PHOTOS: Living in the ruins of a shattered Gaza neighborhood

Palestinians struggle to survive among the rubble of their neighborhood, Shujaiyeh, which was leveled by Israeli shelling during last month’s offensive.

Photos by: Anne Paq and Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org
Text by: Anne Paq

A Palestinian child stands in a destroyed house in the Shujayea neighborhood, which was heavily attacked during the latest Israeli offensive, east of Gaza City, September 4, 2014. During the seven-week Israeli military offensive, 2,101 Palestinians were killed, including 495 children, and an estimated 18,000 housing units have been either destroyed or severely damaged, leaving more than 108,000 people homeless. (Activestills.org)
A Palestinian child stands in a destroyed house in the Shujayea neighborhood, which was heavily attacked during the latest Israeli offensive, east of Gaza City, September 4, 2014. During the seven-week Israeli military offensive, 2,101 Palestinians were killed, including 495 children, and an estimated 18,000 housing units have been either destroyed or severely damaged, leaving more than 108,000 people homeless. (Activestills.org)

A group of Palestinian men sit in one of the completely destroyed streets in Shujaiyeh, a neighborhood of east of Gaza City. In front of them, a huge area has been reduced to rubble. Water is flowing into the street as one of the pipes has been damaged. Some tried to dig to fix the pipes but did not manage. Palestinians are very ill-equipped to even clean the rubble, as the level of devastation is overwhelming.

Most of them come to their homes during the day, but go to sleep in another area at night. Most of their homes were destroyed. They still struggle to come to grips with what happened. Their once-lively neighborhood was turned into a ghost town, especially at night when complete darkness covers the streets since the electricity infrastructure was destroyed.

When asked about hopes that their homes might be rebuilt soon, one Palestinian man, Maher, shrugs his shoulders and says, “It all depends on politics.” Like many of his neighbors, Maher lost his home. Built floor by floor starting 30 years ago, the 15 other members of his family who lived there are also now homeless.

“All my money went into this house,” he says. Now Maher has to borrow money in order to rent a place for his family. Rent in Gaza has become much more expensive because so many displaced Palestinians are looking for shelter, increasing the demand.

Eastern Shujaiyeh, which is very populated, was one of the most affected areas during the latest Israeli military offensive. On the night of July 19, the bombardment intensified, forcing many residents to flee, including some in their pajamas and with bare feet. On that day alone, Israeli shelling killed more than 60 Palestinians, some of them in the streets. Ambulances were not able to rescue the wounded and many were trapped under the rubble.

Shujaiyeh was again hit very hard during a ceasefire on July 30 when a market area was bombed while many people were shopping. Israeli strikes killed at least 17 and injured 200 that day alone, including medics and journalists.

For many, the evacuation of their homes was traumatic. “There was nothing we could take,” says Maher, recalling the night when he had to leave his home behind. “We saw the situation was getting so much worse. We were running in the street and I saw some people, civilians, killed.”

During the first ceasefire, he returned to discover that his house had been destroyed.

Home is more than just a building where you sleep. It is your emotional anchor. Many Palestinians take pride in having built their homes themselves and they consider it to be one of their life’s biggest achievements. The loss cannot be measured in the monetary value of the building.

Asked about his feelings, Maher shrugs his shoulder again. “How can one describe his feelings when he finds his home destroyed?”

