Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 June 2019

Palestinians forced to live in ‘fridges of death’ after Gaza war

Khuza'a was once a small farming community of 2,000 homes. But last summer, Israeli jets and tanks flattened more than half of the houses in the village, reports Kate Shuttleworth.
Mohammed Najjar, 48, stands with his family outside the caravan he is living in at the encampment in Khuza'a in the Gaza Strip on April 20, 2015. Heidi Levine for The National
Mohammed Najjar, 48, stands with his family outside the caravan he is living in at the encampment in Khuza'a in the Gaza Strip on April 20, 2015. Heidi Levine for The National

Khuza’a, Gaza // With their homes destroyed by Israel, families in a village in southern Gaza have been forced to live in shipping containers.

Khuza’a, next to the border with Israel, was once a small farming community of 2,000 homes and 15,000 residents.

But during last summer’s war on Gaza, Israeli jets and tanks flattened more than half of the houses in the village.

Many of the residents who fled after the Israeli military dropped warning leaflets on July 23 returned a few days later to find their homes turned to rubble.

Today only a few houses remain standing among the destruction. Among the rubble lies a crumpled yellow taxi.

Off to one side, more than a dozen shipping containers sit in the sand. These are makeshift homes for the extended Al Najjar family, which lost 48 members during the attack.

Having survived a miserable cold, wet winter, the occupants of the containers now face a scorching Gazan summer. The metal containers will soon become like furnaces, making the already squalid conditions unbearable.

“I call this caravan the fridge of death – in the winter it’s so cold and in the summer it’s going to be like an oven,” says Samer Najjar, 45, as he gives a tour of his two-room container at the entrance of the camp.

He, his wife and their five children live crammed into a space about six metres long by three metres wide. The front door of the container, which frequently jams shut, leads straight into a kitchen area.

The other room is used for sleeping and bathing.

The floor has been laid with chipboard that is now slumping into the earth below. After months of flooding during the winter, it is mouldy and stinks.

Samer has found some old tiles to place on top. They are bumpy and difficult to walk on.

His three-bedroomed house in Khuza’a which was destroyed last year was his only asset. Now he and his family have nothing.

“There is no one working in our family and we get some aid every four months of about 1,800 shekels [Dh1,700].”

He said his only real hope was his daughter Abeer, who is studying Islamic studies and law at university.

The containers, which are donated by aid groups, are designed to provide temporary shelter. But with no signs of rebuilding under way in Khuza’a, it is unclear how long the Al Najjar family will have to live in them.

Mohammed Najjar, 57 and his daughter Tehani, who live in another of the containers, say they have now lost two homes in the past two Israeli offensives.

“It cost $200,000 [Dh734,630] to rebuild my house last time and I have no energy to do it all again,” says Mohammed.

“We need money, we have no money. I am really not happy with my life.”

Life for Fawzi Al Najjar, 48, and his family of six is equally miserable. The floor of their squalid, two-room container has become fully rotten and there is no ventilation. The smell from a broken toilet in the corner, combined with the mould, is overpowering.

Fawzi used to work in construction until 2013, when the tunnels used to smuggle in building materials across the border with Egypt were destroyed. That was the last time he received a salary, or any money for that matter.

“During the ceasefire I came back to my three-bedroom house and found it completely destroyed,” he says, referring to a break in the fighting last summer.

With no other income, the family sell some of their food aid such as rice and potatoes – staples donated by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees – and use the money to buy other items they need.

“We lost everything and we’ve received no aid aside from food, just blankets and this container,” says Fawzi.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

Updated: May 3, 2015 04:00 AM

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