Rubble. That’s been the one constant for the Awajah family for as long as I’ve known them.
Four months ago, their home was demolished by the Israeli military—and it wasn’t the first time that Kamal, Wafaa and their children had been through this. For the last six years, the family has found itself trapped in a cycle of destruction and reconstruction; their home either a tangle of shattered concrete and twisted rebar or about to become one.
I first met the Awajah family in August 2009, in the tent where they were living. I filmed them as they told me what had happened to them eight months earlier during the military invasion that Israel called Operation Cast Lead and said was a response to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
I had no intention of making a film when I went to Gaza, but after hearing the family’s story, I knew I had to. I returned again in 2012 and have continued to stay in touch in the years since, realizing that the plight of the Awajahs opened a window onto what an entire society was facing, onto what it’s like to live with an interminable war and constant fear. The Awajahs’ story shines a spotlight on what Palestinians in Gaza have endured for years on end.
What stuck with me most, however, was the demand of the Awajah children regarding the reconstruction of their new home in 2012: they insisted that the house have two doors.
What The Awajahs Saw
In separate interviews in 2009, Wafaa and Kamal Awajah told me the same story, each breaking down in tears as they offered me their memories of the traumatic events that had taken place eight months earlier—a night when they lost far more than a home. The next day, a still grief-stricken Wafaa walked me through her recollections of that night, pointing out the spot where each incident had taken place.
On January 4 am, as Operation Cast Lead’s ground campaign began, the Awajah family was at home. Wafaa’s eldest daughter, 12-year-old Omsiyat, woke her up at around 2 am. “Mom,” said Omsiyat, “soldiers are at the door.” Wafaa jumped out of bed to look. “There are no soldiers at the door, honey,” she reassured her daughter. When Omsiyat insisted, Wafaa looked again, and this time she spotted the soldiers and tanks. She lit candles in the window so that the Israeli troops would know that a family was inside.