Gaza’s grandparents endure one trauma after another

Rizka Abu Rujeila, 70 years old, holds her grandson outside the hospital in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, on 24 July. The boy was injured during an attack on the village of Khuzaa. Most residents fled following Israel’s ground invasion and some were attacked as they attempted to leave the village. Khuzaa was cut off for days from the rest of Gaza; Israeli soldiers prevented access to medical workers and journalists. Some residents sought refuge at the hospital, which was overwhelmed by the number of dead and injured.

Most of Gaza’s population is very young: the median age is 18, and nearly 45 percent of the Strip’s 1.8 million residents are 14 years old or younger.

Attention was rightly paid to the plight of Gaza’s children during Israel’s 51 days of bombing last summer. But elderly Palestinians are also among the population’s most vulnerable, and have been subjected to repeated trauma during their lifetime.

The eldest among them survived the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine, when they were forced from their homes and into refugee camps. The Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe) was followed by Israeli invasions and massacres in the 1950s, military conquest and occupation in 1967, the imposition of settlement colonies, two popular uprisings and their subsequent crackdowns. And, most recently, nearly a decade of siege and closure and three major military offensives in the span of six years.

Gaza’s elderly have been subjected to destruction of homes and businesses — the destruction of a life’s work. In some cases they have had to become caretakers again, taking in grandchildren orphaned by Israeli violence and playing a crucial role in keeping families together following profound loss.

This collection of photographs was built in the last eight months and intends to pay tribute to this generation of Palestinians who have made unimaginable sacrifices.

Anne Paq is a French freelance photographer and member of the photography collective ActiveStills.

Salima Smeri, a 62-year-old refugee and mother of six, stands amid the ruins of her home in the village of Qarara on 9 November 2014. She was living in a makeshift shelter at the time. In March 2015, she had a new wooden shelter that was provided by a charity but it was not connected to electricity so she did not stay inside so much. The roof was made of zinc, so it will be very hot in the summer.

An elderly displaced Palestinian taking shelter in a United Nations-run school in Jabaliya that had been shelled the previous night by the Israeli army. At least 17 people were killed in the 30 July 2014 attack, which injured nearly 100.

Mariam al-Nawasra, photographed on 16 September 2014, cries when recalling the attack on the home of her grandson Awad al-Nawasra. Four members of the family were killed in the afternoon attack on 9 July 2014: her grandson Salah al-Nawasra, his wife Aisha, who was four months pregnant, and Mariam’s grandsons Mohammed Khalaf (2) and Nidal Khalaf (4). Mariam was inside the home at the time of the attack and was stuck under the rubble for two hours. She lost her vision and became deaf in her left ear as a result of her injuries. Her leg was broken and she says she feels pain all over her body. One of her daughters, Filastine, was killed last summer in a separate attack on a Beit Hanoun school being used as a shelter. One of her sons was killed by Israeli forces in 1993 and another of her children, Jawaher, died of natural causes, so she has six surviving children. Mariam, originally from Julis village in the north of historic Palestine, remembers the 1948 Nakba as she was 12 years old at the time.

Portraits of Ibrahim Abdallah Abu Aita, 67, and his wife, Jameela Saleem Abu Aita, 55, in the rubble of their Jabaliya refugee camp home where they were killed in an Israeli missile strike on 23 July last year. The couple were killed together with their adult sons Muhammad and Ahmad and their four-year-old grandson Adham. Ibrahim and Jameela’s surviving son Mahmoud said: “According to what I see, I don’t think there will be justice. But I still hope that those responsible for these crimes will be held accountable, especially because we were all civilians.”

An elderly Palestinian man fills a container with water in his destroyed home in the Shujaiya district, east of Gaza City on 4 September last. Whole parts of Shujaiya were completely destroyed by the Israeli attacks, leaving thousands of Palestinians homeless. Lacking any alternative, many went back after the ceasefire to live in badly damaged and unsafe homes with no connection to water and electricity networks.

Ghalia Suleiman Odeh, 70, and her husband Naim, 75, in front of the metal trailer they have been living in after their home was destroyed by Israeli attacks in the village of Khuzaa, photographed on 9 November 2014. There were approximately 400 people living in this new camp for displaced Palestinians. Naim said that he had been living in his home since his childhood and that it was built by his father.

Jaber Abu Said, 70, sits outside his family’s makeshift shelter in Juhor al-Dik, eastern Gaza, on 6 November looking in the direction of his home which was destroyed last summer. Abu Said’s home was approximately 400 meters from Gaza’s boundary with Israel. The family had faced many attacks over the years but had remained on their land until last summer. In a July 2010 shelling attack, Nimeh, her daughter-in-law, was killed, leaving five children behind. In July 2014, the home was totally reduced to rubble; their farm was also destroyed by tanks and bulldozers.

Jamila Abu Odeh (age unknown) with her grandson in her destroyed Beit Hanoun home. During the 2014 Israeli offensive, her family fled to a UN school. But that would prove no sanctuary as Israel attacked it. The family returned to find their home badly damaged. Jamila said: “In 1948, our home was burned. But the worst was still to come. The last war was the worst ever. I will not see Palestine free. I lost everything.” Jamila, who has ten children, was shot at in 2006 by Israeli soldiers while she was working at her farm at the boundary between Gaza and Israel. She lost an eye as a result. “I talked to the soldiers and told them to stop bulldozing my land, but they shot at me,” she said.

Naima, a 74-year-old refugee from Bir al-Saba (Beersheba), with her grandson Ahmed Duhair, whose entire immediate family were killed when they returned to their home for Eid after staying at Naima’s for two weeks. When the family returned to their home, Ahmad insisted on being brought back to his grandmother’s and therefore survived. Twenty-one members of the Duheir family were killed, including Ahmed’s mother, Jamalat (Naima’s daughter), his father Mahmoud and five siblings. Naima’s husband was arrested and killed during the first intifada.