100-year-old refugee gets new Gaza home in time for Eid

The Abu Daher family’s new home in Gaza.

The four-member Abu Daher family lived their happiest day yet since Israeli army bulldozers crushed their cement home almost two years ago during Israel’s massive assault on the Gaza Strip.

“This is a remarkable day for me, my elderly mother, my handicapped brother and my sister,” Suhaila Abu Daher said, sitting for the first time ever in a newly-built 60 square meter home near the Izbet Abed Rabbo neighborhood of Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza. The new house is just a short distance from the tent the family had lived in since the Israeli attack made them and thousands of other Gaza families homeless.

“First, thank God, and then all those who helped us have a home to protect me and my family from the heat, the cold and so many other awful things like snakes and stray dogs and cats,” Abu Daher said, flanked by her 100-year-old mother, known as Umm Ahmed, seated in a wheelchair, and her brother Muhammad who has lived with severe disabilities since birth.

Abu Daher poured praise on the Rahma (Mercy) Society of Kuwait, the Housing Ministry in Gaza and the “benevolent man who donated the land for this new home.”

“May God bless them all in these blessed days, ahead of Eid al-Adha,” she said, referring to the Muslim feast marking the ending of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

“During winter, I was unable to bathe my mother sometimes for two weeks, due to the severe cold inside the tent,” Abu Daher recalled. “In summer we used to have snakes and stray animals come inside the tent. It was disgusting, but thank God we are finally in a normal house.” The new house is small, but affords the family a kitchen and a bathroom.

A cheerful Umm Ahmad raised her hands to the sky and uttered Eid blessings for all those who had helped the family.

One-hundred-year-old Umm Ahmed in her new home.

“My son, what we have been through are the worst days of my life,” Umm Ahmad said in a shaky voice. “When I was young in Beer al-Sabe we used to live on our own lands and in our own homes. I recall we used to live happily and used to exchange our crops for cattle. But since we were displaced by Israel so many years ago, we lost everything. Yet God is great and is always merciful to us.”

Beer al-Sabe, Umm Ahmad’s ethnically cleansed hometown, is known today by the Israelis who occupied it in 1948 as Beersheva.

Umm Ahmad’s son Muhammad expressed his delight as well and recalled the awful days during the Israeli attack: “Believe me, the army didn’t allow me to pray, so I didn’t pray during any of the days they attacked our area.”

The delivery of the Abu Daher family’s new home is part of a project funded by Kuwait’s Rahma Society, an organization that provides global relief services, and the Housing Ministry in Gaza.

According to official data there are about 3,500 families who remain homeless since Israel’s three-week long assault ended in January 2009. Sources at the Housing Ministry, which is controlled by the Hamas movement, say that the majority of the displaced live in rented accommodation, while others remain in tent camps.

Since the attack, virtually no construction materials have been allowed into Gaza due to the crippling Israeli siege that has remained in place since June 2007. Despite international pledges of reconstruction aid totaling some $4 billion made at a donor’s conference in March 2009, little has been delivered.

Following Israel’s deadly attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla last May, Israel announced an “easing” of the siege, allowing some consumer goods into Gaza, but still banning building materials.

“This the first home that we finished constructing in [Gaza],” said Kamal Misleh, director of the Rahma Society. “We have rebuilt 700 other partially-destroyed homes in Gaza and plan to complete construction of 100 other homes, hopefully.” The project is supported by the Islamic Development Bank, Misleh said.

Asked by The Electronic Intifada as how they could initiate such a reconstruction project amidst lack of building materials in the territory, Misleh explained, “It’s true there are no construction materials coming in Gaza because of the closure but we have found such materials in the local market. Maybe they are being smuggled through underground tunnels on the Egypt-Gaza border.”

But these materials come at a high cost. According to Misleh, building the Abu Daher’s small house cost $25,000. “We are happy that we could help this family and will be happier to extend help to other similar families in the near future, God willing,” Misleh said.

Yousef al-Mansi, the Minister of Housing and Construction, was on hand to see the Abu Daher family to take position of their new home. He told The Electronic Intifada, “We would like to ask world public opinion to pay attention to the many displaced families in Gaza. Please wake up, there is an entire people being strangulated by the siege, in which the United Nations, a member of the Quartet is involved.”

Since Hamas won Palestinian elections in 2006, the Quartet, made up of the United States, the UN Secretary-General, the European Union and Russia, have boycotted Hamas while imposing preconditions on it from which Israel is exempt. These include renouncing the use of violence, accepting agreements signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (of which Hamas is not a member), and recognizing Israel without any reciprocal Israeli recognition of Palestinian rights.

On the eve of Eid al-Adha, Umm Ahmad put the small victory of a new house in Jabaliya refugee camp in the perspective of her long life: “These are the worst ever days since my family and I were first displaced from Beer al-Sabe,” she repeated, “but God is there and he is merciful to us.”

All photos by Rami Almeghari.

Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.