Gaza on the precipice

Israel/Palestine
on 23 Comments

Chaos at Al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza City

Gaza has become a hell disaster. A hell disaster calculated, operated and executed by people not far from here who have no idea about the humanity they’ve set about destroying. I asked in my first report from Gaza, “Which people now preparing to go to their beds, will have their lives turned upside down by the loss of a loved one these next few days?”

In the days since, over a hundred more people who were alive when I wrote that, who may have wondered the same question, have been burned, crushed, torn open or blown up by the Israeli bombardments and tank shelling. It’s horrifying to predict more death, more heartache with such certainty, but this is Gaza right now.

Despite attempts at a ceasefire in Cairo and Jerusalem, visiting Arab foreign government delegations weeping in the hospitals, and hundreds of foreign journalists coming in to Gaza, the Israeli strategy is to continue to kill.

In the next thirty minutes another Palestinian civilian will have their life ended. Soon after I’ll know where they were killed, and in 45 minutes I’ll know their name, and soon after that I’ll know the age at which they were taken away from their families and loved ones. In offices about 50 miles away Israeli military strategists are deciding which family, bank, media office or neighbourhood will be eradicated throughout the day, and public relations are deciding whether they need to say the children lived in a terrorist command centre, weapons factory, communications bureau or safehouse. They say that for every man woman and child that is killed, and media in Europe and America repeat it. With power the lies can go much further.

Yesterday, Al-Shifa hospital was in chaos. In just a few minutes I saw eleven ambulances and eight cars arrive, transporting the dead and injured from an attack on Shejaiya, East of Gaza City. Men, women and children were hauled out of the vehicles, carried, put on stretchers and sprinted in to the hospital. Doctor Ayman Asahabani, head of emergency services said:

“There had been three attacks in Shejaiya, Zaytoun and Sabra neighbourhoods that all happened simultaneously. We had ten killed and many more injured all arriving together. It is very difficult. See the people coming in, they hit everyone. We are now struggling and non-life threatening injuries are being sent away as soon as possible.” A boy was being stopped from entering the hospital. He told me, “My father, my father is inside. He has shrapnel in his chest. My street was bombed by a drone, then F16 in Shejaiya. Baghdad street, many homes and families, I saw three were dead. They talk about ceasefire, but look at this.”

Thirty-eight aid agencies warned Monday of a humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip if violence continues. Palestinian Red Crescent General Director Dr Khalil Abu Foul and Director of Al Quds hospital told us that in one day, a month’s basic provisions like bandages, anaesthetics, antibiotics, sutures will be used. There are also shortages of detergents, gloves, IVU treatments, and some serious patients have been transferred to Egypt due to a shortage of ventilators and anti-swelling drugs.

8196735605 4646c28281 z
A Palestinian child in Al Shifa hospital, November 18, 2012.
(Photo: Anne Paq/ Activestills)

Overnight the attacks continued, one very close shook our building like never before, and one of the few windows we hadn’t taken down was smashed in the corridor. The piercing buzz of the drones above has not stopped for days and the shelling from the sea has intensified. The time between the thuds of the launch and the crash of the inland explosions from the gunships were much shorter indicating the Israeli navy was positioned right at the Gaza harbour. We will leave soon to see where exactly the bombs were landing.

A friend Malaka in Shejaiya messaged me last night, “Now, The IOF starts using new kinds of bombs at my region. It is like the phosphorous bomb. When they launch it, its shrapnel spread everywhere and it has a strange sound too. I don’t know what the next few moments will hold”. Dr Abu Foul confirmed to us that in each major attack new kinds of weapons have been used on the Palestinian people with unusual effects, such as the white phosphorous used in Operation Cast Lead four years ago. Witnesses are claiming similar burns effecting casualties this time. 

