The girl pointed to her throat and made a mark where the water had reached answering a question that was never posed. Two weeks after a flood of sewage wiped away parts of the Bedouin village in Northern Gaza the three little girls I encountered, along with 250 other displaced families are living in tents, like 1948.
I was there to distribute parcels to 20 families containing just a few of the vital needs, clothes, shoes and baby’s milk. One woman exclaimed, “the world has forgotten us,” she lost everything in the flood, her home, her kitchen, the children’s clothes. They were left with the clothes on their back. She was, like her ancestors, living on the floor, in a tent, with “UN” stamped in blue letters, with a small gas stove and a few mattresses, her kids roaming the desert hills all around, like 1948.
Wasfi Al-Abraq’s home was one of the first to go. He was tending his field when the floods came. He wasn’t able to reach his children and wife. They managed to escape through the back of the house, but not much was left of it. The walls have crumbled, electricity sockets and light switches remain at knee level because of the swamp of sewage and sand that entered and remained in Wasfi’s home. The small tent provided by the UN didn’t provide enough shelter for Wasfi, his wife and eight children. So they built a shack adjacent to the tent, like 1948.
Dozens of homes collapsed, cars were crushed, fields gone, cupboards, kitchens, bedrooms, furniture, all beyond use. Graffiti on the walls of a shell of a house said “in the past we had a home,” another wall read, “here drowned the child, Jamal.”
The existence of elderly women living on the hot dessert ground, children brushing their teeth at public faucets, roaming spaces of donkeys and goats doubling as a neighborhood playground and shacks and tents void of food, clothes and really much of anything, all posed the question, what lead to this?
The place felt like a camp created for famine victims escaping a drought and yet this calamity was man-made. What are the 5000 inhabitants of the Bedouin village actually doing next to massive pools of sewage that like this last one could break because they are overused? These families who once roamed the Negev dessert to practice their trade raising livestock were one day herded into the tiny space of Um Nasser, the Bedouin village. Their rights robbed on behalf of the rights of others, in 1948.
The tents on those hills and the displaced people within them are a hollow echo of those fateful days of 1948.
They are a stark reminder to the world of a past that is easier forgotten.