Gazan Family Opens What's Left Of A Home

Members of the al-Ajrami family try to rebuild what is left of their home in the Gaza Strip, after Israeli soldiers took over the house and destroyed it.
Members of the al-Ajrami family try to rebuild what is left of their home in the Gaza Strip, after Israeli soldiers took over the house and destroyed it.
CBS
This story was written by CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey.
By its very definition, war would seem to negate civility. Why would people who have no reason to be anything other than angry, bitter and infused with a desire for vengeance offer hospitality to strangers intruding upon their suffering?

And yet, in this reporter's experience at least, more often than not they do.

The ordinary Palestinians of Gaza take it to new levels.

Bumping our way through the devastation of an area that had been repeatedly pulverized by air strikes and tank shelling, we came across the men of the al-Ajrami family hammering a two-by-four across a gaping space in what was once (by Gaza standards) an upper-middle-class home.

They were trying, with a few nails, a hammer and a pair of pliers, to fix what for most of us would have been written off as an insurance claim. The difference is that here there is no insurance, and the home owners have nowhere else to go.

The Palestinians trapped in Gaza hold it as a truism that every bomb, rocket, mortar, tank and artillery shell that explodes among them is either made in or paid for by America. But even though we identified ourselves as being from a U.S. television network, they invited us into what remained of the house, into which they had sunk their savings barely a year ago.

Not a pane of glass remained. Holes had been smashed through walls by shells - and the occupiers making entrances and sniping positions. Doors were broken, furniture wrecked. Everything was covered with dust, broken masonry and plaster.

One had to wonder what kind of a reception a TV crew from an Arabic network - al-Jazeera, for example - would find if they crossed the property line of an American home blown apart by an Islamic faction.

Family patriarch Abdel Nasser al-Ajrami said the entire family had been sheltering in the room he was trying to close off when an Israeli soldier burst into the adjacent room, tossed a grenade, and closed the door. The carpet is seared. A pit has been blown in the floor, and the walls and ceiling are peppered with holes from small, sharp-edged, arrow-shaped projectiles called flechettes, a weapon designed to clear enemy positions like bunkers, not family living rooms.

The al-Ajramis were ordered to leave, and their home became an Israeli base.

When the fighting was over, the family came back to chaos.

"They even destroyed our personal memories," Abdel Nasser's wife Samaia said as she swept dirt, while her three-year-old granddaughter Saly, dressed in a pink jump suit, collected stray bits of debris. "They broke everything. Is this the culture of Israel? I don't know how those people could come into a well-organized house and leave it destroyed. With no reason."

All the Hamas rockets that had fallen on Israel, she believed, did not inflict as much damage as the Israeli shells had done to her home.

(CBS)
Nonetheless, Mrs al-Ajrami was determined to clean up, clear up and make it home again. Her family, she said, had to stay together.

"I wish that the American people could come to see the tragedy we have to live in," she said. "I want the American people to understand that we have been destroyed without any reason. I'd like them to sympathize with us and help us."

It came out not as a whine, but as a simple statement - a message from a woman who perhaps hoped other women might understand and, one supposes, in so doing make some small difference.

As for what difference she thought a TV crew might make, Mrs al-Ajrami didn't say. But she did insist we join the men of her family in what remained of their living room for a cup of sweet, steaming tea.

As we sipped it, Abdel Nasser said there was something that puzzled him. Why, he asked, did we think that in a house with three bathrooms the Israeli soldiers who had taken it over would choose to defecate in his wife's cooking pots?

He seemed more perplexed than angry, but perhaps he felt that to vent rage in front of guests would be a breach of hospitality.