A photographer takes family portraits in the surreal environment that is the aftermath of war.

Three months have passed since the ceasefire in Gaza was announced. The UN estimates that over 100,000 homes were damaged or destroyed during the summer hostilities, affecting more than 600,000 people. And though the slow pace of reconstruction is discouraging, families are moving back into their homes, trying to find normality in neighborhoods of ruins.

Shejaiya, in the east of Gaza City, was hit particularly hard when the ground invasion began. Photographer Kyrre Lien and I met Modi Hasani’s family there three weeks after Israel stopped its military operations. Residents said they were warned in advance through pre-recorded phone messages, but not everyone managed to escape. 78 people were killed within a few hours on July 20th. Among the victims were 17 Palestinian children and 14 women, along with 13 Israeli soldiers.

Secret tunnels connect this particular area of Gaza to Israel, making it prone to attacks. According to the Israeli military, hundreds of rockets were also being fired from here. Modi Hasani was lucky; his one-year-old daughter survived the attack. But the family home was severely damaged. The living room was turned into a pile of rocks and they have no water, sewage or electricity. “Where else should we go?” Hasani told us. “This is our home. I thank Allah that we can stay here.”

For a week, Kyrre photographed people with an old Russian panoramic camera named Horizont, creating family portraits in these surreal surroundings and showing that life continues, even among the ruins.

Hani Nasim (left) fears winter. He knows that rain will drop into the apartment through the holes in the roof created by mortars, and that the cold will creep through the broken windows.
“This is our house, and we moved back as we can’t afford to pay rent. Two of my sons are in university, and the other two are sick,” says Adnan Shrafi who lives in Shejaiya with his family. All of his neighbors have fled.
The Naser family waits for help in the ruins. “We were 35 in this house. Now we don’t know what we should do. We need help from the international community.”
Ziad Abu Assar boils coffee on a fire in the ruins of what was once a garage. His home is completely destroyed, so he lives in an apartment with his family in Gaza City.
“I don’t hate Israelis,” says Jamal Isla in his destroyed three-story house. “Why should I? They are my friends, and I can call them whenever I need help.” Isla worked as a salesman in Israel for 40 years before the blockade ended his business.
“Good thing I only have two children, says Rana Harara. “I could grab one in each hand when we had to flee the bombings.”
“My shop was destroyed by the bombings, so I have nothing left,” says Salama Sauuaf. He is waiting for help in the ruins with his youngest sons, while the oldest is in school.
“I thank Allah, at least we can still live here. This is better than living in a school,” says Modi Hasanin. He lives with his two wives and five children the ruins of his house in Shejaiya.
According to a bomb disposal expert in the Palestinian Interior Ministry, 20,000 tons of explosives had been dropped on Gaza by August 22nd.
The sun rises over Shejaiya in eastern Gaza. This was one of the worst affected areas by Israel’s ground invasion in July.
When she heard the explosions, Imen ran over to her big brother Mahmoud. She woke him up, and screamed that they had to run away. The pigeons in the garden fled and the chickens were killed by smoke and dust, but the whole family survived.
Residents of Shejaiya were told through pre-recorded phone messages that they should flee, but many waited until they heard the artillery and saw the flames. The Israeli border is just one kilometer away from this area.