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Gaza family greets chilly winter in tent


November 22, 2009 - Ten months after their house was completely destroyed by Israeli bulldozers in last winter's offensive, Mohammed Khader, his wife and their five daughters are still living in a tent as another cold winter is approaching. The 22-day Israeli military offensive, which ended on Jan. 18, left about 500 families in tents as well as 11,152 houses destroyed or damaged, according to Gaza-based al-Mezan center for human rights. To make things worse, reconstruction in Gaza is seen little progress due to an Israeli blockade on Gaza since June 2007, which prevented building and raw materials from making their way to the war-torn coastal enclave...

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Gaza family greets chilly winter in tent

by Sami Ajrami, Fares Akram

GAZA, Nov. 22, 2009 (Xinhua) -- Ten months after their house was completely destroyed by Israeli bulldozers in last winter's offensive, Mohammed Khader, his wife and their five daughters are still living in a tent as another cold winter is approaching.

The 22-day Israeli military offensive, which ended on Jan. 18, left about 500 families in tents as well as 11,152 houses destroyed or damaged, according to Gaza-based al-Mezan center for human rights.

To make things worse, reconstruction in Gaza is seen little progress due to an Israeli blockade on Gaza since June 2007, which prevented building and raw materials from making their way to the war-torn coastal enclave.

Fortunate Gazans manage to rent flats at low prices or move in with their relatives, but others, like Khader's family, could neither afford to rent apartments nor find others to share a house.

The 46-year-old Gaza dweller said, he could not resort to his extended family who lives in tiny houses, which were too small to accept them, and he failed to make enough money to rent apartments.

Khader's family have no choices but to live with dozens of other families in el-Salam temporary tent camp in northern Gaza town of Jabaliya.

The misfortune of Khader's family started from the first day of the Israeli ground invasion when their house was hit by tank shells. The terrified family fled to their neighbors whose house were also unsafe.

Their calls for help, directed at the Red Cross during the military operation, proved futile as rescuers could not reach the site to evacuate them. Instead, they advised the family to leave the area holding white flags.

"I was scared to death and walked with my family to my uncle's house, two km away in town," Khader said.

Upon the Israeli forces' withdrawal, the Khader family were shocked to find out that their two-storey house was completely demolished.

Like other displaced families, they got 4,000 euros from the deposed Hamas government which controls Gaza, and an equal amount from a UN development agency.

Since everything has been buried under the rubble, they had to buy new household items and clothes. The remaining cash was insufficient to rent a house, he said.

Khader had an unlovely experience with rain last winter, he moved some of the rubble from the destroyed house and piled them near his tent to escape water.

On Sunday, as the first heavy rain hit Gaza, it is back to the same story. The Khader family were seeking refuge under the dangerous rubble, where they lit fire for cooking and for keeping warm as well as boiled water to shower.

With some of the remaining bricks, he built a small toilet some10 meters away from the tent, although his children, the eldest one 16 years old and the youngest 18 months old, are scared to use it at night.

"I accompany them there because my daughters feel it is scary to use it in the dead of night," he said.

His wife Suaad, 38, is afraid that their daughters will get sick due to the cold weather.

At the camp, children play in the midst of the wreckage and shabby tents, their only playground, trying to forget the danger and psychological crisis that may affect them all their lives.

Fadhel Abu-Hain, professor of psychology at al-Aqsa university, said children are connected emotionally to their homes, and the loss of that connection leads to deprivation.

"When a child moves from his home to a tent after a terrible war, he or she will suffer from fears and tensions which are not easy to control later. They are bound to leave serious repercussions in the future," he said.

Meanwhile, the mother said living in a tent in an open area, and where many houses were destroyed, leaves people vulnerable to wild animals. Suaad said "I feed cats to keep them around so they can chase away, or at least alert us, snakes and rats."

The Israeli offensive destroyed both Khader's house and his small business, a little chicken farm on the upper floor of his 200-square-meter house, which was established after the outbreak of the second Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, in 2000.

The income used to be enough at least for feeding the family, Khader said.

Seeking other sources of income, Khader headed south for tunnels beneath Gaza's border with Egypt. Shortly after working in smuggling goods, he was hurt from a tunnel cave-in. His wife begged him to stop as she was afraid the family would lose him forever.

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) recently announced it was distributing 26 million euros in direct cash assistance for minor repairs to damages sustained in the war and for families in need of cash to rent alternative accommodation.

"The money is to help Gaza people prepare for the winter," UNRWA's director John Ging said, "they need food, they need to pay rent, they need to be able to live."

It is a relief for Khader and other families, who were expecting money to prepare for the chilly winter and maybe to rent a flat, although Khader is not sure if it is enough to sustain the family until the reconstruction becomes the reality.





:: Article nr. 60361 sent on 22-nov-2009 21:57 ECT

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