Youssif Hassan Khalil Balousha standing at the
entrance of his demolished home

During the recent Israeli offensive, ‘Operation Pillar
of Defence’ (14 – 21 November 2012), Israeli forces attacked streets, family
homes, and civilian buildings in densely populated areas, causing injuries and
deaths amongst civilians, and extensive destruction to civilian property in the
Gaza Strip. 127 civilian houses were completely destroyed, another 153 civilian
houses were extensively damaged and more than 600 houses sustained minor
damage.


On Sunday, 18 November 2012, at approximately 01:50
am, in an incident of ‘roof-knocking’, 4 warning missiles were fired at a
4-storey house in the Beit Lahia housing project in the northern Gaza Strip. Ten
minutes later, the house was completely destroyed in an airstrike. As a result
of the attack, 5 more houses were destroyed and a further 6 were severely
damaged.


Youssif Hassan Khalil Balousha (56) recalls his
experience: “On the night of the incident, I and 11 members of my family were
sleeping in our house. At around 01:45 am, my eldest son knocked on my bedroom door
and woke me up. He told me that our neighbours’ house had been hit with warning
missiles. We decided to evacuate our house, fearing that we might be attacked
as well. I got my family members out of the house. I thought of sending them to
my brother’s house, which is near our house. I thought my brother’s house would
be safer as it is made from concrete, whereas the roof of my house was made of
asbestos.”


Youssif describes the air strike that destroyed his
home: “When the attack happened, I was standing on the doorstep of my house. My
son and my nephew were there too. It felt like a big earthquake, and some debris
from my house fell on us. I fainted due to the impact of the attack. I was
taken to the hospital, but I don’t remember it. At around 3 am, the doctors in
the hospital managed to wake me up. My son came and told me that our house had
been destroyed in the attack. I was devastated, and I couldn’t believe what he
was saying. I was discharged from the hospital at 5 am. I sent some of my
family members to my son-in-law’s house and some others took shelter with
neighbours whose houses had survived the attack.”

 


A damaged room in Youssif’s house


Later that morning, Youssif and his sons assessed the
damage caused to their house: “It was a nightmare. Everything we owned – our
belongings, clothes, furniture – had been destroyed in the attack. It was
extremely painful, as if all of my family’s hard work had vanished in a few
hours. This is the first time that my property was attacked. I had only heard
about the difficulties that other people faced after their homes were destroyed.
Realising that I had to now build everything again seemed unfair. It is
unfair.”


Youssif and his family have had difficulties finding
an alternative place to stay, as he explains, “After the war ended, my sons and
I tried finding a place where we could all live together again, but we could
not find the right place. Right now, we are staying in an apartment in Beit
Lahiya, but it is very inconvenient. I cannot afford a big apartment because I
am unemployed. The only one of us who is earning a wage is my son. He is a
labourer in an aluminium workshop and earns just 10 shekels a day. After the war,
I had to take many loans from various people in my community to purchase basic things
that my family needs. We are living in a very bad situation. I haven’t been
able to pay the rent for this month and the landlord has threatened to evict us
if we don’t pay him soon.”


After the attack, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in
the Near East (UNRWA) assessed Youssif’s house: “They told me that it will cost
10,440 US dollars to reconstruct my house. I can’t afford this much money. We
received blankets and mattresses from the International Committee of the Red Cross,
and some food from other aid organisations. I have received just 700 dollars
from the government, but that is not enough. I go to the UNRWA office in
Jabalya every Sunday to ask when my house will be rebuilt.”


 

 

The house was damaged almost 5 months ago, but the
debris has not yet been cleared


As the Occupying Power of the Gaza Strip, Israel is must
fulfil its obligations under the international human rights treaties and
covenants it has signed and ratified. Under international humanitarian law, in
particular Article 53 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, any destruction by
the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or
collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public
authorities, or to social or cooperative organisations, is prohibited, except
where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.
Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that extensive destruction
of such protected property, which cannot be justified by military necessity, is
a grave breach of international humanitarian law. In addition, Article
8(2)(b)(iv) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court states that
it is a war crime to intentionally launch an attack in the knowledge that such an
attack will cause incidental loss of life, injury to civilians, damage to
civilian objects, or widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural
environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and
direct overall military advantage anticipated.


Moreover, in carrying out attacks in densely-populated
areas in the Gaza Strip, causing the destruction of civilian homes, Israel
violates the right to adequate housing, which is provided for under, inter
alia
, Article 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights.