It has taken more than two weeks for Maliha Al-Ommor, 85, to return to her home in the village of Al-Fokhari, on the far eastern border of Khan Younis—but she is back.
She returned to a scene of devastation and destruction. Her son, Khaled Al-Ommor, watched his mother grieve as she looked at a 40-year-old ornately framed family photograph. Her home had been used as a sniper station by Israeli troops occupying the village, and the snipers had taken the photo out of its frame in order to write their daily shooting shifts on the back. But that was a small loss compared to the devastation the family was to experience.
Even before the soldiers took over the Al-Ommor family home, Israeli missiles had almost totally destroyed the entry staircase. Walking through the house, one could see large holes left by missile strikes on the bed and cupboard in the bedroom of Khaled, 46, and his wife. It was also obvious that it had been used as a military post. The toilet seat was smashed. The floor was littered with blue Israeli army plastic bags used for defecation. “Human shit scattered everywhere,” muttered the family patriarch in disgust.
Maliha paused to rest from the aches in her fractured hip, suffered as she tried to flee her house before the bombs hit.
“My son carried me from upstairs, but I fell while we were escaping,” she explained.
“We were sitting peacefully at home when, at the end of a hot July day, Israeli F16s dropped leaflets demanding we evacuate our homes,” recalled Khaled. Their options were very limited. Everyone ran to UNRWA schools for shelter, he said, which meant risking his children’s lives for almost an hour under gunfire. But he described his family’s experience at the UNRWA school as being worse than dying under the rubble of his home. Due to a lack of clean water, overcrowding, and poor hygiene and diet, scabies and other diseases spread among those seeking refuge, including some of his own children.According to the U.N., 450,000 Gazans fled to U.N. shelters, the schools being the most crowded.
“May Allah punish them for what they did to us,” Maliha said as she recalled the suffering of the previous few weeks.
Compared to the rest of the neighborhood, however, the Al-Ommor family home was relatively intact. Al-Fokhari as a whole was almost completely damaged or destroyed, with nothing left of much of the village but rubble, dust and human remains. A few days later more bodies were found in the ruins of homes. According to Khaled the bodies of four neighbors were still missing.
The air is thick and heavy with the smell of death, decaying flesh and blood from the torn up carcasses of cows, horses, donkeys and sheep lying about.
“What do you expect from a military that aims a missile directly at a dog?” asked an angry young man who was removing the carcasses of scores of sheep killed by flying shrapnel.
Khaled pointed to the graffiti the Israeli soldiers had left on the walls of his home—the most “polite” of which threatened, “We will return.”
But our message to them, Khaled said, is, “We are steadfast.” This steadfastness is evidenced by his neighbor, Mahmoud Abu-Hadied, 70, who lost his home and put up a tent on the ruins, where he and his family now sleep.
Khaled said his house was occupied and partially vandalized by Israeli troops during their 2008-2009 and 2012 attacks, and now again in 2014. “But what Israel destroys, I will rebuild every time,” he vowed.
He built the house with money saved from his work as an electric technician in Israel before the siege was imposed in 2006. “It was only last month that I finished renovating damage from the 2012 war,” he told the Washington Report.
Why was his house left standing while all the others in the neighborhood were totally destroyed? This is a question many people ask.
Khaled explains: “The house is atop a hill that overlooks the fence [marking Gaza’s eastern border with Israel], providing a perfect vantage point for Israeli snipers.” Al-Ommor’s neighbors told him that Israeli soldiers had detained them in his home and used them as human shields.
“It must have been hot inside, because they took my mattress on the roof to sleep,” Khaled observed, pointing to strange holes that hadn’t been there before. He used to sit with his children on this very roof and look at the green countryside all around them—but since his children saw the bodies of two farmers blown to pieces, they refuse to sit up there anymore.
During Israel’s 7-week war on Gaza, more than 2,100 people were killed and 11,000 injured. The majority of the victims were civilians, according to the United Nations, with 3,000 children injured, 1,000 of them permanently disabled. Another 1,800 children are now orphans.
According to consensus government Minister of Housing Dr. Mofeed Al-Hassayna, 17,000 homes in Gaza were either destroyed or severely damaged—added to the as-yet-unrebuilt 5,000 homes demolished in Israel’s 2008-2009 and 2012 assaults on Gaza. Overall, according to the Housing Ministry, Gaza now suffers a shortage of 75,000 houses.
Pointing to the huge piles of garbage from army rations and discarded utensils, napkins, cigarettes and leftovers of hashish, Khaled said, “This is where they ate and shit in one place.”
But despite the stench of death, decay and Israeli defecation, Khaled believes his home and village will again be peaceful once his neighbors find their loved ones to bury them.
“Even if Israel destroys our homes,” he explains, “we will never leave—we will build tents on the ruins of our homes and stay.