Two years after the 2014 major Israeli offensive, thousands of Gaza residents are still either in rented homes or in streets
Osama, whose flat is among 38,000 homes destroyed, severely damaged or became uninhabitable by Israeli attacks in 2014, is still waiting to go back home.
Between July 7 and August 26, 2014, the Gaza Strip experienced the deadliest and most devastating offensive since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967; two years on, most people and institutions are still struggling to cope with their immense losses, reports the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Besides the massive damage to the enclave’s infrastructure, including hospitals, water and electricity networks, and streets, some 12,500 housing units were totally destroyed and around 6,500 homes were severely damaged; over 19,000 housing units were rendered uninhabitable, states OCHA.
Osama al-Sirsawi grew up in Shujaiya in eastern Gaza City. Located near the perimeter fence with Israel, it was one of the most heavily shelled and destroyed areas of Gaza, and images of its severely damaged neighbourhoods flooded local and international news and shocked the world.
Yet Shujaiya is also where Osama went to school, where he got married, and where he lived together with his wife and their children until the summer 2014, when the massive Israeli offensive started and Osama’s home became one of thousands that were totally destroyed.
1/3 of Gazans were displaced
Luckily, shortly before the hit, he and his family managed to flee to an UNRWA school to seek shelter and safety together with hundreds of thousands of other persons across Gaza.
Half a million people, 28 per cent of Gaza’s population, were displaced due to the Israeli aggressive attacks, and even as hostilities subsided, over 18,000 families, 100,000 people, were unable to return as their homes had been heavily damaged or completely destroyed.
To this day, 65,000 persons remain displaced, states OCHA in its In the Spotlight report, published earlier this year; approximately 70 per cent of them are Palestine refugees.
Soon after the ceasefire, UNRWA provided Osama with financial support to move out of the UNRWA Collective Centre and rent a temporary home for his family.
“In Shujaiya, we lived in one house together with my brothers, uncles and aunts. When the house was destroyed, we were all scattered, forced to go and live in different places and neighbourhoods. Before, we always supported each other and helped each other out; now this has become impossible,” he explained.
For internally displaced persons, besides the destruction of their homes, the loss of social support networks and community relations is a key issue of concern, making the displacement even harder to cope with.
Due to severe damage to many neighbourhoods and the scarcity of rental space as a result of the high demand, many families were forced to move to new neighbourhoods; some extended families were divided and many support systems broke down.
For Osama and his family, it was impossible to find an affordable place to rent in Shujaiya, and ultimately they moved to a different neighbourhood in Gaza City.
Two years on
It was difficult for all of them to adapt to this new reality. While they thought it would just be for a short period of time, they have been waiting for two years to reconstruct their family home.
“It was really not easy to move to a different neighbourhood; for the children, the main problem was that they could not go to their original schools and see their friends anymore.
“We also do not have money to pay for transport to go and visit regularly. This was very difficult for them; beside the loss of their home, they also lost their friends,” Osama explained.
A few months ago, Osama’s family received their first payment from UNRWA to start reconstructing their home.
Yet, because they lived on the third floor of a multi-storey family home, he needed to wait until his extended family members completed the first two floors to start the reconstruction works for his apartment.
Finally, however, he made progress, and now he will be able to finish all the works with the last UNRWA instalment: “I think in around three months we will be able to go home, finally,” Osama said.
“All we want, really, is to go home. I hope there will not be no more Israeli offensives in the future. I do not think I will be able to cope with seeing our home damaged again, not to mention how this would impact our children,” he added