Gaza man devastated as he sifts through debris of his bombed home, hoping to salvage cherished centuries-old antique collection
Since his house was destroyed in an Israeli bombing on May 12, Hazem Mohanna continues to visit the site every day, scouring the rubble in search of his beloved antique collection. The 62-year-old spent four decades amassing a diverse assortment of antique silver coins, precious stones, and artifacts related to Palestinian heritage. He laments that his four-story house in the al-Sahaba neighborhood of Gaza City has now been transformed into what he calls “a unique archaeological museum.”
On that fateful day, during the third day of the recent Israeli military offensive on Gaza, Mohanna received a distressing phone call from Israeli intelligence while he was with his family. They gave him a mere five minutes to evacuate his home. “I was so shocked,” he recalled. Mohanna and his family managed to escape the building in time, but he couldn’t salvage his cherished belongings that he had spent a lifetime collecting and caring for.
Israel has bombed numerous houses in Gaza during past offensives, often giving residents only a short notice ranging from a few hours to mere minutes to vacate. Such actions have drawn criticism from human rights organizations. In May 2021, Israel even bombed an 11-story building housing Al Jazeera’s news office, providing a notice of barely one hour. The relentless Israeli bombings over an 11-day period claimed the lives of approximately 250 Palestinians.
“My antique collection meant a lot to me. There are many precious pieces that date back hundreds of years,” Mohanna, a retired Palestinian Authority security officer, lamented. Among the items lost are identification documents from various countries and artifacts representing Palestinian heritage, such as embroidered clothes, baggage, and copper items. He expressed the profound emotional attachment to these possessions, stating, “There are things and memories that cannot be compensated for any amount of money, due to our attachment to them. I wish my children would inherit my small archaeological museum, but the Israeli occupation pursues everything, even our memories and hobbies.”
Mohanna is still unable to comprehend the reason or justification for the bombing of his home. He emphasized that they were all civilians. Currently residing in a small two-bedroom rented apartment with his family of 16, including his four married children, he worries about the reconstruction of his house and the hundreds of others destroyed. The Ministry of Public Works reported that at least 20 buildings, comprising 56 housing units, were completely demolished, and 940 housing units sustained damage during the recent Israeli military escalation.
“So far, nobody contacted me for compensation or even to pay his apartment rent,” Mohanna expressed his concerns. He pointed out that houses destroyed in previous Israeli offensives have yet to be rebuilt, leaving him uncertain about when their turn will come. The enduring cycle of wars and misfortunes has taken its toll on the people of Gaza, leaving them weary and desperate for a change.
Sabah Abu Khater, a 60-year-old resident, shared a similar experience. The latest Israeli military escalation shattered the joy leading up to her son’s imminent marriage. On the afternoon of May 11, as the family of 10 watched the news in their home in Beit Hanoun, they received a phone call ordering them to evacuate before their house was bombed.
Following the evacuation order, they hastily left their two-story house, with only the clothes on their backs. Khater’s son had meticulously prepared for the marriage, gathering the bride’s dowry and constructing a modest house. However, the bombing disrupted their plans, leaving them devastated and back at square one.
Bilal Abu Khater, Sabah’s 26-year-old son, expressed his frustration and the additional burden the destruction has imposed on him. With limited job opportunities and the ongoing blockade on Gaza, life was already challenging for the young people in the region. The years it took to build their house now translate into a lengthy rebuilding process. However, amidst the turmoil, Bilal remains grateful that his family survived unscathed. He acknowledges that while money can compensate for material losses, the safety and well-being of their loved ones are paramount.
During the recent Israeli military offensive, airstrikes targeted homes and apartments throughout Gaza. The Israeli military claimed they were aiming at the Islamic Jihad movement, but Palestinians and human rights organizations argue that the majority of those killed were civilians. Palestinian factions also launched rockets into Israel, resulting in the death of one Israeli individual. By the time a ceasefire brokered by Egypt took effect on May 12, at least 33 Palestinians, including six children, had lost their lives, and 190 others were injured. The estimated economic loss amounted to $5 million.