rosh Hashanah plans), but Israel and the vast majority of the world do not share these desires.

      • eljay
        eljay
        May 12, 2015, 1:08 pm

        || DoubleStandard: There could be reconstruction if Hamas would not just steal all the materials and use them to rebuild its totaled military infrastructure. … ||

        You’re absolutely right that Israel should immediately end its blockade of Gaza, open the borders and allow full-scale rebuilding efforts to commence. Let international organizations get in there with their building materials and manpower and get the job done! Teach those Hamasians (Hamasenes?) a lesson, dadgummit!

  6. RoHa
    RoHa
    May 11, 2015, 10:30 pm

    Shipping container? That would have been a palace for us. We had to live in …

    What? This is not a comedy skit? This is real?

    • Boo
      Boo
      May 12, 2015, 9:48 am

      The concept of using shipping containers as dwellings is actually a good and valid one, provided that they’re properly insulated and fitted out for that use. They can be a definite step up from a refugee tent or mud hut. When used in climates that don’t turn them into giant freezers or toaster ovens — when properly sited so they don’t flood with a meter of sewage water in every storm — they can be quite habitable. I’d be satisfied with something like that on my acre of Puna, Hawaii rain forest to keep the mosquitoes and centipedes at bay.

      However, as a hand-me-down home for a family whose house was destroyed by modern-age, hi-tech barbarians using the latest US war toys, a shipping container is a stark image of man’s inhumanity to his own kind (men, women and children). Even starker than the contrast between hilltop settlements with wide, lush green playing fields and glittering swimming pools while evicted Palestinians cower at the bottom with no utilities and settlement sewage running in ditches down their dirt lanes.

      This must end, and BDS will likely not be enough. But as a start, it’s a step we must take.

  7. bryan
    bryan
    May 12, 2015, 5:18 am

    “100% of the blame on Israel?” is a great line Neil, but the article is far more about documenting reality than in assigning responsibility. I reread the article searching for “0% of the blame on Arab priorities & choices?” and all I could find was:

    (1) a reference to “100,000 homes damaged or destroyed during Israel’s war on Gaza in 2014 that killed more than 2200 Palestinians, most of whom were civilians.” That is surely a statement of fact, and granted it omits to say that some Israelis felt the attack justified by minor acts of Hamas resistance but it equally omits to say that some Palestinians felt that minor acts of Hamas resistance were justified by the ongoing and relentless siege to which they were subject. It was “Israel’s war” in that Israel chose the timing, the scale and the method of its offensive on Gaza. The timing seems to have been determined by the Hamas/Fatah reconciliation of April 2014 and the imminent collapse of the Israeli governing coalition which would necessitate new elections and hence require the ratcheting up of “tension”.
    (2) A statement that “In the distance one can see Khuza’a’s farmland and Israeli towns across the border, as well as intermittent Israeli pillboxes equipped with remote-control machine guns aiming into Khuza’a”. True or False?
    (3) An assertion that “Israel, the Egyptian coup regime, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have colluded to prevent delivery of construction materials” to permit reconstruction in Gaza. Now that is somewhat more contentious but still a pretty fair summary, and blatantly contradicts your “100/0” victimhood assertion.

    Now I can appreciate that your misplaced loyalties drive you to relentlessly defend your sacred cow, but surely you must realize that mindlessly repeating the same old mantras (whilst justified by the hasbara handbook on the basis of keep it simple and constantly reiterate the message) can make you look slightly ridiculous. But then perhaps you were driven to respond without having comprehended the article?

    • Neil Schipper
      Neil Schipper
      May 12, 2015, 12:14 pm

      There’s a Hamasbara handbook too bryan.

      The article baits with human suffering, and switches to Hamasbara talking points.

      Your recap of the summer war neglects claims that Hamas networks were being established in the WB in the hopes of launching a coup against the PA; if such claims are pure Israeli deception, one must explain how reconciliation-supporter Abbas did not deny such claims, indeed treated them as plausible.

      Related to this is that the PA supplied IDF with intelligence on gaza targets, and, that Egypt kept Gaza shut from the south (and pretty much kept its own mouth shut throughout).

      Tell the truth: You, and Dan Cohen, consider the advance of the Iranian-supported Gaza Islamists to be a good thing, the best available response to the cruelty and corruption of the (ethno-religiously promiscuous) Israel/PA/Egypt, and ultimately, American, alliance.

      And while you’re at it, take ownership of the view that the rejectionism/eliminationism that preceded the naqba was good and just.

      • RockyMissouri
        RockyMissouri
        May 13, 2015, 1:41 am

        Shame on you.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        May 13, 2015, 6:40 pm

        “And while you’re at it, take ownership of the view that the rejectionism/eliminationism that preceded the naqba was good and just”

        Why worry about that, Neil? Just say “the Holocaust justifies the Nakba completely” and in six words, you’re done, with plenty left over.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        May 13, 2015, 6:45 pm

        “(ethno-religiously promiscuous)”

        Nobody says that, Neil. Everybody knows they are against out-marriage.

  8. lonely rico
    lonely rico
    May 12, 2015, 9:31 am

    Quelle horreur !

    One small step against this cruel obscenity –

    https://www.freedomflotilla.org/news/13-marianne-is-headed-for-gaza-today

  9. Qualtrough
    Qualtrough
    May 13, 2015, 1:45 pm

    Why do so many of those using what appear to be real names appear to be graduates of Hasbara 101? Do they think these fake names give them ‘average Joe’ credibility or something? I have noticed this is becoming more common.

    • bryan
      bryan
      May 17, 2015, 9:03 am

      I am not sure I follow you – are Mayhem, Double Standards and the Thieving Crow the real names of real people or are they the pseudonyms of Israeli employed “internet Hagannah” mercenaries?

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