Over a year passed since the third war in Gaza. I now believe that a war has more dimensions than counting bombings, killings, injured people or destroyed houses. A war is something much bigger and deeper than numbers. The war in Gaza could even be called an endless, and sustainable one.
It is not fair to write about life in Gaza without paying attention to those who still suffer in every tiny detail of the routine rituals of daily life: those who have lost their homes and live in caravans, or as they call them ‘Caravans of Death’.
This is the story of Iman Abu Halema, whose house was destroyed during the war. Her body and the bodies of her four small children will face a crazy winter, as experts predicted. Iman, who recently turned thirty, has been married for six years now. Before the war of 2014, Iman used to live with her husband’s family in a beautiful, big home that gathered over thirty people in Al-Shujayia neighborhood.
Iman tells us about the day of the ‘Al-Fajr Massacre’ (July 20th 2014). Israeli bombshells destroyed the neighborhood Iman lived in within minutes, within the blink of an eye. The family fled from death and destruction, like the rest of the families who were living in the neighborhood.
They did not dare to take time to say goodbye. They did not dare to take a long, last look at their homes. They did not breathe its smell. They did not think about their memories and the happy times they spent there. There was no time to take a single look back, death was touring around, awaiting its next heedless victim.
They did not take the time, believing it was only a matter of time. ‘The bombings will be over soon, and we will return to our homes’, was what they thought. They ran away, they saved their lives and when the black days of aggression passed, they came back to their homes to find that the beautiful buildings with its unique gardens had turned into a heaps of ash.
To Iman, the house had not merely been a building they lived in, it lived inside her as well.
‘We had a life there, memories, joys and sorrows. All was buried under the rubble. Everything was gone in the blink of an eye. Many stories are now meaningless outside the limits of this place, many feelings will not be felt again, and many smells will be missed forever. It takes time, health, and wealth to build a house; it takes very long to create the tiny details, and to make every solid piece breathe life’, Iman says.
The pain of losing her house however, seems very small compared to the struggle she currently lives. She found no shelter, but a white caravan for her children and unemployed husband, a white caravan which holds no life inside.
Life in a caravan is not as bad as you can imagine from the outside, it is even worse. It does not protect the families who live inside from the heat of summer or from the cold of winter. Every day, Iman wakes up to start a new journey of hardship to accomplish the routine rituals of life.
She starts her mornings waking up her eldest son Haitham, who is in the second grade of primary school. Haitham’s grades have severely dropped after having to live in a place that looks nothing like home, his only wishes are to have a cozy room just like his classmates, and to find a suitable place where he can do his homework.
Iman’s day continues with her taking care of her infant boy Shaher, whose eyes saw the light of life in a caravan during the heat of past September. His small body was not able to recover from the mosquito tweaks and the heat rash he contracted.
During the hottest part of the day, Iman starts to prepare lunch for her children. Their lunches usually consist of a collection of preserves or tomatoes with bread. After lunch she starts cleaning her caravan, if she is lucky enough to find water.
Iman and her family survived the war, but she has not overcome the pain of loss, and the misery of loneliness. Her husband cannot stand life in the caravan, he prefers to spend day and night outside and he only gets back to the caravan to sleep. While Iman has to stay inside with baby Shaher all day, she cannot keep her children inside for long, they go out to play until the night comes.
Harsh weather conditions are predicted this winter, and we have no clue about how Iman and her family will endure life inside their caravan. The sound of the rain hitting the roof of the caravan and leaking inside. The sounds of the wind are scaring her children who imagine these sounds to be coming from the mouth of a monster living inside a dark cave, and are making them fall asleep with tears on their cheeks.
Death fears do not leave the mother’s heart. The war is over and Iman is trying to drive a crazy winter away from the bodies of her children, as tens of caravan women will do. While politicians are only slowing down the reconstruction processes.