A mostly destroyed home, pockmarked with damage.
Credit: Laura Dean

GAZA CITY — On Sunday, the school year started in Gaza. Like parents just about everywhere, parents all over the territory tried to get their kids back to a normal fall routine.

But very little is normal in the Gaza Strip these days, where an estimated 120,000 people were displaced from their homes and more than 11,200 wounded after 51 days of the Israeli offensive called "Operation Protective Edge." More than 2,000 people, mostly civilians, died in the fighting this summer, at least a quarter of them children. 72 Israelis also died in the fighting, 67 of them members of the armed forces.

Children are starting the new school year in rooms where desks have been left empty for the classmates who won’t be coming back. For the first week, there hasn't even been instruction — instead the time in the classroom has been devoted to providing psychological support to the children after what they saw during the offensive, and a chance to process their experiences with counselors and peers.

People here have seen three wars in six years, but this last one was unlike the conflicts of 2008 and 2012. While there were severe casualties in the past (around 1,400 in 2008 and an estimated 167 in 2012), people say the attacks then were more targeted against Hamas. This time, they say, nowhere was safe: homes, schools, hospitals and mosques were leveled in the Israeli offensive. Parents were unable to find safe places for their children. Gazans, penned in by the Israelis from one side and the Egyptians from the other, had nowhere to go to escape the violence.

Now residents are striving to get on with their lives, many of them living in tents pitched amid the rubble of homes they built brick by brick over a period of years. Others are taking shelter in schools or with relatives. 

Some 18,000 housing units were destroyed in Gaza over the summer — not to mention the damage to critical infrastructure, including Gaza’s only power plant. There’s an urgent need for rebuilding, but because of Israel’s blockade on "dual use items" — everyday civilian items that could be used for military purposes — it’s nearly impossible to get many of the materials needed to repair the damage. Meanwhile the Strip, an area about 25 miles long and 3 to 9 miles wide, is covered with four million tons of rubble that would take an estimated $30 million to clear.

For now, Gazans wait, and life goes on as best it can.

  • Several houses closest to the street were leveled in Beit Hanoun.
    Credit: Laura Dean
  • A 15-year-old girl and her brothers and cousins sit in what used to be her room. The remains of her clothes are on the ground at her feet.
    Credit: Laura Dean
  • The owner of a destroyed house in Beit Hanoun left his name and phone number in case aid organizations or friends come looking for him.
    Credit: Laura Dean
  • Abu Khaled with part of an Israeli projectile that he found in his home, which was mostly destroyed during the Gaza offensive.
    Credit: Laura Dean
  • A mostly destroyed home, pockmarked with damage.
    Credit: Laura Dean
  • A destroyed building in Shejaiya. In case aid organizations come by to help, the former residents (families in four apartments and a car dealership) leave signs with their names, phone numbers and ID card numbers.
    Credit: Laura Dean
  • An elderly woman cooks atop the remains of her destroyed house in Khuzaa. She and her family are living in a tent among the rubble.
    Credit: Laura Dean
  • Children wave from an upper floor of their mostly destroyed home in Shejaiya.
    Credit: Laura Dean
  • Zahra Hamad, mother of nine, brought her family to live in this small sidewalk shop next to a UN school that was shelled during the offensive. The structure has no roof; she and her husband worry about what will happen when winter comes. Zahra is expecting another baby in January.
    Credit: Laura Dean
  • Young men sit outside their destroyed home in Beit Hanoun. They are staying in a school nearby but come to their old house every day to sit with their family and neighbors, and in case representatives from aid organizations come by.
    Credit: Laura Dean
  • Faded posters of those killed in previous wars, widely referred to as "martyrs."
    Credit: Laura Dean
  • Inside a heavily shelled house.
    Credit: Laura Dean
  • A tent erected on top of a bombed-out home in Khuzaa, a border area that was badly shelled during the offensive.
    Credit: Laura Dean
  • The ground floor of a destroyed house in Shejaiyah, one of the neighborhoods that was worst hit during the latest Gaza offensive.
    Credit: Laura Dean
  • A woman stands holding a little boy atop the ruins of their house in Khuzaa, a border area that was badly shelled during the offensive.
    Credit: Laura Dean
  • Children wave from an upper floor of a shelled building. Their mother says she is afraid the house will fall on them because of all of the structural damage, but they have nowhere else to go.
    Credit: Laura Dean
  • The Yasser Arafat International Airport was built in 1998. It had been open for barely two years when Israel closed it down in 2000, then a year later demolished the runway and bombed the radar tower. On July 7, 2014 Israel bombed it again because alleged militants were operating nearby.
    Credit: Laura Dean
  • Fishing boats come in to shore in the early morning to sell the night's catch to vendors waiting at the water's edge.
    Credit: Laura Dean
  • The beach, Gaza City.
    Credit: Laura Dean
  • A little girl looks up at a destroyed house two days before the first day of school in Gaza. For the first week, schools in Gaza will not have classes. Rather, the first week will be a period devoted to helping the children cope and heal from what they saw during the offensive.
    Credit: Laura Dean

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