In photos: Gaza families return home to horror and devastation

The Qarara family returns to their destroyed home in Shujaiya, east of Gaza City, to salvage their belongings on 26 July.

After nearly twenty days of war, the southern Gaza neighborhood of Khuzaa, near Khan Younis, was still off limits on 26 July.

Israeli ground forces fired warning shots at neighborhood residents who had gathered one hundred meters from the entrance. They hoped in vain to look for missing relatives and check on the state of their houses.

Abasan al-Kabira, east of Khan Younis, was the easternmost area accessible on that day, or at least what remained of the neighborhood — which once boasted beautiful, large homes and palm trees.

The home of Ibrahim Abukther, 32, was at least three stories high. Now the external walls were missing for the most part.

On the top floor, lying on one of those soft blankets that are found in every Palestinian home, was a human hand. People gathered said Ibrahim was not able to flee in time. Israeli armed forces had begun shelling the road; his house was one of the closest to the fields leading all the way to Khuzaa and the so-called buffer zone.

Ibrahim’s left leg, burnt and still attached to the bottom part of his torso, was down in the garden. Emergency medic volunteers had lifted it gently and laid it on a stretcher. The stench of decomposing bodies was overpowering.

The same scenes played out in Shujaiya in northern Gaza that same day.

Abdallah Qarara had grabbed his children and fled his home on 20 July when his neighborhood came under intense bombardment by Israeli air and ground forces. Seventy were killed and two hundred were injured in the attack.

Abdullah looked tired. He had had enough of the war, he said. He just wanted to get on with his life. He showed a photo of his two small children on his phone. They were all now living outside al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.

During a ceasefire they returned to find that all that remained standing of their home was the frame. The structure would have to be demolished and the home rebuilt.

Downstairs, the family tried to pile up as much as they could onto a horse-drawn cart. Mattresses, pots and pans, those familiar blankets and what looked like sentimental keepsakes: a tray, a plate.

Meanwhile in Gaza City’s Beach camp, the Bakr family had suffered the loss of four children playing on the beach in the early days of the war. Just a week later a home belonging to Hassan Bakr was targeted in the refugee camp. Hassan was killed and approximately twenty others were injured.

Children walked barefoot on collapsed cinderblock roofs and broken-up cement blocks. Exhausted, people had stopped asking why. They were picking up the pieces like they had done countless times before, starting their lives over once again. Not knowing what would come next.

Silvia Boarini is a photojournalist based in Beer Sheva and is currently working on a documentary on Naqab Bedouins.

The Qarara family inside their home on 26 July. They fled Shujaiya the day of the massacre on 20 July. They managed to return almost a week later during a ceasefire to assess the damage to their home.

A child’s room in the Qarara family home in Shujaiya, 26 July.

During Israel’s assault on Gaza, boundary areas like Shujaiya, photographed on 26 July, came under prolonged heavy air and artillery strikes.

The Bakr family home in Gaza City was bombed in the early hours of 22 July, the day this photograph was taken.

A boy from the Bakr family walks on the ruins of his home in Gaza City’s beach camp on 22 July. An Israeli missile hit the family’s building, leaving thirty homeless.

Families raised tents by the ruins of their homes in Shujaiya, photographed on 12 August, during a ceasefire. Residents had spent daylight hours looking for belongings and missing relatives in the rubble and returned to United Nations schools and other shelters at night.

Children from the al-Smary family wounded by shrapnel during Israel’s attack on Qarara village in Khan Younis are treated in al-Nasser hospital on 18 July. The family recounted having to leave behind the body of one of their sons as they fled. Qarara, located on the so-called buffer zone along the boundary with Israel, was hit heavily at the beginning of the ground operation and declared a closed military zone by Israel.

A man sits in shock outside al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on 28 July. He helped bring in the bodies of children who were killed in a missile strike near a park in the Beach refugee camp. Nine children were reported to have been killed along with one elderly man.

Children outside the morgue at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City look at the blood left by one of the victims brought in following a bombing in the city on 28 July.

A boy with shrapnel wounds is brought in to al-Shifa hospital on 19 July. Al-Shifa hospital is the largest in the Gaza and struggles to cope with the amount of injuries, especially as other hospitals closed after coming under fire from Israeli forces.

Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza, was repeatedly shelled by Israeli armed forces earlier in the day on 21 July. Five were killed in the strikes and seventy injured before patients could be safely evacuated from the hospital, which was fully functional before the strikes.

Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza, was repeatedly shelled by Israeli forces earlier in the day on 21 July.

A home in the village of Khuzaa on 3 August. The village came under heavy attack at the start of Israel’s ground operation and remained inaccessible to its residents until the end of July.

During a ceasefire on 26 July, Palestinians briefly return to their homes in Abasan al-Kabira to survey the damage and salvage their belongings. A woman from the Abukther family reacts to the death and destruction around her.

During a ceasefire on 26 July, civil defense volunteers recover the remains of 32-year-old Ibrahim Abukther from his home in Abasan al-Kabira east of Khan Younis and near the boundary with Israel.

During a ceasefire on 26 July, civil defense volunteers recover the remains of 32-year-old Ibrahim Abukther in Abasan al-Kabira.

During a pause in the fighting coordinated by the Red Cross, the last remaining Shujaiya residents flee their homes and salvage some of their belongings on 23 July.

During a brief pause in the fighting on 23 July, civil defense volunteers attempt to recover bodies from the ruins of bombed homes in Shujaiya.

During a ceasefire on 26 July, Palestinians returned to their homes in Shujaiya for a few hours to salvage their belongings.

During a ceasefire, Palestinians survey the destruction in Shujaiya neighborhood east of Gaza City on 12 August.