When 91 year old Ibrahim Abu Sayed left his home near Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza, yesterday morning, in order to check on his land and his animals which graze next to the remains of his former home, he took with him his 17-year-old grandson Hossam and the young boy’s friend and neighbour, 16-year-old Ismail Abu Oda. His son, Hossam’s father, didn’t want to come because it was the final day of Eid ul-Fitr, the Muslim festival that follows the holy month of Ramadan.
Despite his age, Ibrahim Abu Sayed was still mobile enough to regularly check his 3 dunums of land, as he had done for decades. The last decade had been the hardest as his house was destroyed in 2000 by Israeli bulldozers and his rebuilt house destroyed in the 3-week Israeli war on Gaza over the New Year of 2009.
But early Saturday evening would be the last time Ibrahim, Hossam and Ismail would work their land. Seven hundred metres away from their land – north of Sharab Street – at the border with Israel, tanks made an incursion into Gaza. The old man, his grandson and the friend did not stand a chance when the tanks fired shells directly at them.
“I was there half an hour before it happened”, said Mohammed Abu Oda, another relative. “I saw them by their sheep. I heard the shells from the Israeli tanks, the shells we learned soon afterwards had killed our relatives.”
They were killed instantly, and were dead on arrival at Beit Hanoun hospital, according to the doctor who examined them. Ibrahim suffered severe shrapnel injuries to his face, chest and stomach and his grandson Hossam had the back of his head blown away. ISM activists verified this immediately as they saw and photographed the mutilated bodies in the morgue. Ismail, Hossam’s friend, had arrived at the hospital 30 minutes after the others but had been buried before ISM arrived at the hospital; according to doctors much of his head was shot away.
The boys had been close friends, studying in the 9th and 10th grade respectively, and had expected to return to school after the end of Eid, the following day. But yesterday they still were on holidays, so they went to help Ibrahim, as they often would. Despite the struggle they endured after their house was destroyed and their land bulldozed, the family, who are Bedouins, had no other job except farming. Although they were obliged to farm their land close to the border, it was still far enough away to be outside the Israeli imposed “buffer zone”
“Israel claims that there’s a 300 meter buffer zone, but they were 700 meters away from the border”, said one of Ismail’s uncles, Majdy Abu Oda.
“The people there are farmers who’ve been living there for years. We, the people here, were never dangerous for the Israelis. They have photos of the people who live and work here, the area is full of observation cameras. So they knew them.”
Because of this the family considered themselves to be relatively safe, even though there were tanks at the border. It turned out they were mistaken to feel even slightly secure. While all the inhabitants of Gaza are victims of Israel’s ‘collective punishment’, a crime against humanity according to article 33 of the Geneva Convention (of which Israel is a signatory), they are the latest to be subjected to its worst manifestation and murdered with complete impunity.
If a 91 year old man, his grandson and young boy were killed while tending to their livestock on their own farm, 700 metres from a border, somewhere else in the world, there would likely be outcry. Where is the international outrage? Where is the clamour for justice? If equal standards were applied the media uproar should at least be comparable to the condemnation over the Israeli settlers shot two week ago – people who were living illegally on stolen land according to international law. Israeli armed forces have continued to wage a war against civilians in Gaza, long after the Israeli air and ground assault in the winter of 2008/2009 ended, yet condemnation of this state terrorism and its innocent civilian victims is rarely heard.
The family clearly posed no threat; they were known as long term residents of the area. But Israeli soldiers knew they could kill these three men with impunity, having previously almost entirely destroyed their livelihood.
Saber Zaneen, General Coordinator of the Beit Hanoun solidarity group, ‘Local Initiative’, released a statement following the killings, calling for justice.
“Today the occupation committed a new crime which will be added to its black list. Three martyrs now rest in heaven after the shelling and again we call on the international community and civil society to pressure the occupation forces to stop such crimes against Palestinian civilians and to start working on giving some protection to the local people in the Gaza strip,” he said.
They have also announced that tomorrow (Tuesday) morning at 10AM there will be a demonstration against the killings involving a march towards the fence, next to the Erez border. Four International Solidarity Movement activists will be there to accompany the protestors and document the likely violent repression which it may be subjected to – at the last non-violent demonstration in the area, live ammunition was used by Israeli border soldiers.