PRESENTS

24

HOURS IN GAZA

MEDIA TOWN

Photographs

MEGAN O'TOOLE

Reporter

In August 2014, after nearly two months of bombing, Israel's latest assault on Gaza ended. In its aftermath, Al Jazeera visited the besieged territory and spent a day with one family whose lives were changed irreparably by the war.  Neighbours died, children were traumatised and the home they once knew was lost forever.

it has become unliveable

Fatma Juma and her husband Ibrahim Afana - along with their children and grandchildren, too many to count - still live in the bombed-out shell of their four-storey apartment complex in el-Shaaf, Gaza. The fourth floor is unreachable and the third so damaged it has become unliveable, so their lives are mostly confined to the first and second storeys, where several exterior walls have been replaced with blankets or canvas tarps. Grandchildren flit in and out; some live elsewhere in Shujayea but come here to sleep, finding comfort in numbers.

finding comfort in numbers

As day moved into night, Al Jazeera remained with the Afana family to document the daily challenges they face in a home that has been physically torn apart - and the moments of levity and triumph that keep them going.

1:35am

she rarely gets to sleep

THROUGH AN ENTIRE NIGHT

Sharp wind gusting through the tangled remnants of Fatma Juma's home pulls the 57-year-old grandmother from her slumber.

She rarely gets to sleep through an entire night, worried that the house may fall around her. Metal creaks and shifts in the bombed-out skeleton of the family's four-storey apartment complex, which remains in shambles more than four months after the Israeli bombardment ended.

As wind moves through the beams, Fatma says it sounds like whispering voices, but she can't make out the words.

5:30am

smell of freshly baked bread

THE HOME SOON FILLS WITH THE

Fatma is the first to rise this morning. After morning prayers, she heads into the first-floor kitchen and begins mixing flour, salt, yeast and hot water in a large metal bowl.

The kitchen is one of the most intact rooms of the house, with blue and green painted bricks above the wooden countertop and a working, albeit worn-out, fridge by the doorway. Her daughter, Keefah Afana, soon joins her: Fatma cuts and rolls the bread dough, and Keefah places each piece into a small oven set up on the floor in an adjacent room.

The home soon fills with the smell of freshly baking bread.

9:12am

the rubble started to fall

WHEN IT RAINED RECENTLY

The family members awaken one by one and trickle into the main-floor living room, perching on couches and thin mattresses laid upon the floor.

They eat breakfast together - bread and fresh falafel, sliced tomatoes and cucumber, olives and pickled radishes - a communal ritual that begins each day.

They discuss their sleeplessness and common concerns about the house: "When it rained [recently], some of the rubble started to fall," remarks Munzir Afana, Fatma's 41-year-old son. He says he is concerned. "Two pillars upstairs are cracked."

10:23am

'it's a fish'

SHE SAYS, PROMISING HER SIBLINGS:

'I WILL DO IT IN ONE SECOND.'

In the post-breakfast lull, nine-year-old Hala Afana, Keefah's daughter, disappears into a bedroom and emerges with a pile of jigsaw puzzle pieces, which she dumps onto the floor.

 "It's a fish," she says, promising her siblings: "I will do it in one second." Minutes later, though, she has tired of the puzzle and pulls out a Disney princess colouring book and a set of coloured pencils.

She begins colouring in her favourite princess, Cinderella, being careful to keep within the lines.

10:40am

chunks missing from the walls

On the second floor of the Afana home, where the ceiling slumps dangerously beside a laundry line in one corner, Munzir's wife, Shareen Afana, heats water in a metal pot so that she can bathe. Munzir's son, Mohammed Afana, looks around the kitchen and shakes his head. "We spent 20 years fixing up this apartment," he laments.

The family still has photos of the kitchen after all the renovations were finished; in the pictures, the tiled walls and new countertops gleam amid soft light filtering in through beige blinds. Shareen sold some of her gold wedding jewellery to help fund the transformation.

But today, there are chunks missing from the walls, and bits of the ceiling dangle above cracked flooring. When it rains, water coats the floor.

11:15am

BUT THE WAR HAS LEFT MANY GAZANS UNEMPLOYED

normally he would be working

Munzir leans against his broken kitchen wall and sips coffee. Normally he would be working, but the war has left many Gazans unemployed.

"I don't know where to go. There's nothing to do," says Munzir, who renovated this apartment with his own hands. It is his trade, and when he saw his handiwork destroyed, "it broke my heart… [Now], no one is building."

