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01/23/2009
 

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GAZA IN RUINS

'Who Has Won Here?'

By Ulrike Putz in Beit Lahia, Gaza

In the Gaza Strip people are returning home -- or to the rubble that was once their home. Many are blaming Hamas for the destruction because the militants hid among civilians and attracted Israeli fire. Yet no one dares to speak out openly.

What is left over when a person is hit by a tank shell. Blood, tissue, bone splinters, splatters on the wall.

And anger.

Mohammed Sadala's rage is aimed at the man, whose remains he found in his bedroom: a Hamas fighter. He and a comrade broke into the home which had long stood empty after the Sadala family fled. The Hamas men shot at the approaching Israelis from the balcony. The soldiers fired back, killing the militants and destroying the house of the 10-strong family in the process.

PHOTO GALLERY: GAZA'S BEIT LAHIA IN RUINS

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When Sadala came back to survey the scene he found his property in ruins: the younger children's bedroom was burnt out, while the living room and hallway were strewn with bullet holes and blackened by soot from the fire. In the bedroom lay the corpses: one had bled to death, the other was hit by a tank shell.

Beside the bodies lay the assault rifle which they had used to try to stop the tanks.

"I used to support Hamas because they fought for our country, for Palestine," says Sadala. Hamas stood for a new start, for an end of corruption, which had spread like cancer under the moderate Fatah. In the 2006 elections Hamas won the majority with their message of change, said Sadala, who earned a living in the building business. Gesticulating wildly, the 52-year-old surveyed the ruins of the bedroom: "That is the change that they brought about. We were blasted back 2,000 years."

Through the hole in the wall of his house, Sadala sees a landscape in gray and brown. This is where a neighbourhood had stood, his neighbourhood. Now there is a snake of sand around the bomb crater. It is impossible to tell where the streets once stood. Family houses have turned into piles of debris. People have built refuges using cloth and rubble. They stand alongside dead donkeys and sheep, whose stomachs swell up. No one here has time to remove rotting corpses.

The people from Beit Lahia are starting from zero again: children load wood from broken trees onto their back. Their mothers bend over fires and bake bread. Young women carry water in petrol canisters. Only the men stand around looking numb, smoking, staring blankly. Many people here, like Sandala, had placed their hopes in Hamas -- now they are gazing into nothing, ideologically as well as materially.

Everything Is Lost Now

And it is not just buildings that lie in rubble in the Gaza strip, it is the livelihoods of many thousands of people. In Arabic societies a home is usually everything a family possesses. Often several brothers build a house for the entire family. Living at close quarters has its advantages: when the costs of building the house are paid off, there is more money left over to feed the dozens of family members.

Everything is lost now.

"When Hamas came to power, they came to our aid with packages of groceries," says Abu Abed. The 60-year-old's sons, all of whom are trained hospital nurses, have been without work for years. That is true of many in the Gaza Strip. Now Abu Abed stands before the rumble of the house where he lived with four generations of his family. All that remains are the ground floor pillars. The Israeli navy had its eye on the building from the very beginning of the war. After all, its clear view of Gaza City and the sea would have provided a good base for Hamas.

"I've changed my mind about Hamas," Abu Abed says. "I can't support any party that wages a war that destroys our lives." He is particularly pained by the fact that Hamas is still selling the cease-fire as a victory.

"Who has won here?" he asks and points to the debris that was once his home.

One of his neighbors weighs in: "Many people are now against Hamas but that won't change anything," he says. "Because anyone who stands up to them is killed." Since they took power Hamas has used brutal force against any dissenters in the Gaza Strip. There were news agency reports that during the war they allegedly executed suspected collaborators with Israel. The reign of terror will go on for some time, says the neighbor who doesn't want to give his name. "There will never be a rebellion against Hamas. It would be suicide."

Others swallow their anger. Hail's house is just a few streets away and only suffered light damage. There are a few bullet holes in the living room walls and all of the window panes are broken. Hail also found out after the cease-fire that the militants had used his house as a base for their operations. The door to his house stood open and there were electric cables lying in the hallway. When Hail followed them they led to his neighbor's house which it seems Hamas had mined.

As Hail, in his mid-30s, sat on his porch and thought about what to do a man came by: He was from Hamas and had left something in Hail's home. He let him in and the man then emerged with a bullet proof vest, a rocket launcher and an ammunitions belt. An hour later a fighter with Islamic Jihad called to the door, then disappeared onto the roof and reappeared with a box of ammunition. "The abused civilians' homes for their own purposes. That is not right," Hail says with disgust while trying to remain polite.

In contrast to many of their neighbors the Sadala family is doing comparatively well. They have all survived and the house could theoretically still be repaired. Mohammed Sadala is of another opinion: "There is no way," he says. What happened in his bedroom cannot be covered up just by cleaning. The worst is that he now knows who died in the room. It was Bilal Haj Ali. Sadala knows this because the young mans brothers came to visit a few days ago. They wanted to see the place where Bilal became a martyr. "I did let them in but I hardly spoke a word with them," he says.

The young men took photos of the remains of their brother with their mobile phones. "But they didn't want to clean it up," Sadala says. "I told them not to show their faces here ever again."





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