Written by: Abdel Ghani Salameh

The house serves myriad functions, fulfilling them quietly and embodying moral responsibilities that complement its physical roles. While every house offers physical protection in the form of security and shelter, its paramount contribution lies in moral safeguarding—instilling a sense of security. Thus, its walls stand as a demarcation between two realms: the external, characterised by weariness, clamour, apprehension and unease, and the internal, providing comfort and tranquillity. Apart from being the pivotal incubator for familial connections, it essentially encapsulates a miniature version of the larger world, encompassing a spectrum of elements—ideas, emotions, lifestyles, the tempo of the era and all that caters to our needs, desires, as well as the innovations and creations generated by the world.

The home imparts a sense of familiarity and warmth through the affection, daily routines and family ties ingrained within its walls. Devoid of its inhabitants' interactions, even the most beautiful and luxurious house merely stands as an assemblage of lifeless walls and cold furniture. A house takes on its true identity with its inhabitants—alive with their movements, breaths and evening rituals, entwined in chaos and intimacy, resonating with the playful games and mischief of their children. In contrast to the external constraints of controls, laws and prohibitions, the home affords freedom. Within its confines, one can act as they please, navigate freely, engage in personal customs and rituals, embrace both madness and laziness and cultivate individual ideas and secrets without external interference.

The home serves as the custodian and creator of memories—a repository comprising a library, a photo album, cherished gifts, old letters, the characters in favourite television series and even the ornately decorated tea cups tucked away in the "anthills." It encapsulates nostalgia for the stages of childhood and the vitality of youth, resonating with the echoes of fathers' voices and the enduring fragrance of mothers within its folds. Hence, our most cherished dwelling remains the humble childhood home. Beyond mere walls, a home encompasses the surrounding neighbours, the locality, the corner shop, the neighbour who precedes even relatives in visits and the alley where the laughter of your children resonates.

The house plays a crucial aesthetic role, evident in both its interior and exterior design. Upon closer inspection of its contents and furnishings, one discovers that aesthetics is integral, with the beauty or emptiness resonating in the psychology of its inhabitants. As a mirror reflecting our personalities, the house becomes a symbol of homeland—a tangible representation of its essence, embodying both material and moral dimensions. Mahmoud Darwish succinctly encapsulated this sentiment, expressing the desire for a simple wall to hang a coat—a profound simplicity that resonates with the essence of home. The house encapsulates a profound love story, unspoken yet complete. Both the dwelling and its inhabitants share an intertwined fate—whether a grand palace or a humble abode. Should its inhabitants forsake it, even the most magnificent structure would swiftly age, its doors yearning for a familiar knock until, like a lifeless body, it succumbs to collapse.

Those who truly grasp the value and significance of a home are often those who have lost it, particularly victims of wars, conflicts and natural disasters. Amongst the gravest war crimes are the deliberate demolitions of homes. During the Nakba, tens of thousands of houses were razed by Israel, transforming their inhabitants into refugees forced to seek shelter in tents. Over the course of half a century of occupation in the West Bank, more than 25,000 Palestinian homes were completely demolished. Israel persists in its demolitions. Those engaged in resistance in the West Bank face arrest or death, followed by the demolition of their family's home. The cycle intensifies as they are prevented from rebuilding, and even if reconstruction is attempted, it faces the relentless cycle of demolition once more.

The most profound tragedy unfolds when an individual is compelled to dismantle their own home, a harrowing reality imposed by the occupying forces in occupied Jerusalem. The inhabitants face a stark choice: either self-demolish or witness the occupying forces’ bulldozers raze their abode, all while being burdened with the financial strain of the demolition, inclusive of lunch expenses and the cost of a temporary toilet for the bulldozer operator's use during the agonizing process. Is there a greater form of oppression than this?

In the aggression on the Gaza Strip, its residents endured tragedies of unparalleled magnitude, surpassing human endurance, met with resilience amid profound wounds. Israel, in its assault, levelled more than two hundred thousand homes and apartments. Each dwelling crumbled under the impact of a missile, reduced to rubble at the same pace it once stood. The heart-breaking simplicity lies in the fact that after a Palestinian dedicates a lifetime to constructing their home—stone by stone, brick upon brick, sacrificing and penny by penny, selling possessions and forsaking life's joys—the culmination is abrupt. In an instant, the house built over years collapses. All weariness dissipates, dreams extinguish and hopes shatter. Surviving becomes the solitary solace, with the family's preservation offering a semblance of comfort, a stark reality where, tragically, survival is not always guaranteed.

In this aggression, individuals found themselves compelled to abandon their homes due to the constant threat of bombings. They ventured out in search of safer havens, confronted with the pressing question: What possessions do we take with us? Do we prioritise old photos, children's games, personal messages, cherished mementos? Or do we suffice with essential provisions, such as canned goods and lightweight blankets and clothing? How did they bid their final farewell to their homes when they were certain it would be their last gaze? They sought refuge in the shelter centre in the south, joining hundreds of thousands of displaced individuals, all of whom had suffered the loss of their homes and belongings. In Gaza, no street or house remained untouched by bombings. Supplies had dwindled, water became a precious commodity, hunger took its toll, epidemics proliferated and life transformed into a harrowing ordeal.

Then someone approaches you with words like, "The house can be compensated." The reality is that a house is irreplaceable, as eloquently expressed by Mahmoud Joudah from the heart of Gaza: "Our homes are not replaceable. They encapsulate the minutiae of our daily existence—quiet moments, noise, routines, whispers, scents, memories, gifts and books. Our children, our clothing, the photo album and our endearing little secrets." Our homes aren't merely constructed from stone; they are woven from the fabric of our being—our flesh, labour and dreams. Their essence is enduring and irreplaceable. While it is possible to construct new ones (albeit challenging), the compensation will never equate to what once existed, for a house is not interchangeable with money. It embodies a comforting embrace and an elusive scent that proves challenging to recreate. Its composition speaks the language of our experiences, affirming, "Yes, I yearn and struggle, yet someone like me harbours secrets unrevealed."

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's views and not necessarily the Association's or donor's opinion.