11:47am

skeletons of homes

DESTRUCTION AND RUBBLE,

Fatma's grandchildren swirl through the house, nibbling on small pieces of foil-wrapped chocolate.

Hala darts out of the kitchen and into an adjacent room without exterior walls, where an uneven wooden ladder is the only point of access to the third floor. She scrambles up the ladder and past the heaps of rubble swept up against the walls, pausing to look outside through another missing wall.

The view from this "window" is the same one that surrounds all sides of their home: destruction and rubble, skeletons of homes where their neighbours, now gone, once lived.

11:50am

water drips from the ceiling

ONTO SMASHED RED-AND-WHITE TILES ON THE FLOOR

In an adjacent room, two of Fatma's grandchildren laugh as they climb upon piles of rubble. In this room, the pink walls with brown-stamped teddy bears remain standing, but the floor is covered with fragments of a pink dresser, red plastic flowers, dismantled wooden furniture and hunks of cement.

Water drips from the ceiling onto smashed red-and-white tiles on the floor in the attached bathroom; in a nearby corner, the family has stowed an old bicycle, a smashed mirror, a broken toilet and a couple of bicycles.

For now, there is no way to fix these things, and nowhere else to put them.

12:17pm

destroyed in the war

THE FAMILY'S WASHING MACHINE WAS

Shareen gets started on the day's laundry. The family's washing machine was destroyed in the war, so she bought an old-fashioned, grey metal washer from her sister; it didn't work at first, but Munzir fixed it.

Shareen takes a bucketful from a blue barrel filled with water, and pours it into the laundry machine.

She adds an armload of clothing and some soap, and crosses her fingers that the electricity will hold out long enough for the spin cycle.

12:25pm

they targeted this area

BECAUSE SOME OF THE RESISTANCE WAS BASED HERE

Munzir and Mohammed return home after praying at the local mosque. They look out the second-floor window, and they remember where the Israeli tanks used to be stationed.

They point down the road. "They targeted this area because some of the resistance was based here," Munzir recalls. But as far as he knows, his neighbours were regular people; those who are still alive come back to this neighbourhood often.

"They come and watch their houses, their fully destroyed houses. They sit and just look. And they leave with grief."

12:43pm

rotating power cuts

KEEP GAZA IN THE DARK MUCH OF THE TIME

Keefah cuts onions in preparation for lunch. In the room next door, two chickens stuffed with onions and spices roast in an electric oven - and then the power cuts out.

Keefah sighs: "This will ruin the chicken," she says. She was not expecting the power to cut off until 3pm today, as part of scheduled rotating power cuts that keep all of Gaza in the dark much of the time.

But the power flips back on again within minutes; this time, it was just a glitch.

1:00pm

"he came for a show"

IBRAHIM SAID, NOTING ALL THEY RECEIVED WAS A SINGLE MATTRESS

The family has assembled again in the main-floor living room, with lunch on the way. The conversation naturally turns towards the war.

Ibrahim Afana, 67, who was away in the morning working as a security guard for a parcel of land overlooking the sea, is frustrated at the lack of reconstruction. "Look at the house," he says. "We could rebuild it ourselves, but we have no materials or money."

The family speaks bitterly of a recent visit by Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti. "He came for a show," Ibrahim says, noting all they received from his visit was a single mattress and a parcel of food.

1:17pm

what is missing from the home

THEY TALK ABOUT

The men unroll a while plastic tablecloth decorated with bunches of purple grapes, and the women begin bringing in the lunch feast: platters of French fries, stuffed chickens with lemon slices, hot peppers, chicken shawarma, fresh bread and sliced red cabbage.

The conversation shifts from politics, to food, to television programmes. They talk about what is still missing from their home, what they can afford to buy, and whether the power may cut out again.

They joke and poke fun at each other; Fatma's grandson, six-year-old Mahdi Afana, pushes a blue truck across the floor. "We call him 'Mahshi'," 12-year-old Samah Afana laughs, referring to a Middle Eastern dish of vegetables stuffed with rice and spices.

2:00pm

they fled to a relative's house

AND DAYS LATER, THE SHELLING STARTED

The women retire to the kitchen to clean the lunch dishes, and the conversation in the living room returns to war. Two rockets were launched from this neighbourhood, Mohammed recalls. "The kids were terrified," he says.

