After a decade of escalations, some in Gaza find themselves homeless for a fourth time

When it rains in the al-Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, water pools into Zoher Alsayd’s living room, kitchen, and bedroom. 

“Sometimes like the last winter, we could not stay in our house,” the 49-year-old father of five said. “We left for our relatives, but we could not bear it. We were two families in a small place and the other family is poor too, like us.”

“It was really embarrassing for us to stay there,” he added. 

Like many Palestinians, the former house painter’s home was wrecked by artillery fire and debris from airstrikes during the latest escalation between Israel and Hamas earlier this year in May. According to the United Nations, during the course of the 11-day outbreak of violence, 1,447 homes were completely destroyed, and 13,000 houses were damaged.

This was not the first time Alsayd’s roof was blown off. He belongs to a growing group of Palestinians whose homes were damaged to the point of becoming uninhabitable, not once, but multiple times over the course of these four conflicts with Israel over the last 13 years.

The first time his roof caved in was in 2014. Nearby fighting left his home in shambles. “There is not a single window in the house. I covered [the openings] all with rugs,” he said.

In that escalation, 12,600 homes were completely destroyed and 6,500 were severely damaged. 

Unable to afford a full repair, Alsayd covered his home with secondhand sheets of tin. The metal was in poor condition and he had to patch the puckers with rugs. The two small holes over his bedroom never seemed to seal quite right.

Another Palestinian, Abdelhadi Musallem who is a liaison between families with destroyed homes and UNRWA, said his home was damaged four times since 2008. Last May, he found himself unable to cover the cost of rebuilding, and even if he had the funds, construction materials are scarce in Gaza. 

After past escalations with Israel, “Some people were able to rebuild their homes on their own,” Musallem said. Others, “took loans from banks” or borrowed from relatives. Those with family heirlooms sold valuables,  jewelry in particular. 

“But poor people were helpless,” Musallem said.” Some of them until now are not able to rebuild their homes.”

“We organized so many strikes at the UN headquarter in Gaza to urge them to help the poor families who had to live in their damaged houses as they have no place to go,” he added. 

Palestinian owners of houses which were destroyed during the Israeli war of 2014, take part in a rally demanding for reconstruction of their houses, outside the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza City, on July 6, 2021. (Photo: Omar Ashtawy/APA Images)
Gaza homeowners whose houses were destroyed during the 2014 Israeli war take part in a rally outside the UNRWA offices in Gaza City to demand the reconstruction of their houses, on July 6, 2021. (Photo: Omar Ashtawy/APA Images)

The United Nation’s agency for Palestinian refugees, or UNRWA, confirmed thousands of Palestinians received cash assistance to finance home repairs and disbursements for temporary shelter. Although, due to a lack of funding, thousands with houses and apartments that sustained critical damage did not receive any support. 

“It happened, that you found families who got nothing from the UNRWA’s reconstruction program, in part because we have more than a $70 million shortfall from the estimation of the full cost of repairs for damaged homes,” Adnan Abu Hasna, as a spokesperson for UNRWA in Gaza, said. 

“Over the past seven years, beginning after the end of the 2014 war, UNRWA oversaw the reconstruction of 7,183 houses that were completely destroyed,” he said.

A few Palestinians have benefited from property owners providing temporary shelters.

Ahmed Derdsawi, who goes by the kunya Abu Maher, is a 66-year-old retired civil servant with a lengthy career in the ministry of transport and is known locally for his generosity. He owns a five-story building in Gaza City where he lives in an apartment with his wife and has additional units for his four sons and their families. 

When fighting began in May, Abu Maher, opened up his vacant rental properties to displaced families. He hosted nine families, a total of 50 people, in his building. He provided those fleeing violence food, beds, electricity by his generator, internet, and tended to their children’s needs.  

“In such times of war, when souls and lives are passing away, money is not an important consideration when it comes to good deeds,” he said. 

“I previously hosted three to four families in past wars, but this time was different,” Abu Maher said. 

“My neighborhood was not quiet, we heard every shell that was fired,” he described, noting his home is within walking distance to high-rises that were leveled, creating substantial destruction to nearby structures. “All of us in the building, we were living in fear.”

Tareq S. Hajjaj
Tareq S. Hajjaj is a freelance journalist and a member of Palestinian Writers Union. He studied English Literature at Al-Azhar university in Gaza. He started his career in journalism in 2015 working as news writer/translator at the local newspaper Donia al-Watan. He has reported for Elbadi, the Middle East Eye, and Al Monitor.

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