Late last night, a text message notified us that the Israeli government was very close to declaring that they would stop attacking Gaza for one day. Shortly before midnight, we heard huge explosions, four in a row. Till now, that was the last attack. Israeli drones flew overhead all night long, but residents of Rafah were finally able to get eight hours of sleep uninterrupted by F16s and Apache helicopters attacking them.
Audrey Stewart and I stayed with Abu Yusif and his family, all of whom had fled their home closer to the border and were staying in the house of Abu Yusif's brother-in-law, who is out of the country, loaned to him.
The family arose this morning after a comparatively restful slumber.
For the first time in three weeks, they weren't attacked by bombs throughout the night. This morning, while his wife prepared breakfast, he and the children nestled together, on a mat, lining the wall. Abu Yusif had a son under each arm, while the youngest son playfully circled his siblings and then fell into his father's lap. Umm Yusif prepared a mixture of date preserves and pine nuts, served with warm bread, cheese and spices. Her daughter smiled in contentment, while her nephew, her husband and a close family friend talked about the news.
The family isn't confident that Israel's attacks will end, nor can they know what Hamas will choose to do, but today residents of Rafah were able to at least begin assessing the damage. Abu Yusif and his son took us to their home very close to the border. The house is still standing – he'll need to repair broken windows and doors, but he is better off than many of his neighbors whose houses are now piles of rubble.
Very near his home are the remnants of tunnels that are now unusable. A few dozen people picked through the rubble, salvaging wood for fuel.
Young boys carried pieces of wood in remnants of plastic formerly used to cover tomato plants. An older man told me he is afraid to carry even a piece of wood. Pointing upward, he explained that the unmanned surveillance planes circle the skies all day. If it appeared that he was carrying a rocket instead of a piece of wood, he might be targeted for assassination.
Sitting around an ashcan fire, people who had maintained the tunnels tell us that they dream of freedom: freedom of movement and basic human rights. Every person can dream, but human beings in Palestine can't dream of anything else but freedom, to sleep without bombing and to live without suffering from extreme stress. Fida, who translates for us, tells me she has a terrible headache every day, from the stress. She feels worse at night. Her little sister is so terrified that she can't walk a step without help from her mother and sister.
She says that if Israel opens the border there won't be any need to open the tunnels. If borders don't open, people will rebuild the tunnels.
Hussein tells us about a doctor who worked in an Israeli hospital. The doctor is a Palestinian who lived in Rafah. The Israeli hospital where he works is about 100 meters from where we sat. Last week, the Israelis destroyed his home and killed his children. "Why do you destroy my house?" he asks. He lost his children and his home, but he still works in the Israeli hospital. "Israel is experimenting with us, using white phosphorous and other new kinds of bombs."
One man, a teacher, says he hasn't had one day without sorrow. He listens to the children he teaches tell many stories about how their homes were destroyed. He hopes his own child and other children like him can live like other children in the world. He hopes his son, his only child, will have a better life.
"Show the world we are friendly and we don't love war," he tells us. "Israel forces us to live under these conditions. The war is not only against Palestinians in Gaza. It is against all Palestinians. They want us to leave this land, but we can't leave it. They don't want us to wake up safe."
All of the men speaking with us had to leave their homes and find other places to live.
The drones still fly overhead, promising the possibility of further attack. If Hamas is accused of breaking the cease fire, the people will pay.
Abu Yusif examines the damage done to his house. He tries to fix a broken water heater. His sons collect a bag of clothing so that everyone in the family can change clothes for the first time in three weeks. Maybe, just maybe, they'll have another night of sleep. And, an even more distant dream, perhaps they'll return to their homes in peace.