Gaza damage more than even the ‘fixer’ can fix
I first met Raed al-Athamna when he was driving a journalist friend of mine around Gaza in his yellow, stretch-Mercedes taxi during the tense and violent days after Gaza militants captured Gilad Shalit, a young Israeli soldier, in the summer of 2006.
Raed seemed to be a good ‘fixer’ – attentive, sensible and with far-from-perfect but perfectly understandable English.
A few months later, I interviewed him in the rubble of Beit Hanoun – after Israeli tank shells slammed in to a relative’s home killing 18 members of his extended family early one morning as most were still sleeping.
Israel said a technical mishap caused the shells to stray from their intended targets and in to the residential neighbourhood where the Athamnas lived.
Perhaps because his immediate family had escaped the tragedy in their nearby home, and perhaps because loss is so intimately entwined in the lives of Gazans, Raed seemed sanguine and calm in the interview and still confident that peace between Israelis and Palestinians was possible.
Raed’s business hit a lean patch soon after that interview – when many of the foreign journalists he worked with stopped making the trip in to Gaza as the menace of kidnapping and the unpredictability of the factional fighting between Fatah and Hamas effectively put the Strip off limits.
Despite the dip in business Raed decided it was time to leave Beit Hanoun - whose location near the Israeli border in the northeast corner of Gaza made it a favourite for rocket launchers and thus a regular scene of clashes and airstrikes – so he took his life’s savings, some $70,000, and got to work on a new home.
In the village of Abed Rabbo – a few kilometres south of Beit Hanoun on a plot next to his father’s house – Raed thought he had found refuge from the constant violence.
But he was wrong.
When I interviewed Raed earlier this week next to more rubble, this time the rubble of his own home, he was anything but sanguine, calm and confident that peace would come soon.
He was furious, distraught and very, very scared of what the future held for him and his family.
With his savings spent on a house in rubble, and little hope of seeing it rebuilt soon, and with his taxi lying mangled in a nearby bush it was not hard to understand the rage and confusion.
He said he has already given up on his children’s education.
“How to send them to school? How? My daughter was the first in her class and first for all of north Gaza. But I have told her forget it – she cannot be a doctor now.”
He reached in to his pocket and pulled out a single key on a simple key-ring.
“This is all what we have now, this is all I can give her – our house over there,” he said, waving the key angrily and pointing east in to Israel, towards another home his family had to leave more than 60 years ago, as conflict erupted when the state of Israel was created in 1948.
Photo credit: REUTERS/Jerry Lampen