Living with the dead: Gazans seek shelter in graveyards

There are nearly a hundred makeshift homes sheltering dozens of Palestinian families inside Gaza City's graveyards

Living with the dead: Gazans seek shelter in graveyards

The area outside Gaza City's Sheikh Shaaban cemetery serves as a convenient playground for Reema Kahil – for there's little space to play inside the cemetery, which is home to the seven-year-old.

Without showing fear as she passes between the graves, she walks towards a cluster of shelters made of tin sheeting.

"This is our house," she says, pointing to one of the shelters.

Kahil and her seven siblings live with their parents in a tin hut wedged between two graves. Some of their relatives live in the other huts.

"It is just a matter of waiting for death," Kahil's father said, declining to give his name or have his home photographed.

"There is no life for us; we cannot even speak of life," he said.

Nearby, Yosra Kahil, 65, sits on the ground looking for the expiry date on a few plastic milk bottles. Her grandchildren brought her the bottles, which they found while searching nearby garbage dumps for something to eat.

"I can't tell if this milk is good to drink," Kahil told an Anadolu Agency reporter who she had asked to help her find the expiry date.

Kahil said she had been living in the cemetery for over fifty years. Her five sons, who she said were all unemployed, have also sought shelter for themselves and their families at Sheikh Shaaban.

"We had no money for birth certificate fees when they were born, so they have no IDs," Kahil said.

Kahil blamed the "negligent" authorities for her plight. Some of her neighbors, she said, had contracted diseases and infections from the difficult living conditions at the cemetery.

"We have no means of protecting ourselves from the bites of scorpions and snakes, which we regularly find inside our shelters," she said. "Sometimes, kids who go out to play outside the shelters are attacked by stray dogs and cats."

She also said rainwater tended to flood the tin huts during the winter. "Sometimes the roofs fall on our heads," she lamented.

"We survive on charity," she said. "Donated clothing is scarce and often unfit to wear, but we wear it anyway because it's all we have."

She added: "We have no one but God to help us survive the cold and humiliation of life."

There are nearly a hundred makeshift homes sheltering dozens of Palestinian families inside Gaza City's graveyards, according to Palestinian officials in the blockaded coastal strip.

Most makeshift shelters are found in Sheikh Shabaan and Al-Tuwensi, Gaza City's two largest cemeteries.

"It is difficult to specify the exact number of people living in the cemeteries," Mohamed Salem of the Palestinian Ministry of Religious Endowments, told AA.

"The shelters are an encroachment on cemetery land, which is administered by the ministry," Salem said. "But the dire economic conditions in Gaza make it hard for the ministry to evict them."

Israel's crippling blockade on the Gaza Strip – in effect since 2006 – and its recent military onslaught on the territory have raised unemployment rates to 60 percent and poverty rates to a staggering 90 percent, according to the Popular Committee for Lifting the Siege on the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian NGO.

Salem said that surging unemployment and poverty in the embattled strip were the main factors that had driven some Palestinians to seek shelter in the cemeteries.

According to Salem, the strip's Hamas-run government has said it did not have sufficient funds to resettle Palestinian families currently living in the graveyards.

"We are trying to raise the issue with the new government," he said, referring to a Palestinian unity government unveiled last summer.

The Gaza Strip's cemeteries were not spared during Israel's summer offensive, which left over 2,160 Palestinians – mostly civilians – dead and thousands of homes destroyed.

Several graveyards across the Gaza Strip were struck by Israeli warplanes during the onslaught, which ended in late August after 51 days of relentless bombardment from air, land and sea.

Khamis Kahil, 32, said his makeshift home in Sheikh Shaaban had been leveled by an Israeli airstrike on the cemetery.

"My parents had lived in that house of tin and stone for fifty years before I inherited it," Kahil said.

Since then, Kahil has set up a tent inside the cemetery to shelter himself and his family. The walls of the makeshift home are two gravestones.

"The unity government and even charity organizations are neglecting us," he said. "They should show some mercy on those living in Gaza's graveyards – especially the children."

AA

Last Mod: 08 Ocak 2015, 14:29
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