Echos of our lost home in Gaza

The author's four-generation land and home were destroyed by Israeli F16 rockets in January, reducing it to rubble. Photo provided by the author, used with permission. 

On January 12, a message arrived from my sister in Gaza, bearing the devastating news: our parents’ home, a sanctuary of memories, had been razed by Israeli F16 rockets, reducing our beloved home to rubble. 

This is no ordinary house. Within its walls, I took my first uncertain steps, and my laughter and tears echoed through its very foundations. It was sacred ground, where I grew up alongside my beloved siblings, cocooned in a world of love and safety. 

As the weight of this heartbreaking news settled upon me, a storm of rage and frustration brewed within, threatening to consume my very being. Later that day, as more details unfolded, the magnitude of the loss sank in even deeper.

Like most Palestinians, we lived in close proximity to our grandparents and uncles, tending to our land and cherishing our communal bonds. The bomb that shattered my parent’s home also reduced my grandparents’ humble abode to rubble, a dwelling fashioned from straw and clay over seven decades ago. They had built this sanctuary with their own hands, a symbol of resilience and hope forged in the aftermath of escaping the horrors of the massacres in their village, Bayt Tima. 

In October 1948, Bayt Tima fell victim to occupation during the brutal Operation Yoav by the Givati Brigade, a Zionist gang marching south and massacring villagers along its path. Bayt Tima, once a peaceful village, became the target of aerial and artillery bombardment, forcing a large exodus of refugees. 

Despite the falaheen’s (“villagers”) brave resistance against the Negev Brigade, another Zionist gang that attempted to occupy the village as early as February 1948, even before the Nakba, the Givati Brigade eventually prevailed. Their onslaught claimed the lives of 20 villagers, destroyed the main source of water, and demolished the central granary, striking at the heart of our community's sustenance and spirit.

Devastated and heartbroken, the Indigenous people of Bayt Tima, who had learnt about other massacres across our beloved Palestine, including the Deir Yaseen Massacre, feared for their lives and those of their families. They were displaced to Gaza. 

The tragedy of loss

In their effort to survive and rebuild their lives amidst the trauma and upheaval of forced relocation, my family purchased the land in Gaza and built the house. My grandmother often recalled the fear, uncertainty, and profound sense of loss of that period, but above all, the grief that was most unbearable. 

During the cruel and harsh journey, the family lost many of their relatives from the village, including one of their children, my uncle, baby Mohammed, who died on the way, fleeing to Gaza. 

My grandmother often recounted the story of my uncle Mohammed, each retelling was a testament to the pain that refused to let go: 

“When we were fleeing for safety, I sometimes carried Mohammed on my back and sometimes his father did. He was just 8 months old. We walked for many hours, stopping occasionally under a tree to rest and breastfeed. One of these times, he did not respond to my voice when I tried to wake him up. 

I called his father over to check on our child. When he saw him, he said, “Allah Yirhamoh,” (“May God have mercy on him”). I screamed ‘No, no! Not Mohammed.’ My breasts were full of milk for the baby that will never drink it, and my heart was crying for a young man that will never be. 

I held him high and prayed to God with a burning heart, ‘Ya Allah, ya Allah.’ I clung tight to my beloved Mohammed for more than six hours, unable to let go or believe what had happened. But when I finally found the strength to let go, his father dug a grave for him, somewhere along the road, under a tree, and we returned him to our mother, the earth. 

I pleaded with the earth to treat him kindly. He was a sweet child. I asked her to be gentle with him, for she had taken the most precious thing I owned — the soul of my soul.

We barely had a few minutes to say goodbye, when the Israeli gangs started getting closer and shooting at us. They took away everything from us, even our final goodbye.”

Olive trees and ancestral bonds

My family made it to Gaza, where they remained on this land for over 70 years. 

They planted many olive trees, intertwining their roots with those of the trees, forming connection with their ancestors who lived and died on this land for thousands of years. They worked the land for most of their lives, growing their own vegetables and fruit, and raising goats and chickens to sell at the local market. 

Over the years, their connection to the land in Gaza deepened, all the while holding onto the dream of one day returning home. My grandmother kept the key to her home in Beit Tima hanging from a necklace close to her heart, until she passed away in 2016.

The home was alive with family gatherings and occasions. This photo was taken during one such gathering in the summer of 2021. Most of the photos of the house were destroyed in that airstrike, erasing the family's memories. Photo provided by the author, used with permission.

Their home was a vessel that nurtured generations. It began with them raising their children, and as time passed, my uncles and father built their own houses around my grandparents’ home. Together, we formed three generations of a Palestinian refugee family.

Now the fourth generation, which includes my children and my sister’s children, has experienced life on that land. The home stood as a testament to our somoud (“resilience”) in the face of oppression and the enduring bond we share with our ancestral land. 

That house was the heart of our family, beating with every family gathering, birthday celebration, late-night laughter, and star-gazing session when there was no electricity.  It witnessed our weddings and funerals, holding the essence of our lives. 

When I reflect on all these moments, my heart shatters. The bombs not only destroyed our land and houses but also shattered our hopes and soulful memories. Our cherished moments captured in photographs, our books, our beds, our roof, and our beautiful olive tree field — all destroyed.  

Memories and trauma in Gaza

The deep-rooted trauma of war and displacement has been a constant in our lives in Gaza. I have experienced four major aggressions on Gaza, having lived there until I left five years ago. Many times, bombs fell near our home, and we lived through the horrors of explosions and the fear of losing our lives. 

I vividly remember the 2008 war on Gaza when Israeli airplanes bombed someone who was walking past our home. We were inside when the whole house shook, and smoke filled all the rooms, choking us. Terrified and unsure where to go, we decided to go outside, only to find the burned, lifeless body of the man who was targeted. It was my first time seeing a burned body. 

As we ran to my uncle's house a few meters away, the bombing started again. One of my sisters was injured by a piece of burning debris, screaming in pain. How can we ever overcome such memories? 

What affects me most is the targeting of the olive trees. what have the olive trees done? My grandmother planted them over 70 years ago. Four generations of my family have endured the atrocities of occupation and lived under colonial rule.

This knowledge is carried in our bodies. The atrocities we endured are imprinted in our DNA and will be inherited by our children and grandchildren for generations to come.

1 comment

  • With so many losses, there are no words left to say. I wish I could say I hope at least some justice will be seen in our lifetimes. I go on every day convincing myself to live under the illusion of this hope. I hope your personal and our collective losses end, and to end soon. I hope we reach a moment in time when we can even start thinking of healing the constant traumas burying us.

    Thank you, Haneen, for telling your story, and I hope your family finds peace.

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