‘I’m Still Here’: Post-Cease-fire, Gaza Starts to Rebuild

Graffiti at the house of Osama, a Palestinian coast guard. Osama’s large, two-storey house was devastated in the bombings. He was angry because he said it would have been much easier to rebuild if they had destroyed it completely, whereas now, he will have to bear the cost of knocking it down before being able to rebuild. One thing is certain though: he won’t leave. This is his house. If they destroy it, he will build another one. Again and again. Gaza City, the Gaza Strip.
Osama, a Palestinian coast guard, said it would be much easier to rebuild had his house been destroyed completely. Now, he will have to bear the cost of knocking it down. Gaza City. Photo: Eloisa d’Orsi

Eloisa d’Orsi is quick to admit that she hasn’t spent much time in the Middle East and wasn’t very knowledgable about the Israel-Palestine conflict when the latest Israeli operation in Gaza broke out. The French photojournalist — who has also covered the crisis in Ukraine and Syrian refugees — was at home in Spain, and found herself looking at the devastation in Gaza, wondering whether she was getting the full picture. The way to see what was truly happening for herself, she decided, was by taking a trip to Gaza and doing fieldwork.

Once in Israel, d’Orsi first went to the West Bank and entered Gaza through the Erez Crossing during the August 10 cease-fire. “It felt like being in Stalingrad,” she writes. “Whole neighborhoods had been leveled.” On her trip, d’Orsi visited Gaza’s southern regions and the hardest-hit neighborhoods of Gaza City. Everywhere she went, d’Orsi writes, locals initially thought she and her companions were representatives of the U.N., the Red Cross, or even Amnesty International.

Over 2,000 Palestinians died in the course of Israel’s last offensive in Gaza, and over 17,000 homes need rebuilding. (Often, the Israeli military would send out text message alerts, flyers, or warning shots, telling residents to leave homes minutes before it bombed them.) In d’Orsi’s photographs, the range of destruction is evident: some completely obliterated, others damaged beyond habitability. Rebuilding the Strip may run up a tab of over $7 billion.

In Gaza, d’Orsi photographed ordinary civilians with what remained of their homes. Often, she says, they would sleep in the rubble of their homes, or on what remained of their roofs. Barefoot children walked around amid the destruction.

At first, d’Orsi was confused about why her subjects were eager to portray themselves as victorious in the photographs, even when they were next to slaughtered sheep and destroyed houses. But at the end, she understood: There was a power in surviving, in reconstructing, and in staying where they are. In a sense, the Palestinians are saying that after it all, “I’m still here.”

24-year old Walid Rouck in what remains of his house in Khuza’a, in the Gaza Strip. A mother from the neighborhood was looking for what could be salvaged from under the rubble. Photo: Eloisa d’Orsi
A resident looks at his ruined house. Khuza’a, Khan Yunis, the Gaza Strip. Photo: Eloisa d’Orsi
View of the Shejaiya district in the Gaza Strip, taken during the ceasefire from the roof of the damaged El Murabetin mosque. Despite the damage, people continue to go there to pray. Photo: Eloisa d’Orsi
A resident who has returned to her house to see what remains. Al-Tufah Area, the Gaza Strip. Photo: Eloisa d’Orsi
Moneer Saleh Almobaied in the ruins of his house. This war has been worse than the others, but he thinks he’ll manage this time too. He sleeps on a mattress nearby. Photo: Eloisa d’Orsi
Huwaida Ramadan and her friend reading the Koran inside Huwaida’s destroyed house in the Al-Tufah Area in the Gaza Strip. Photo: Eloisa d’Orsi
10-year old Ahmed Alnjar sleeping outside his destroyed house in the middle of a large area which has been devastated by Israeli airstrikes. Khuza’a, the Gaza Strip. Photo: Eloisa d’Orsi
A makeshift shelter in Rafah, the Gaza Strip. Photo: Eloisa d’Orsi
Amad, who has returned to his destroyed house in the Bedouin village of Al-qaria Al-Badawia, in the Gaza Strip. All the sheep and many cows are dead. Photo: Eloisa d’Orsi
Rafah, the Gaza Strip. Photo: Eloisa d’Orsi
Saqer Alqatrous, a young father, collects what useful things he can find. His house was destroyed because of a Hamas target next door. Rafah, the Gaza Strip. Photo: Eloisa d’Orsi
The family of Saqer Alqatrous is putting what they can back in order. For now, the sheep are in the kitchen and the family eats in the courtyard. Rafah, the Gaza Strip. Photo: Eloisa d’Orsi
Hanin Yousaf Naja found six bodies rotting in the bathroom. She closed the bathroom due to the stench but left it covered with blood “for Amnesty International.” Photo: Eloisa d’Orsi
A plate of rice in a bombed house in Gaza City. The family was eating rice in their living room a few minutes before receiving an SMS saying that the area was going to be bombed. Photo: Eloisa d’Orsi
The soap factory of Abu Ahmad Habosh, in Gaza City. The children of the owner and of the employees help remove rubbish and look for what can be salvaged. Photo: Eloisa d’Orsi
A ray of sun in a desolate Gaza City in the early days of the ceasefire. Photo: Eloisa d’Orsi
‘I’m Still Here’: Gaza After the Cease-fire