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Celebrating Eid in Gaza amidst the rubble of war

Wafaa takes me back to the pile of rubble, but this time, not to show me the destruction. She points to a small shrub at the rubble’s edge, battered, but clearly alive. ‘Ibrahim’s tree,’ she says of the living reminder of her son.

By Jen Marlowe

The Awajah family home was destroyed in the 2009 Gaza war, rebuilt and destroyed again in the 2014 war. (Photo by Jen Marlowe)

The Awajah family home was destroyed in the 2009 Gaza war, rebuilt and destroyed again in the 2014 war. (Photo by Jen Marlowe)

Wafaa Awajah’s family had scarcely taken their seats in a circle of plastic chairs when her brother hitched up his pants to show me the scars on his leg from where he had been injured by an Israeli soldier. Another brother had also sustained injuries from the army; he, too, showed me his wounds. As Wafaa passed around a tray of chilled soft drinks and bowls of nuts and sweets (as is customary during the Eid celebration) a third brother told me of how years ago a settler had hit him with his car–intentionally, he believed–as he was riding his bike on the side of road. A fourth brother had been imprisoned on two occasions, not by the Israeli army, but by Hamas. “For speaking too much,” he told me with a grin, when I asked him why.

I had arrived to the caravans where the Awajah family now lives in Beit Lahiya, Gaza a few hours earlier, in the midst of the flurry of excitement accompanying the preparation for Eid il-Fitr, the three-day holiday marking the end of Ramadan. The children were running around, brushing their hair, putting on their new Eid clothes. Meters away from us was the rubble of their home, destroyed in the 2009 war, finally rebuilt in 2013, and destroyed again in the 2014 war.

The two days I spent with the family were joyful, yet still penetrated by the horror that this family (and so many families in Gaza) have experienced. Little Ibrahim, at the age of three, is obsessed with playing Hamas and soldiers. “Hold the fire! Hold the fire!” his battery operated toy gun barks in scratchy English as the little boy crouches in the sand, taking aim at imaginary Israeli soldiers. His sister pointed to the small statue mounted on the toy gun; it was a soldier in a tank. “That’s the Israelis, not Hamas,” she said. “Only the Israelis have those weapons.” But Ibrahim stubbornly insisted that, tank or no tank, he and his gun were Hamas.

That afternoon, 17-year-old Omsiyat and 13-year-old Hala and I lay on a mattress atop the rubble of their home. The caravans were stifling but here, under a cloth canopy, the breeze eased some of the punishing heat. I wished, not for the first time, that my Arabic was better. I was able to get the gist of what Omsiyat and Hala were telling me, pointing out which section of the rubble represented their bedroom, what their experiences had been during the war, what they think will happen in the future… but so many important details were lost in my lack of Arabic fluency. I don’t know how often these girls process their experiences about the war aloud. I don’t know if there was some benefit to them of vocalizing it, regardless of whether or not I could understand all of it.

“Do you have the film of me crying on top of the wreckage of the home? Can I see it?” Wafaa asked me later that evening. I plugged in my external drive with the footage I had shot six months earlier, when Wafaa had first led me on top of the rubble of their home. 7-year-old Zikriyat sat on her mother’s lap as we watched the unedited footage together. I wasn’t sure how much Zikriyat was understanding of what her mother was saying on the video, words expressing despair and hopelessness. But when Wafaa (on the video) began to cry, Zikriyat burst into tears and buried her face in her mother’s lap. Moments later, Zikriyat pushed herself out of her mother’s arms and ran into the caravan, unable to watch or to hear anymore. “It was because I was crying,” Wafaa said. Wafaa almost never cried; Zikriyat may have never seen her mother’s tears before.

Wafaa took me back to the pile of rubble, but this time, not to show me the destruction. She pointed to a small shrub at the rubble’s edge, battered, but clearly alive. “Ibrahim’s tree,” she said to me. “I couldn’t believe it when Sobhi (her eldest son) found it, after we had cleared away some of the rubble.”

Hanging laundry from rubble in what was once the Awajah family home, destroyed during the 2014 war. (Photo by Jen Marlowe

Wafaa Awajah hangs laundry from rubble on what was once her family home, destroyed during the 2014 war. (Photo by Jen Marlowe)

The olive tree had been planted by Awajah’s son Ibrahim, who would have been 15 years now old had he not been shot and killed by an Israeli soldier during the 2009 Gaza assault. (Three-year-old Ibrahim, born in 2011, was named for his brother.) The family had taken shelter under this tree when their first home was destroyed, just hours before the first Ibrahim was killed. When they rebuilt the home, they made sure that Ibrahim’s tree would be exactly next to it. A few days into the 2014 war, the family fled the dangerous border-area in which they lived, and took shelter in Gaza City. They returned at the war’s end, only to find their newly rebuilt home completely demolished. “When I was looking around the rubble, I went to Ibrahim’s tree. When I did not see it, something from inside me fell on the ground,” Wafaa told me on the video 6 months ago. “This is a memory, I left it for Ibrahim. It wasn’t there anymore, they disconnected any tie to Ibrahim with this area.”

But, as the family discovered only recently, a small piece of the tree had survived the demolition, and, though trapped under the rubble for almost a year, had still survived. The physical connection between the Awajah’s slain son and his home had not been totally severed after all.

The Awajah chlldren enjoying a horse-and-buggy ride in Gaza City to celebrate the Eid holiday. (Photo by Jen Marlowe)

The Awajah chlldren enjoying a horse-and-buggy ride in Gaza City to celebrate the Eid holiday. (Photo by Jen Marlowe)

The next day, Kamal (the father) took the kids and me to a restaurant in Gaza city to celebrate the 2nd day of the Eid, and then to the Unknown Soldier park in the center of Gaza City. There were children’s rides at the park, rickety and precarious, but rides nonetheless. The younger Awajah kids scrambled up on swings that (via manual power) circled around, and then rode on toy trains, and danced and sang during a horse-and-buggy ride we all took together around the perimeter of the park.

Kamal smiled to see his kids happy, playing. “You see? Ibrahim has forgotten all about Hamas and the Israelis,” he said to me with relief, watching his three-year old laugh and kick his legs gleefully as the swing lifted him in the air and carried him around in a circle.

Jen Marlowe is the Communications Associate for Just Vision and an independent filmmaker, journalist, author, and human rights activist. She is the author of “The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker” and made the short award-winning film “One Family in Gaza.” Follow her on Twitter: @donkeysaddleorg.

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    1. Pedro X

      Jen Marlowe ignores the bigger picture. Why did Gazan civilians have to die? Many Gazans died because Hamas was willing to sacrifice them as part of their battle strategy. Hamas protected its military assets by locating them in civilian areas and asking civilians not to leave areas which Israel had asked Gazans to leave for their own safety. The Awajah family listened to Israel’s advice, left and suffered no deaths in the 2014 war.

      Israel warned the people to leave Beit Lahiya because it was an urban battlefield. Homes, hospitals, mosques and even a home for disabled people were used by Hamas as platforms for fighting, storage of weapons and for tunnels.

      Jen Marlowe ignores Hamas’ tactics in the war. She does not acknowledge that most houses destroyed by Israel belonged to or were being used by Hamas.

      July 19, 2014 (Times of Israel July 19, 2014):

      Abu Marzouk confirms that most of the homes hit by the IDF in Operation Protective Edge belong to Hamas members.”

      Hamas planned for and fought on an urban battlefield amongst civilian infrastructure which it utilized to further its military aims. It fought in homes, stored weapons and rockets in homes, it wired homes with explosives and fired rockets from and next to them. Israel in acts of self defense attacked these sites and as a result in certain areas of Gaza, homes were destroyed.

      Watch this video of how Hamas booby trapped civilian homes with explosives in Gaza:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxtdXeLxwmc

      In war death and destruction is inevitable, more so when one side, as Hamas and Islamic Jihad had, locates its military in and under the civilian population’s infrastructure.

      Hamas since the war has put its energies not into urban renewal but into renewal of its weapons and tunnels. Why is Jen Marlowe not taking pictures of Hamas’s new weapon production facilities, tunnels and arm depots?

      Reply to Comment
      • “Kamal smiled to see his kids happy, playing. “You see? Ibrahim has forgotten all about Hamas and the Israelis,” he said to me with relief, watching his three-year old laugh and kick his legs gleefully as the swing lifted him in the air and carried him around in a circle.”

        Ignored the bigger picture, did she, Pedro?

        Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          No Greg, one child smiling is the micro picture of one child at one moment in time. The bigger picture starts with Hamas building military infrastructure under the homes of children in Gaza and turning their homes and playgrounds into a battlefield. 160 Gazan children were reported killed in digging these tunnels (and the count stopped because Hamas did not want this fact to be known). The bigger picture includes the investment of billions of dollars in preparing for and fighting Israel instead of investing in peace and the civil infrastructure of Gaza. The bigger picture includes Hamas’ indoctrination of Gaza’s children into a cult of martyrs. Before the war began Gazan parents had sent 100,000 of their children to Hamas terror camps for children.

          The bigger picture includes the use of child soldiers, suicide bombers, lookouts, mules and human shields. Do you see pictures of these children smiling?

          The bigger picture includes the murder by Hamas operatives of 3 Israeli teenagers in June, 2014 and Hamas’s attempts to foment a coup in the West Bank.

          The bigger picture includes Hamas still operating to foment terrorism in the West Bank and to attack the PA. Hamas continues to build its army and renew its capacity to attack Israel.

          The bigger picture is that Hamas is making sure that Kamal will see another war and will have to flee again with his family. This is nothing to smile about.

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Well said Pedro.

            Pity some people only want to see only one side of the picture (only the Palestinian Arab side) and they just hate people like you for rubbing their nose in it when you remind them of the big picture.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            That’s not the big picture. (Pedro X wants you to think that’s the big picture but it’s not.) This is the big picture:

            http://972mag.com/the-unfolding-lie-of-operation-protective-edge/93605/

            “…The day after Abu Mazen’s declaration, the IDF killed two Hamas activists in Gaza, in an action authorized by the highest levels – the minister of defense and the IDF chief of staff. The killing was portrayed as a response to the launching of a single Qassam rocket, which hit no one, but some, like Yedioth’s Alex Fishman, understood that this had been a “premeditated escalation” by Israel. The following day, March 17, Netanyahu came “full circle”, clarifying to those who had not yet understood: Palestinian unity is a red line, as far as Israel is concerned….

            A few words about the political folly: what is the reason that the Israeli policy is so totally enslaved to its anxiety over Palestinian unity? The answer is not complicated. It can be summed up in the single sentence: We should ensure there is no partner. We should ensure there is no partner, for if a Palestinian partner exists, there is someone with whom we can negotiate a peace agreement, which requires the most dreadful thing of all: giving up land and control. Therefore, for many years, Israel has taken care to crush any potential partner for negotiations, including the one who only yesterday was sitting at the negotiation table and scheming with it against its “extremist” compatriots.

            Thus, Israel does not settle for a persistent fight against Palestinian unity, it also strives to weaken its so-called partner vis-a-vis the Hamas zealots ­– Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority. Years of servile obedience have turned Abu Mazen into a caricature in the eyes of his own people. An Israeli leadership truly interested in a peace agreement would not have driven its partner to the point of lacking any leadership authority among his people. But that is exactly the point. Israel is not really interested in peace or in a partner who can bring about peace….”

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Let’s drag out the good old BS meter and see who is shovelling BS, shall we?

            …a week after the launching of Protective Shield, Egypt put forth a ceasefire proposal. Israel accepted it, Hamas and their cronies REJECTED the ceasfire proposal.

            …now let’s see what all this might have meant…

            Hypothesis 1:
            Israel launched the operation in response to Hamas terrorist acts such as the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers and rocket fire from Gaza. They wanted this operation to be a warning and to induce Hamas to respect the cease fire.

            Sounds plausible and consistent to any non biased bystander. Doesn’t it? Of course it DOES!

            Hypothesis 2:
            Israel launched the operation to scuttle the newly agreed unity arrangement between Hamas and the PA.

            Does that sound plausible? Had Israel achieved such an objective after the first week? Nah!!!

            So why did Israel agree to the ceasefire? And why didn’t Hamas agree to it?!

            ANSWER:
            Hypothesis 1 is the more plausible of the two hypotheses. Because…

            Israel wanted a REAL cease fire. That is why they agreed to the Egyptian proposal.

            Hamas on the other hand wanted the lifting of the blockade so they could import more advanced weapons to be used against Israel. But the Egyptian proposal did not include the lifting of the blockade. That is why Hamas did NOT agree to the cease fire and in fact that is why they broke the ceasefire in the first place. They wanted to harass Israel into agreeing to lift the blockade!

            CONCLUSION:
            The idea that Israel launched Operation Protective Shield in order to scuttle unity arrangements between Hamas and the PA, is a red herring. Or one might say BS. Put it another way, it is mere PROPAGANDA and myth…

            Next… I can’t wait to see the next bit of BS post from one of the usual suspects who constantly disparage Israel and whitewash the Palestinian Arabs on these pages…

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Oops, I meant protective Edge…

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            …oops, wait a minute, my BS meter has detected more BS…

            Allegation:
            Israel is responsible why Abu Mazen’s leadership has been eroded and Abu Mazen lost all credibility in the eyes of ordinary Palestinian Arabs.

            Question:
            Can we play that game too? Why not? If they can use that logic, then we should be able to use it too. It is only fair…

            So here goes:
            Ehud Barak, who was much more moderate than Netanyahu, had his leadership eroded because of the behavior of Palestinian Arabs who sparked a bloody intifada in response to his peace offer. And who consequently became the leader of Israel in 2001? Netanyahu.

            Again, in 2009, Netanyahu was elected instead of more moderate leaders. Why? Because Abu Mazen completely ignored Olmert’s peace offer for 5 months prior to the elections. We the Israeli electors therefore lost respect for our more moderate leaders.

            If the pro Palestinians can use that type of logic, we should be able to use it too. So it seems that we decide who THEIR leaders are or which of their leaders have respect and THEY decide ours. Bizarre… just bizarre!

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            I simply encourage readers to read Idan Landau’s analysis of July 2014 in full and make up their own minds. Landau makes a case both plausible and persuasive. Compare and contrast. (And BGU Professor Landau can’t be subject to the usual BS about being an outsider, with obsessive interests, blah blah blah.)

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            FACT: 1 week after protective edge was launched, Israel agreed to the Egyptian sponsored cease fire.

            FACT 2: The unity arrangement between the PA and Hamas was still in tact.

            FACT 3: Hamas did not agree to the cease fire.

            FACT 4: The cease fire did not include a clause to end the blockade of Gaza.

            So what was the most likely trigger for Operation Protective Edge?

            1. Israel wanted to scuttle unity between the PA and Hamas?

            2. Hamas was trying to pressure Israel to end the blockade?

            I say 2. because even professors can’t argue with facts. And the facts speak for themselves.

            Israel’s agreed to a cease fire because a cease fire was their objective. Hamas didn’t because their objective was an end to the blockade so they could import anything, including more advanced weapons.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      Speaking of BS, Pedro X do you want to retract your confident accusation that the video was doctored?:

      http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/twilight-zone/.premium-1.667451

      The human cost of the IDF’s ‘nonlethal’ ammunition
      Security forces entered a refugee camp to make arrests and fired a sponge bullet at short range at Nafez Demiri, who is deaf and dumb, blinding him in one eye.

      Gideon Levy and Alex Levac
      Published 14:05 23.07.15
      Now the man who has never heard anything and never uttered a spoken sound is also half blind: His right eye was shattered and had to be removed….

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Some people are too lazy to think for themselves. They prefer to seek out sources selectively which confirm their pre existing biases. At the same time, they ignore other sources which do not confirm their biases. Then they post their preferred sources and don’t even bother to present pertinent arguments. They are just plain old lazy. They prefer to say…so and so says this and that…and that is their “proof”. Thinking for themselves and analysis is just a chore for the poor darlings. It hurts their head…

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          Sometimes, those people attempt to justify their claims by providing irrelevant links which don’t even say what they claim.

          Here is an example how Benny attempts to bluff and ignore pertinent points in his debates…
          ————–

          http://972mag.com/who-needs-the-right-when-we-have-isaac-herzog/107550/

          It started like this…

          1. Benny claimed that the Palestinian Arabs only want a symbolic right of return.

          2. I reminded Benny of Abbas’s point blank rejection of saving refugees from Syrian camps if it would involve them having to give up their so called right of return (ROR).

          3. I reminded Benny that such a rejection meant condemning many of those refugees to death.

          4. I then made the point that such an attitude does not bode well about Abbas’s willingness to settle for ONLY a symbolic ROR.

          5. As a further emphasis, I reminded Benny about Abbas’s reaction to Olmert’s peace offer, as recounted by Condi Rice in her memoirs. According to her, he responded by bringing up the 4 million refugees and that he can’t agree to the return of ONLY 5000 refugees.

          6. Benny completely ignored my 5.

          7. He tried to glibly dismiss my other points by invoking Ami Kaufman’s article.

          8. I then pointed out to him that Ami’s article does not even address the point that I am making and in fact, he corroborates (unintentionally) the FACTS which I raised.

          9. Benny then just went into denial mode.

          —————

          In that instance, Benny did not go into obfuscation mode because he thought that the thread would just be buried within the myriad of other threads and it would be out of sight and out of mind…

          Unfortunately for him though, I did not let it die. In subsequent threads (as in this one), I kept on reminding him off it. And in those threads, our intrepid Benny proceeded into the obfuscation mode and maybe even into the sock puppet mode…

          Anyway, if Benny would be a normal, agenda free, debater, he would at the least concede that I MAY have a point. He need not give up his position entirely but he could say something like…

          “…Yea Gustav, you MAY have a point maybe I was too hasty to claim that Abbas would agree to token ROR. We don’t really know either way. We will just have to wait and see…”

          I would have been happy with a response like that and I would not have pursued the discussion further. But as it is…

          Reply to Comment