Suddenly, home was gone

A bullet-riddled home near the “buffer zone” in southern Gaza. (Matthew Cassel)

BEIT HANOUN, occupied Gaza Strip (IPS) - Dates in the calendar to mark the rights of women mean little to Manwa Tarrabin, 56, and her two daughters. They have lost home, and any rights to it.

Until 17 January, they were living in a small bungalow in the al-Amal quarter of Beit Hanoun, within 200 meters of Gaza’s eastern border, in a region declared by the Israeli authorities a “closed military zone.”

Prior to the three weeks of Israeli air, sea and land attacks on Gaza it had been a tidy home at the top of a slight rise, surrounded by open fields and a smattering of olive and fruit trees. Following the withdrawal of Israeli troops, the house is a pancake of angles and debris, one of 80 homes demolished in the Beit Hanoun border area.

A dirt path leading to the Tarrabin house crosses agricultural land torn up by tank and bulldozer tracks, and passes numerous former homes, likewise demolished on the day before Israel unilaterally declared a ceasefire.

A farming and herding family, the Tarrabins lived off what their sheep and goats produced, and what they could sow in the fertile agricultural land around them. After the attacks began on 27 December, they continued to stay in the house. On the afternoon of their forced eviction, Manwa and her daughter Sharifa, 22, were in the house.

“I was so scared when I saw the tanks. My heart dropped to my feet,” Tarrabin said, recounting how the Israeli army demolished her house.

“It was around 2:30pm on 17 January, and we were inside our house when I heard the tanks. There were four of them and two bulldozers, one of them very, very large. The Israeli soldiers shouted at us over a megaphone to leave the house.

“They told me our house was now in a closed military zone,” Manwa said. “They said it was a ‘decision from the top’ and that we had to leave immediately and walk towards Gaza. I refused, and tried to negotiate with them for time to gather our belongings. They refused.”

Tarrabin said she and her daughter were forced from the house with only the clothes they were wearing, without even time to take their identity cards or personal items.

“We walked down the track from our house and when we were far enough away, I stopped to watch the soldiers.” At approximately 5pm, less than 12 hours before Israel declared a ceasefire, Israeli soldiers bulldozed the Tarrabins’ house.

This demolition came in an area that had been under Israeli military control since early January after Israeli tanks rolled over the border.

Since 2000, areas all along the internationally-recognized green line marking the boundary between Israel and the West Bank have been off limits to Palestinians. The area was unilaterally declared a “buffer zone” by Israeli authorities. This zone was expanded from 150 meters to 300 meters, with Israeli soldiers shooting at farmers and residents in the region as far as 600 meters away.

In tandem, Israeli bulldozers and tanks have deliberately destroyed thousands of dunams (one dunam equals 1,000 square meters) of Palestinian farmland within and well beyond the “buffer zone,” as well as the poultry and other farms in the region, some even 2.5 kilometers from the border with Israel.

On 17 January Israeli authorities again unilaterally extended the “buffer zone,” increasing the off-limits area to a kilometer from the green line. The 80 houses leveled in the Beit Hanoun “buffer zone” rendered an approximate 400 residents homeless and landless.

The Tarrabin family had already lost much of their grazing and agricultural land to the “buffer zone,” yet like the majority of those living within its limits, they have no option but to risk injury and possible death in returning to live and work on the land.

On 29 January, for the first time since the demolition, Manwa and Sharifa returned to their destroyed house in the now very high-risk region, accompanied by international human rights observers and a film crew.

To either side of the ruddy dirt path to the Tarrabin home, recently demolished and uninhabitable houses littered the landscape. “That house belonged to the Khadera family,” said Manwa, pointing to the remains. “The mother was killed in the shelling.

“There were goats and sheep at the bottom level of this house. Soldiers bulldozed the house with the animals inside,” said Manwa, pointing to a house where its elderly owner was tending a small fire for tea next to the broken structure.

Down the track a little further, the Wahadan family house was now rubble. “They destroyed the house, the water well and its pump too,” said Saber al-Zaneen, a local aid worker.

Not far from the Tarrabin house, the Abu Jeremi family house stands intact. Revisiting their home for the first time since they were evicted by Israeli soldiers 27 December, Freije Abu Jeremi said their rabbits, chicken and sheep were slaughtered when Israeli soldiers demolished the animal shed.

According to al-Zaneen, Beit Hanoun region is one of the most fertile areas in Gaza. “These flat fields around us once held around 750 dunams of olive, lemon and palm trees,” he said, gesturing towards the land rendered desolate since the encroachment of the “buffer zone.” “People from all over Gaza had work here.”

At her ruined home, Manwa Tarrabin quickly realized that her hopes of retrieving a change of clothing, identification papers, and her cash were futile: they all lay buried beneath an unmovable slab of concrete. To reach them will require a bulldozer, impossible because no non-Israeli bulldozer can enter the region under Israeli military control.

Among the crimes of war Israel is being accused of are the intentional destruction of civilian property, illegal under international human rights law and humanitarian law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention. Such destruction has been common also in areas outside Beit Hanoun, such as the Abed Rabu region east of Jabaliya and the Attatra region in the north-west of Gaza, besides Gaza City itself.

The organization Save the Children estimates that 100,000 people (56 percent of them children) are homeless following the attacks.

Sharifa and Manwa Tarrabin left swiftly after they arrived at what was home after Israeli soldiers fired four shots in the direction of the group digging through the rubble of her house. “They were close,” said al-Zaneen. “I heard the bullets whiz past.”

The family has since relocated to a relative’s home in Khan Younis, far from their broken home.

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