A tent sits amid a completely flattened area of the Shujaiyeh neighborhood, which was heavily attacked during the latest Israeli offensive, Gaza City, September 4, 2014. (Activestills.org)
A tent sits amid a completely flattened area of the Shujaiyeh neighborhood, which was heavily attacked during the latest Israeli offensive, Gaza City, September 4, 2014. (Activestills.org)
Maher, a resident of Shujaiyeh neighborhood, stands in front of his destroyed house in an area which was heavily attacked during the latest Israeli offensive, east of Gaza city, September 4, 2014. Maher lived in his house for 30 years before it was destroyed. Fifteen other members of his family were living in the building. He currently rents a flat while waiting for his home to be rebuilt. (Activestills.org)
Maher, a resident of Shujaiyeh neighborhood, stands in front of his destroyed house in an area which was heavily attacked during the latest Israeli offensive, east of Gaza city, September 4, 2014. Maher lived in his house for 30 years before it was destroyed. Fifteen other members of his family were living in the building. He currently rents a flat while waiting for his home to be rebuilt. (Activestills.org)
A destroyed classroom in Sobhi Abu Karesh governmental school, which was damaged by an Israeli attack during the latest offensive, in Shujaiyeh neighborhood, east of Gaza City, September 4, 2014. (Activestills.org)
A destroyed classroom in Sobhi Abu Karesh governmental school, which was damaged by an Israeli attack during the latest offensive, in Shujaiyeh neighborhood, east of Gaza City, September 4, 2014. (Activestills.org)
A Palestinian carries jugs of water through a destroyed section of the Shujaiyeh neighborhood, east of Gaza City, September 4, 2014. (Activestills.org)
A Palestinian carries jugs of water through a destroyed section of the Shujaiyeh neighborhood, east of Gaza City, September 4, 2014. (Activestills.org)
A banner hangs from the rubble of Al Wafa Hospital in the Shujayea neighborhood, which was heavily attacked during the latest Israeli offensive, in Shujaiyeh neighborhood, east of Gaza City, September 4, 2014. The Israeli military completely destroyed the Al Wafa Rehabilitation and Geriatric Hospital on July 23, 2014, after weeks of missile strikes forced the evacuation of patients, caregivers and hospital staff. (Activestills.org)
A banner hangs from the rubble of Al Wafa Hospital in the Shujayea neighborhood, which was heavily attacked during the latest Israeli offensive, in Shujaiyeh neighborhood, east of Gaza City, September 4, 2014. The Israeli military completely destroyed the Al Wafa Rehabilitation and Geriatric Hospital on July 23, 2014, after weeks of missile strikes forced the evacuation of patients, caregivers and hospital staff. (Activestills.org)
Palestinians look out from a damaged house in Shujaiyeh neighborhood, September 4, 2014. (Activestills.org)
Palestinians look out from a damaged house in Shujaiyeh neighborhood, September 4, 2014. (Activestills.org)
Palestinians search among the rubble in a destroyed quarter of the Shujaiyeh neighborhood, September 4, 2014. (Activestills.org)
Palestinians search among the rubble in a destroyed quarter of the Shujaiyeh neighborhood, September 4, 2014. (Activestills.org)
A pile of various parts of Israeli shells, bombs, and mortars collected in Sobhi Abu Karesh governmental school, which was damaged by an Israeli attack during the latest offensive, in Shujaiyeh neighborhood, east of Gaza City, September 4, 2014. (Activestills.org)
A pile of various parts of Israeli shells, bombs, and mortars collected in Sobhi Abu Karesh governmental school, which was damaged by an Israeli attack during the latest offensive, in Shujaiyeh neighborhood, east of Gaza City, September 4, 2014. (Activestills.org)
The sentence “All you need is boom!!!” as well as a portion of Psalm 18 in Hebrew, which reads, “I have pursued my enemies and overtaken them; Neither did I turn back again till they were destroyed,” are followed by an obscene fake attribution to the Prophet Mohammad written on the wall of a Palestinian home by Israeli soldiers during their latest offensive in Shujaiyeh neighborhood, which was heavily attacked, east of Gaza City, September 4, 2014. (Activestills.org)
The sentence “All you need is boom!!!” as well as a portion of Psalm 18 in Hebrew, which reads, “I have pursued my enemies and overtaken them; Neither did I turn back again till they were destroyed,” are followed by an obscene fake attribution to the Prophet Mohammad written on the wall of a Palestinian home by Israeli soldiers during their latest offensive in Shujaiyeh neighborhood, which was heavily attacked, east of Gaza City, September 4, 2014. (Activestills.org)
A Palestinian child looks outside from a damaged house in Shujaiyeh neighborhood, which was heavily attacked during the latest Israeli offensive, Gaza City, September 4, 2014. The family hung curtains where walls were blown out. (Activestills.org)
A Palestinian child looks outside from a damaged house in Shujaiyeh neighborhood, which was heavily attacked during the latest Israeli offensive, Gaza City, September 4, 2014. The family hung curtains where walls were blown out. (Activestills.org)
A Palestinian woman sits near laundry hanging over a destroyed quarter of the Shujaiyeh neighborhood, Gaza City, September 4, 2014. (Activestills.org)
A Palestinian woman sits near laundry hanging over a destroyed quarter of the Shujaiyeh neighborhood, Gaza City, September 4, 2014. (Activestills.org)
Youth walk among the rubble in a destroyed quarter of the Shujaiyeh neighborhood, which was heavily attacked during the latest Israeli offensive, east of Gaza City, September 4, 2014. (Activestills.org)
Youth walk among the rubble in a destroyed quarter of the Shujaiyeh neighborhood, which was heavily attacked during the latest Israeli offensive, east of Gaza City, September 4, 2014. (Activestills.org)
A member of the Atesh family prepares coffee illuminated by a flashlight in her partially destroyed home in the Shujaiyeh neighborhood, Gaza City, September 5, 2014. The family came back after the announcement of the truce. They have no electricity or water. (Activestills.org)
A member of the Atesh family prepares coffee illuminated by a flashlight in her partially destroyed home in the Shujaiyeh neighborhood, Gaza City, September 5, 2014. The family came back after the announcement of the truce. They have no electricity or water. (Activestills.org)
Hamde Atesh sits near a fire in his half-destroyed home in Shujaiyeh neighborhood, Gaza City, September 5, 2014. His family fled their home on July 12 after the Israeli military called to warn them to evacuate before they bombed the building next door. (Activestills.org)
Hamde Atesh sits near a fire in his half-destroyed home in Shujaiyeh neighborhood, Gaza City, September 5, 2014. His family fled their home on July 12 after the Israeli military called to warn them to evacuate before they bombed the building next door. (Activestills.org)
Members of the Atesh family sit in a room lit by a candle in their partially destroyed home in Shujaiyeh neighborhood, Gaza City, September 5, 2014. Due to the Israeli attacks, the electricity infrastructure has been damaged and most homes have no electricity or water. (Activestills.org)
Members of the Atesh family sit in a room lit by a candle in their partially destroyed home in Shujaiyeh neighborhood, Gaza City, September 5, 2014. Due to the Israeli attacks, the electricity infrastructure has been damaged and most homes have no electricity or water. (Activestills.org)

Related:
Homeless and widowed: One Gazan’s tragic story
The victors of the Gaza war were also the losers