I’m in the 12th grade in the girls’ high school in Khuza’ah. I’m in the science stream and have almost finished my matriculation exams. For almost a year, ever since the Israeli military destroyed our home in Khuza’ah, I’ve been living with my grandparents in ‘Abasan al-Kabirah, near the Algerian Hospital.
My father died two years ago. My brothers and I went on living at home with our mother. I’m the eldest, and have five brothers: ‘Abdallah, 16, ‘Alaa, 14, ‘Udai, 13, Muhammad, 8, and Majdi, 5. During the war, we fled our home to shelter in a school in the town center of Khan Yunis, like most of the people who live east of there. When the war was over, some neighbors who made it back to Khuza’ah told us that our house had been completely destroyed, along with the houses of many other relatives and neighbors in the same area.
We stayed in the school for another week but then I couldn’t take it any more. It was very uncomfortable, crowded and full of strangers, and we had no one to protect us. My grandparents and aunts were there with us and when they went back home to ‘Abasan al-Kabirah, I asked my mother to be allowed to stay with my grandparents in the meantime. I lived with them for almost two months while my mother and brothers stayed at the school. I missed my family very much – I had never been away from them and it felt very strange. I cried some nights. I would go to visit them for a day or two and then go back to my grandparents.
Before the school year began my mother started looking for an apartment to rent in Khuza’ah, because my brothers’ school is far away from the shelter. A relative helped us find an apartment in an old building in the Qdeih neighborhood in Khuza’ah. At first, I moved in there together with my mother and brothers. The place was unfurnished and all we had were a few mattresses and blankets we managed to get at the school we sheltered in. We lost all our furniture, clothes and belongings when our home was destroyed.
The building was very noisy and I couldn’t find a place to study quietly. I couldn’t get used to the apartment and my mother suggested I go back to my grandparents so I could study properly. When the school year began I went back to my school in Khuza’ah, near the border with Israel. I found out that some girls from the school had been killed in the war. One of them was my friend Rawan a-Najar. She was in 10th grade. Some other friends switched to other schools because their homes were destroyed and they moved away.
To get to my school in Khuza’ah I have to manage to find a cab. And even though it’s not that far, the whole affair sometimes takes me over an hour. Sometimes I have to walk part of the way and that takes a long time. The mood in Khuza’ah is terrible and makes me not want to study. The streets and houses are in ruins. Wherever you go you see wreckage and pictures of the dead on walls and doors. When the school year began, it was very hard for me to concentrate. I’d sit for hours and try to study but couldn’t get much done. I was haunted by all the horrible things I had seen during the war. I kept thinking about our life before the war and how we’re homeless now. The war forced us into a terrible reality.
My matriculation exams began about two weeks ago. I’ve sat most of them and have only three left. When the exams are over I plan to go back to live with my mother and brothers. It’s really hard to be away from them. The whole year, my grandparents tried to arrange a proper study atmosphere for me and provide whatever I needed, but it’s not the same as being at home with my mother and brothers.
Instead of our old home, they’re building a wood shack for us and soon I’ll move in there with my family. I’m already imagining what it will look like and how we’ll get used to living there. After every exam, I go past the place to check how long before it’s done.
Maha Mazen Msallam Abu Mutlaq, a 17-year-old twelfth grader, is a resident of Khuza’ah which is near the border with Israel. She gave her testimony to B’Tselem field researcher Muhammad Sa’id on 10 June 2015 at her grandparents’ house in ‘Abasan al-Kabirah.