They fled to a relative's house, and days later, the shelling started. "We were calming down the children, telling them not to freak out - it's just fireworks," Mohammed says. As he speaks, Hala colours in a picture of Snow White.

Ibrahim smiles at her and then turns his gaze into the distance. "I had a dream this house would be hit," he says absently. "But small. Not like this."

2:27pm

a patch of shade

IN THE BLAZING MID-AFTERNOON SUNSHINE

The family moves outside onto the porch, where blankets are hung from wooden posts to create a patch of shade in the blazing mid-afternoon sunshine.

The men argue about whether or not to smoke shisha; they have some, but it's expensive. Eventually, they decide to go ahead with it, and send two of the grandchildren scampering down the dusty, rubble-strewn road to buy coal from a local merchant.

The other boys kick a soccer ball around in front of the house.

3:15pm

they inflate and release

OVER AND OVER AGAIN

The smell of charcoal wafts across the porch, which is crowded now with children, smiling and ribbing each other, and adults futilely trying to keep them in line.

Out of nowhere, a balloon appears, then another, then another. The children leap and twirl and bat them around. They blow up more balloons and let the air out, giggling at the whooshing sound it makes. They inflate and release, inflate and release, over and again.

Suddenly one of the balloons pops, and everyone jumps. And then they laugh.

3:39pm

watching the children

SIPPING SWEET TEA AND

The women of the house have moved back into the living room, sipping sweet tea and watching the children. Samah and Hala, who are in Grades 7 and 4 respectively, are practising printing words in English.

Hala concentrates hard as she writes out: "Wts yor nam." Her sister gently corrects her, printing out the phrase: "What's your name?" Slowly and carefully, they write their own names again and again in the lined pages of a notebook.

Hala makes mistakes, but she is not deterred. "Never give up," she says, grinning.

4:28pm

how to apply for aid

FROM NGOs SUCH AS OXFAM

The afternoon lazily stretches into the evening. Sunlight pours through the open door onto the living-room carpet, while Arabic music drifts softly through a cellphone speaker.

Fatma and her daughters talk about how to apply for aid from NGOs such as Oxfam; one of their relatives is an employee of Hamas and has encountered difficulties in finding assistance, they say.

Keefah watches as the children play nearby, and tries to explain how they coped with the war's fallout at such young ages. "They understood it. They just understood," she recalls. "If you ask what happened, they say the Israelis bombed us. They just understood."

5:05pm

THE WAY IT WAS

before the bombs fell

Ibrahim looks up at one of the cracks in a concrete pillar on the main floor. "That's one where the water came from," he says, more to himself than to anyone else.

His daughters pass a cellphone around. They're looking through a photo album: pictures of flowers, of smiling friends, of the old house - the way it was before the bombs fell.

Outside on the porch, Samah writes her initials in red crayon on one of the walls that remains.

6:25pm

tonight there's still power

SO THEY DO NOT HAVE TO TAKE THEIR MEAL IN THE DARK

The family gathers again for dinner, but it is a more casual affair. People have nibbled throughout the afternoon and appetites have waned.

Fatma and her daughters bring out piles of reheated leftovers from breakfast, and the family eats quietly.

Tonight there is still power, so they do not have to take their meal in the dark. But the children are getting tired, and one by one, they begin preparing for bed.

7:15pm

Abbas is 'out of the game'

WHILE HIS RIVAL, MOHAMMED DAHLAN, IS RISING

The women tidy up, picking up stray plates and glasses and children's toys. In the background, an Indian serial plays on the television - a drama about two men who are in love with the same woman.

Some watch the programme, while others talk politics: They have read articles suggesting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is "out of the game", while his rival, Mohammed Dahlan, is rising. It is the lack of action on Gaza's crisis, they say, that has done Abbas in.

8:43pm

it is business as usual

FOR NOW, THOUGH,

As the adults follow their children to bed, Shareen sighs. "I wish the situation would get better," she says. "I wish they would open the border, rebuild our house. I just want to have a normal life."

For now, though, it is business as usual. The power is expected to cut off at 10pm today, and the family wants to be in bed before that happens.

They hope that they will sleep soundly tonight, that the house will remain silent - but they know it probably won't, and they go to bed warily, waiting to hear its cries.

RETURN TO TOP

24

HOURS IN GAZA

MEGAN O'TOOLE

Reporter

MEDIA TOWN

Photographs

KONSTANTINOS ANTONOPOULOS

Designer

AL JAZEERA INTERACTIVE