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From the field

Fatmeh Sukar, of a- Shuja’iyeh, Gaza City, tells of living in substandard conditions in a house damaged in the war

Fatmeh SukarMy husband, seven children and I now live in our old two-room apartment, on a-Nazaz Street in the a-Shuja’iyeh neighborhood. Before the war, we lived in a beautiful, spacious apartment one floor up from where we live in now, but the apartment was destroyed in the war.

When the war first started, we stayed in our apartment. We lived like everyone else, in constant fear and stress. We heard the bombings day and night. My husband and I were worried about our children. We live on the east side of a-Shuja’iyeh, about a kilometer away from the border.

At around 1:45 A.M. on 20 July 2014 we got a phone call from the Israeli military. They called by husband’s cell phone and told us to evacuate the house. We left with the children right away. We were very scared because we heard explosions and because of the shells that were falling and hitting the houses by the road. All the residents of the area left when we did. Everyone had been told to evacuate. We all fled to the west, toward the center of Gaza City.

The streets were flooded with people. A massive stream of people leaving a-Shuja’iyeh. Some didn’t have enough time to take clothes, or get dressed, especially women, who left wearing their house clothes. Some hadn’t had time to put on shoes and they were walking barefoot on the rubble and broken glass that littered the road.

We kept walking until we got to Palestine Square. We sat on the ground until dawn. Some people lay down on the ground. Later, we walked over to a-Daraj school, which belongs to UNRWA.

The first few days at the school were very tough. There were about 1,700 of us, men, women and children. We all had to use a single bathroom because the rest were undergoing repairs. During our first week there we got no aid or food items. We bought some food so we could prepare the daily meal from breaking the Ramadan fast. We also bought some food so the kids could have something to eat during the day. We slept on the floor without any blankets or anything else. After about a week we started receiving food items from UNRWA. They also distributed mats and blankets. Sleep was hard to come by, both because of the hard floor and the bombings and airplanes. There was no privacy and the women couldn’t go to the washroom comfortably.

What remains of the family’s previous living room. Photo by Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem, 16 Nov. 2014
What remains of the family’s previous living room. Photo by Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem, 16 Nov. 2014

After the war ended, we were transferred to a-Zeitun School in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood. Because the school year was starting, six families were put in each classroom. We stayed there for about two months. Things were tough there too. The women and girls slept inside the classrooms and the men and young men slept outside the classrooms.

Then UNRWA gave us USD 450 for rent and another 500 for living expenses. We looked for a rental, but we couldn’t find one because all the landlords wanted six-months’ rent up front and we had no way of paying that. So we decided to go back home, even though the place is in ruins.

We couldn’t live in our apartment, because it was almost completely destroyed. My husband fixed up the old apartment, on the ground floor, which has two rooms and a bathroom, and this is where we live now. This apartment had also been hit by shells and parts of it were destroyed. Whenever it rains, the house is flooded. There are holes all about and some of the windows are gone. We have no protection from the cold and rain. Rainwater gets into the rooms and the kitchen. We’ve been living here for twenty days, because we have no other choice. The children suffer from the cold and rain. They get sick with colds. It’s hard for them to study and do their homework in these conditions.

Hole made by shell in the family’s current apartment. Photo by Muhammad Sabah / B’Tselem, 16 Nov. 2014
Hole made by shell in the family’s current apartment. Photo by Muhammad Sabah / B’Tselem, 16 Nov. 2014

The bombings destroyed my washing machine as well, so now I have to wash everything by hand. On rainy days, I spend all day drying the house, mopping up the water that leaks in. At night, to keep the rain from seeping in, I try to seal the cracks under the doors with blankets.

I hope we’ll be able to go back to our apartment, to the way it used to be, with all our belongings and furniture, especially the washing machine. I really hope our ordeal ends as soon as possible. This war set us forty years back.

Fatmeh Muhammad Hussein Sukar, 48, is a homemaker. A married mother of 7, she lives in a-Shuja’iyeh neighborhood, Gaza City. Her testimony was given to B’Tselem field researcher Muhammad Sabah on 16 November 2014 in the witness’ home.