A year ago, Manal Shubair, 35, lived in a large house with many rooms and modern conveniences, such as a refrigerator, washing machine and running water. Today, this refugee and mother of two – a son aged nine and a 10-month-old daughter – live in a small tent, with no running water and only a few blankets, two mattresses, and some basic cooking utensils.
During the “Cast Lead” offensive, Mrs. Shubair, the third wife of a now unemployed blacksmith, left her home north of Gaza City after leaflets were dropped by the Israeli military warning people to leave the area. The family took no possessions from their home except white flags that they waved as they walked to an UNWRA school in Beach Camp to seek refuge. At the time, the family expected to return home shortly.
Once at the school, Mrs Shubair had to use flip chart paper that she found in a classroom as makeshift blankets to cover her children: “I had nothing for my daughter, who was five months at the time, and I could not keep her warm”. The following day, food and blankets were distributed. As increasing numbers of people sought refuge at the UNWRA school, Mrs Shubair heard stories of widespread damage to houses in her community, and she gradually gave up hope of returning to a house that was still standing: “We are grateful to UNWRA for providing us with food and water, but the conditions were very cramped and it was not home. We just yearned for home.”
As soon as military forces had left the area, the family returned to their home to find that it had been flattened to the ground by rubble from a neighboring apartment building that had been directly hit by an Israeli military strike. Mrs Shubair husband’s blacksmith business and assets were also completely destroyed. As a result, Mrs Shubair took her children to stay at her sister’s house. She registered with the local authorities and, two weeks after the ceasefire agreement, was told that she had been allocated a tent in the new tent camp in Al Attatra, several kilometers from her home.
The Shubair family has received financial assistance from UNWRA and the local authorities, and continue to reside in the tent camp, in very difficult conditions: ”The first tent leaked and it was very cold, it was later replaced with a better tent, but it gets very hot and is full of flies.” The camp has temporary, pre-fabricated bathrooms, one for women and one for men, and water supply is sporadic. Mrs Shubair buys water for her children to drink. Three times a week a PRCS team visits the camp. Two times a week an NGO delivers hot meals of rice and lentils. On the other five days the family has to make do with cold food, mainly bread and canned food, which was delivered by humanitarian agencies in the months after “Cast Lead”.
Until the recent summer holiday, Mrs Shubair’s nine-year-old son continued attending the same school, but the distance proved a challenge as he had to walk a long distance to reach school each day. Mrs Shubair’s son has been affected in a range of other ways. According to Mrs Shubair, her son suffers from bedwetting and exhibits other psychological problems. His school work has suffered, his grades are lower and he is disconnected from his friends.
Mrs Shubair no longer sees her friends and neighbors. Her social network and support system has broken down and she believes that she no longer has an existence. “My day starts with me hoping it will finish. I am worried and I don’t know what the future will bring.”
Mrs Shubair and her family are on the UNRWA shelter caseload list to have their house rebuilt. However, due to the ongoing blockade of construction materials, there has been no reconstruction to date.