A year after losing a father and sons, a Gaza family copes

Khaled Abu Jbarah with baby Lina and Jihad, whose father was killed in an Israeli missile strike on their Gaza home. (Rami Almeghari)

“Four months after the martyrdom of my husband and two of my sons, my granddaughter Lina was born — the daughter of my martyred son Basel,” said Fathiya Abu Jbarah. Fathiya is the widow of Jihad Abu Jbarah and mother of Basil, 30, and Usama, 21 who were killed on 4 January 2009 by an Israeli missile that struck their home in al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip. Their home was hit during Israel’s 22-day air and land attack that killed more than 1,400 persons and wounded thousands of others.

The Electronic Intifada visited the family a few days after the attack (see “Targeting a cup of tea in Gaza,” 12 January 2009) and came back one year later to see how they are coping.

Reflecting on the birth of Basel’s daughter Lina, Fathiya Abu Jbarah said, “My heart almost popped. What did this innocent baby do to be born without a father?”

“We Palestinian mothers like any other mothers, never want to see our children and grandchildren become orphans or for wives to become widows,” Fathiya who is in her mid-50s, said as she carried Lina in her arms. “We want to live in peace as any other nation in this world. Yet, the Israeli occupation never leaves us alone, they have continued to attack us regularly for decades now. Isn’t it time for us to live normally?”

In addition to the killings of Jihad and his two sons, a fourth family member, Khaled, 19, suffered severe shrapnel wounds to his abdomen and arms, and was transferred to a hospital in Saudi Arabia for treatment.

Khaled recalled the moment, just before 10:30pm on 4 January 2009, when the missiles struck the house. He had been sitting outside with his father and brothers. However, Khaled said, “The weather was cold, so I went in my room, while my brothers and father were keeping warm outside in front of a wood stove.”

Khaled then heard missiles striking near the home and rushed out of his room to see what happened. “I saw the three [Jihad, Basel and Usama] dismembered by the strike, but I did not know I was also hit.” Khaled recalled going out of the house to a nearby hospital.

The family’s rented home was badly damaged in the Israeli attack, but now they live in a newly-built three-room house. Khaled now lives there along with his brother Muhammad and other family members including a teenage brother, his mother, his sister-in-law, the widow of Basil and other nieces and nephews.

The Abu Jbarah home is one of the very few to be built in the past year, as thousands of homes damaged or destroyed in the Israeli attack remain unrepaired. Virtually no building supplies have come in due to the ongoing Israeli blockade, but the Abu Jbarahs built the house with the help of friends and family, and using building supplies smuggled in through tunnels from Egypt, and sold at inflated prices.

Muhammad Abu Jbarah, 24, explained that his late father had decided to build a family home in 2006, but due to the blockade he could never get the raw materials, which is why he rented the home that was attacked by Israel last year. After the attack, the family lived for months at the home of a relative, but with their needs, they decided to build the new house. It has been an enormous struggle.

“We have been building this new house for almost eight months, trying to get use of any raw building material available in local markets,” Muhammad explained. The cost has been enormous — about $70,000, much of which was borrowed from relatives or friends. “We owe about 70 percent of that amount,” said Muhammad,” and it will take us at least six or seven years to pay it off, but we have no choice.”

Despite the agony he has endured during the past year, Khaled Abu Jbarah sounded hopeful and looked forward to a better life in the new year. “I do look forward to a better situation, not only for me but also for these little children. We Palestinians want to live in peace and tranquility for generations to come, but unfortunately, every generation of us experiences the same suffering at the hands of this occupation, which never abides by ceasefire declarations, peace agreements, or any other international resolutions.”

Although the situation has been generally calm, Khaled pointed out that the “Israeli army continues to open fire from time to time [and] some people have been killed and wounded recently.”

The home provides some comfort now, but Fathiya Abu Jbarah said, “what you see can never compensate me for my loss. During Ramadan I cried a lot for my dear husband and children, while serving iftar [the fast-breaking meal] to the rest of my family.” As she spoke, the memory brought the tears back to her eyes.

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