A Tearful Return To A Shattered Gaza Home

Hahdija Sakker, 55 stands in the ruins of her lifelong family home in the Tuam neighborhood of Gaza. i i

Hahdija Sakker, 55 stands in the ruins of her lifelong family home in the Tuam neighborhood of Gaza, on Jan. 19. A tenuous cease-fire held Monday in Gaza, where Palestinians dug out from the rubble. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Gilkey/NPR
Hahdija Sakker, 55 stands in the ruins of her lifelong family home in the Tuam neighborhood of Gaza.

Hahdija Sakker, 55 stands in the ruins of her lifelong family home in the Tuam neighborhood of Gaza, on Jan. 19. A tenuous cease-fire held Monday in Gaza, where Palestinians dug out from the rubble.

David Gilkey/NPR

A fragile cease-fire in the Gaza Strip appears to be holding between Israel and Hamas.

The three-week-long conflict claimed the lives of some 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. On Monday, stunned civilians in north Gaza began returning home to survey the damage and see what's left of their homes.

Muttering prayers and weeping, 55-year-old Hahdija Sakker walked into her three-story home in the Tuam neighborhood of northern Gaza City. The area is on a patch of high ground near the sea. Big parts of Tuam have been reduced to rubble. The walls on two sides of Sakker's home are gone. The roof is blown out. Inside there's nothing but debris. The upstairs is teetering on the verge of collapse.

"I don't know what I hope or what to say, but what do the Israelis want from us? We are civilians who just want to live," Sakker says. "Why do they attack us? They attack with planes. Let them attack other planes or the resistance. We are civilians. We didn't do anything. Where shall I go now? I have three families in my house. If I go to relatives or friends they will keep me for two or three days — or a week — but after that where shall I go? What shall I do?"

"I lost everything," she repeats over and over again.

Outside the sound of Israeli naval gunfire echoes all along the beach.

"Some cease-fire," she says. The Israeli military says it's checking about the gunfire but had no answer.

Fifteen family members, many of them children, lived in Sakker's house until the fighting began.

"Honestly, I'm telling you, none of my sons or family members were Hamas or resistance fighters," Sakker says. "That's why we were so confident no one would attack us and why we stayed here until the last minute."

Her husband finally left — reluctantly, she says — before the Israeli tanks rolled in. He was wounded by shrapnel in an airstrike and is recovering in the hospital.

Israeli infantry and armor clearly set up fighting positions here: On the trashed floors there are big sacks of Israeli military bread and wrappers from Israeli power bars.

Bullet shell casings litter the sand. Outside, sand berms from tanks and deep tracks from armored personnel carriers criss-cross the rubble.

Two young grandsons trail behind Sakker in silence, looking frightened. She says waves her hand, weeps and says she blames the Israel Defense Force (IDF) and Hamas.

"I blame both of them," she says. "I blame the IDF for destroying our house, but finally I blame both of them for what happened to us. Both take the responsibilities."

"What did we ever get from those stupid rockets?" she says of the Hamas attacks into southern Israel.

Then, 10 minutes later, she unleashes a wave of anger at Israel.

"We didn't side with Hamas or Fateh," she says of Gaza's main political factions. But now, she says, that's changed: "We are with Hamas."

"Now look what they have done to me," she says. "They have destroyed my house. I wasn't in the resistance. But now I will oblige my sons to be the resistance. Now I will be Hamas. We hate them more now. I feel more hatred for them."

Hamas official Ghazi Hamad concedes that the group's fighters were no match for the Israeli army and he's not declaring victory by any means. But Hamad says Israel cannot claim victory either.

"I think because Israel failed to kill the fighters of Palestinian factions — they killed more innocent people, more women, more kids — I think this is not victory," Hamad says. "They did not succeed ... to crack down on Hamas or factions, so I think this is not victory."

Outside Sakker's destroyed home, a neighbor is loading shattered pieces of wood on to a cart. Another neighbor is digging for a relative he thinks is buried in the rubble.

The scenes of devastation and loss are playing out all across northern Gaza. People are using donkey carts and any car they can find as they pick through the ruins of their homes and their lives.

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