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Life in Tinplate Caravan after the Scourge of War

By: Nurhan Al-Madhun

“Oh God, as you have saved Prophet Ibrahim from fire, save us from the fire of this caravan. Oh God, as you have saved Prophet Younis from the belly of the whale, rescue us from the stomach of this hot tin box“, prays Mahdhiyya Al-Athamnah, (30), as she also describes life inside the caravan, especially with the rise in temperatures and the delayed reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, two years after the family home was destroyed due the Israeli war on Gaza in 2014.

Mahdhiyya lives with her husband and their three children in a caravan set near their destroyed house in Beit Hanoun. The caravan is like a refrigerator in the winter and resembles the heat of an oven in the summer. The family survives these conditions after they used to have an apartment in a building of four floors, destroyed by the Israeli jets during the last aggression on the Gaza Strip.

Al-Athamnah sits on the floor between the Mulokhiyya (mallow) sticks, picking the leaves before she prepares the dish for her children. She tells the details about their life after the war: “UNRWA gave us some money to enable us to rent a house to shelter us until the reconstruction is done, but this never continued as the Agency had delays in giving the money needed for rent”.

She gazes around the caravan and speaks on: “We could not provide the money for rent, the owner of the house did not accept our delay in paying the money so he dismissed us, and we could not find a shelter except in this metal box”, she was referring with great dissatisfaction to the metal caravan, which became the alternative to an accommodation.

Official statistics issued by the Palestinian Ministry of Public Works and Housing indicate that almost 180 thousand houses were bombarded during the last aggression on Gaza, between 12,604 destroyed completely, 6,600 destroyed partially and considered uninhabitable, in addition to 160.000 homes partly damaged.

Mahdhiyya points to the caravan floor with one of the mallow sticks, exclaiming: “This floor is a house for rodents and disgusting bugs, I have suffered trying to get rid of them, with no success. Each time a eliminate them I discover other kinds lurking around”, she adds while she gives a pat on the head for her child who leaned on her shoulder: “I never have a sound sleep, thinking about the bugs that creep on the bodies of my children during the night, I often wake up to their terrified screaming, which has led me to watch them all night to chase the nasty bugs”.

Her husband Ameen Al-Athamnah interferes at this point, saying: “I used to work in construction, and now I am unemployed because of the siege and the lack of job opportunities, we can barely provide food, and we depend on the assistance of local and international organizations and the financial aid provided by local benefactors”.

The husband describes his journey to acquire the permits and documents that prove his right in having his home reconstructed: “Between the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, and Beit Hanoun Municipality, I spent over a month to obtain ownership papers and architecture plans necessary to reconstruct my house, those procedures cost me around 2000 dollars. In spite of that, the reconstruction began in the ground floors, and I am still waiting for a grant to resume construction reaching to our apartment, which will be our refuge from living in the caravan”.

The displaced people of Gaza face many procedures before they get to reconstruct their homes, all among the complicated challenges of reconstruction. People are chosen according to priority, and they are required to prove the ownership of the land and present construction plans, then obtain permits from official bodies to start with the process. The Ministry of Public Works had called the people with completely destroyed homes to go through the procedures and get the needed permits from municipalities and hand them over to the directorates of the Ministry in their respective governorates.

“I’m waiting on pins and needles for the reconstruction of my house and the end of this suffering”, says Mahdhiyyah, expressing her discontent and her inability to adopt to the exhausting life of the caravan. she wipes her perspiring forehead, adding: “Our lives turned into torture and we are tired of waiting, all we wish for is the speeding up of the reconstruction process and the entering of construction materials, so we can regain some sense of dignity and security”.

Al-Athmnah collects the sticks of mallow, and gathers them in one pack, she smiles bitterly as she looks at it, saying: “When will we have some luck like these sticks, to be gathered and united after being scattered through this caravan life, when will we regain the safety and serenity of a house?”