ESSAY

Gaza’s morning ritual: Searching under rubble for dolls, books, loved ones

From Gaza, Al Jazeera’s Mohammed R Mhawish looks back on more than 100 days of carnage.

Palestinians inspect the destruction after an Israeli attack in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 17, 2024 [Fatima Shbair/AP Photo]By Mohammed R MhawishPublished On 19 Jan 202419 Jan 2024

Gaza Strip — At the United Nations shelter in central Gaza where I live with my family, the yard and corridors outside our room are covered every night with blankets. Underneath them, people seek protection from the cold.

During the day, the same people venture out to find whatever they can bring back to their hungry families – a frantic search for any item that may have survived the bombing.

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The times that I join them, I see children combing through the ruins for their dolls, teens for their schoolbooks, their parents for food and the elderly sift through the debris for their belongings and for missing sons, daughters and grandchildren.

More than 100 days since Israel launched its war on Gaza, destruction is everywhere. Israel has killed more than 24,000 people. The entire Gaza Strip lies in ruins. Its people, their freedom of movement restricted, stumble through the destruction searching for aid, belongings or loved ones who lie buried under the rubble.

Above them, the daytime skies are filled with the roar of warplanes while the night is lit by the blast of explosions.

The destruction has a smell. The stench of burned and rotting flesh of the bodies lying under the rubble is unavoidable, bringing with it health risks and more trauma. It nags at the imagination, forcing searchers to recognise it for what it is, the last trace of people, like us, but unfortunate not to have escaped the bombings.

No end to nightmare

A few days ago on a day like any other, while queueing for water – it is not clean but it is all we have – I met 63-year-old Abu Ruhmy.

He told me how he used to live in his son’s apartment before fleeing for the UN shelter. “I used to live in Shadi’s apartment, my only son,” Ruhmy said. He described how his son had lived there with his wife and two children.

Ruhmy lost contact with them seven weeks ago.

“I heard they were all killed,” he said, his desperate eyes communicating more than words. “His wife, Razan, was eight months pregnant when she was killed.”

“They all hoped for a future outside Gaza and were waiting for the war to end to get out,” Ruhmy continued.

He paused for a moment before resuming: “Now I cannot seem to find their bodies. Not any of them.

“It was too much. I went straight back to the room where I slept with my wife, child and parents. My chest felt heavy. All I could think of was that at some point, I would wake up, that all of this would turn out to be nothing more than a nightmare – one that had an end.”

Shortages of aid

Aid remains in short supply. Medical treatment, access to clean water, electricity, food, warmth, shelter or any of the services we need to remain alive all come at a premium.

After my family home was bombed on the morning of December 7, we had to remain in bed for a month, battling fevers that lasted weeks. As the fevers continued and our wounds bled, makeshift first aid material was all we had.

Much of Gaza is in the same situation.

Clinics, pharmacies and medical complexes are still grappling with the destruction and the lack of medical equipment, already insufficient for the needs of the hundreds of thousands of people now needing it. Most hospitals have been bombed or denied essential equipment and so are not functioning.

Almost everything that happens in Gaza takes place at Israel’s discretion. Those who have been displaced to the south are forced to stay put, prevented by roadblocks and tanks from travelling to their homes or residences in the north and the centre of Gaza. Reports of people being shot trying to get home are now an almost daily occurrence.

The further we continue into the war, the more each day loses its definition, becoming just a further marker within an endless bombardment.

There is nothing and no one in Gaza with the capacity to recover from these horrors. We need to heal. What we have lived through has been extraordinary. However, in the eyes of much of the world, it has become normal.

We need a permanent ceasefire. We need calm and time to grieve. We need to know that our lives are of value.

Until people have the freedom to live in peace and safety, promises of temporary solutions will do nothing to meet the needs of Gaza. We are a population battered by more than 100 days of war. All we want is what anyone else in the world wants: peace and security.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies