Photos and text: Basel Yazouri / Activestills
Sixty-year-old Ibrahim Abu Odeh, otherwise known as Abu Alaa, lives in Beit Hanoun, Gaza. He was forced to flee his house with his family and the rest of the residents of Beit Hanoun, who ran in search of “anywhere close, safe, and provides shelter” when the Israelis began striking it. Abu Alaa lives in a three-story building with six apartments. Each one is occupied by one of his five married sons and their families. That makes 33 people in total, 21 of them children.
“We were all gathered on the ground floor,” he says, “to escape the top floors that are more vulnerable to shelling. We were in the last days of Ramadan, we heard heavy explosions all over town and the surrounding areas. The next morning, the shelling got stronger, we heard the neighbors shouting and we saw houses around us hit directly by missiles, which forced everyone to flee in search of safer places, leaving behind everything we own.” Abu Alaa and his family took refuge in a secondary school for boys in the Jabalya refugee camp, where he said living conditions were unbearable.
After two weeks there, when the first humanitarian ceasefire came into effect, some of Beit Hanoun’s residents, including Abu Alaa and his son Alewa, were able to return to the neighborhood. “We found a horrific sight,” he says. “Houses were destroyed on top of each other and you couldn’t tell them apart. At first I thought that our house was ruined, but as we moved forward we saw four houses that partially survived. One of them was ours.” The house was severely damaged from continuous shelling for days. Last week, Abu Alaa and some of his family members returned to the house again, “because living in the school is no life.”
This story was originally published on August 17, 2014 on the Heber website. Since its publication, the family has had to flee once again due to the renewal of Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip.