Joy of Gaza Eid shattered by Israeli bombardment
GAZA CITY // Like nearly everyone in Gaza, the Masri family usually mark Eid Al Fitr by attending early-morning prayers.
Wearing newly purchased dress shirts and hijabs in celebration of the holiday, they also visit neighbours and exchange gifts of homemade pastries.
This year, the joy of Eid has been crushed by the rubble of their two family homes. The buildings were levelled by Israel’s nearly three-week campaign of air strikes, shelling and troop incursions that began on July 8 and devastated vast swathes of this already besieged Palestinian territory.
Now, 11-year-old Zohra Al Masri lives in Gaza City’s centre with about 60 other relatives in a three-bedroom flat that lacks electricity, furniture and hope.
“Difficult,” she said when asked about her temporary home, which was filled with screaming children and distraught parents. “I want to go home.”
She abruptly stopped speaking, her eyes filling with tears.
In the fighting that has pit Israel against Hamas, the desperation of families such as Zohra’s is all-too-common.
While some residents tried to find a sense of normality on what should otherwise have been a day of celebration, the spectre of violence still dominated Gaza on Monday.
Youth congrated at Gaza City’s beaches during a brief lull in fighting. Some played football in the sand while adults stood amid the shoals, casting out fishing nets. Others crowded around the few automated-cashier machines, hoping to withdraw cash after weeks of war-inflicted disruptions to the banking network.
At United Nations-run schools that have been turned into temporary shelters for displaced Gazans, men kneeled to pray in the courtyards. Dozens of mosques have been hit in the fighting, and many avoid them because Israel has repeatedly targeted them. Just hours later, eight children and two adults were killed in a blast at a park, causing many Palestinians to flee indoors.
More than 160,000 people in Gaza have been displaced and sought refuge in 83 UN-run facilities in the territory, according to statistics from the world body’s Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa).
Thousands more are crowded into the homes of relatives and friends. For most, if not all, there is no Eid this year, with shops and banks mostly closed.
Instead, there is a reckoning with a war that has inflicted almost unimaginable damage on this enclave of 1.8 million.
More than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed and scores more injured in heavy fighting that has included Hamas militants firing rockets and waging fierce battles against Israeli troops. In that struggle, entire neighbourhoods have been reduced to rubble by Israeli airstrikes and shelling, and entire families have died in homes that were flattened.
Fortunately for the Masri family, no one was in their homes in Beit Hanoun when Israel began laying waste to the area over the last week.
When Ashraf Al Masri, 40, returned to see the destruction during a brief humanitarian truce on Saturday, he could hardly believe his eyes.
“I almost fell over when I saw it. People around me had to hold me up,” said Mr Al Masri, who has worked for nearly 15 years as a driver and translator for foreign journalists in Gaza.
His 15-year-old, three-level house was reduced to shredded piles of rebar, concrete and mangled possessions. The adjacent home where his parents lived sustained heavy damage and although it was still barely standing, there was nothing left of the olive and lemon trees that surrounded both of them.
Mr Al Masri recalled telling his wife, Aida, 36, and the rest of the family about the destruction of their home.
They were in the Gaza City apartment in the time, where they now survive off donations of rice and other foods from local charities.
“My wife started crying and shouting. She was hitting her head in grief,” he said.
Each of the dozen houses in the extended family sustained heavy damage — if not destroyed.
On Monday, Mr Al Masri took a moment away from work to visit his family at the flat.
His father, Abdul Latif Al Masri, 61, kissed his cheeks. It was still too dangerous for Abdul Latif and his family to see what was left of the homes because fighting continued in Beit Hanoun. He wanted a ceasefire and an enduring peace, he said.
“I’m an old man. I’m not resistance [Hamas fighter]. I worked in Israel for 40 years as a builder. Why did Israel do this to us?” said Abdul Latif.
“I worked for them to build that house, and now they’ve destroyed it.”
Updated: July 28, 2014 04:00 AM