Malaka had also received leaflets dropped over many areas on the eastern side of Gaza yesterday evening. It was an Israeli Military Order to Gaza residents of Sheikh Ajleen, Tal Al-hawa, Al-Rimal Janoob, Al Zaytoon neighborhood, Shejaiya, Al Turkman, and New Shejaiya, Al-Shatey, Al-Atatrah, Beit Lahia, and Beit Hanoun to evacuate. It is impossible for over a third of Gaza’s population from some of the poorest areas to evacuate. No one was sure if this was the sign of upcoming ground invasions or more psychological warfare. “I’m really really sad. We had to leave our house in Altwaam,” one of my students told me. “We are in Rimal now. It’s not too safe but better than my area”. Thousands of others have left their homes.

The order exemplifies the Israel expectation that Palestinians should not argue when being forced out of their homes. Yahya Nahal said, “I was forced from my house where Israel is now. I have lived my life under military occupation and the siege of Gaza. Where do they want me to go now?” He was outside his house in Northern Gaza along the beach when he and other family members were hit on Sunday by an F16 bomb. He was in hospital when we met him with shrapnel deep in his leg and torso. “My nephew is dead. My cousins are in intensive care. My nine year old niece Tasmine was buying something for her little brother from the shop nearby. She came out and shrapnel flew in to her, she had no chance.”

The news and many visits over the last few days confirmed that the carnage brought about by the initial attack has been dwarfed as we have entered a new chapter of violence. The latter half of the week saw four times more dead than the first half with the current Palestinian death toll at 149 compared to five Israelis killed in the same period. Again the majority are civilians and over 1200 have been injured, with 35 Palestinian children killed.

8202718983 fdf11139c4 z
Ruins of a Palestinian stadium hit by an Israeli airstrike, Gaza City, November 19, 2012.
(Photo: Anne Paq/Activestills)

On Saturday we ordered a taxi and sped round to see what had been the damage by the previous night’s attacks. The Gaza Interior Ministry, where I had been regularly on my arrival and from where I was still expecting to receive my foreign ID card, had been turned to rubble. A large school next door was burnt out, and as F16s were heard in the distance we ran back to the taxi. The Government Headquarters was also destroyed, and we went round a neighbour’s house that had been severely damaged in the attack. Four huge craters marked the side of the Palestine Stadium, each one about 20 metres across and dropped in a near perfect line, the stink of sulphur still rising.

Also on Saturday, a Palestinian friend described how his cousin’s house was destroyed along with the Bureij Al Rahman Mosque in a F16 and drone attack. Around 3am early on Saturday morning two drone missiles hit the roof of the house. Within two minutes of leaving the house, a two ton F16 missile was dropped on to the mosque next to their house. When they came back the next morning the explosion at the mosque had partially destroyed his house. Shaban Alashkar, the father, said, “after the first drone missile we didn’t go out so they knew we were still there, they were watchinig us, 2 minutes later they bombed the house. When the family went up to the roof for the first time, it was then that they all began to weep, as the extent of the damage was understood.”

As well as many mosques, three media buildings have now been targeted, and three journalists killed. We saw Al Shawa building hit by a drone, three floors of the Shorouq building burnt out and Na’ama building has just been attacked as I write. These buildings host ITN, Russia Today, Sky, French Press and Aljazeera among many other international news stations, and I have previously reported from all of them. Israel claims it is targeting Al-Aqsa, the government media station, which again contravenes international law.

8197439816 6eb65362d2 z
Khader Haidar al-Zahhar, 20, in Al Shifa hospital’s
intensive care unit. (Photo: Anne Paq/ Activestills)

Khadar Zahar, was a twenty year old cameraman for Al-Quds TV. He lost his leg in the attack on Al Shawa building top floor by three missiles from a drone. “Friends came to carry me but another missile hit.” He told us in the intensive care unit. “I fell down and everyone fled for cover.  While I was bleeding I went down two floors, crawling with my leg dragging behind. I had to wait for ambulances. It was three missiles so we were clearly targeted.”

Many have been injured in the ongoing attacks on media. Also in intensive care was a six year old girl who fell out of the third floor of a building next to the Shorouq building because of the blast there. The doctor told us she was haemorrhaging and had a 50-50 chance of survival.

According to the last week, the media doesn’t matter and neither do ambulance workers. According to Dr. Abu Foul, “We are protected by the Geneva conventions we should not be targetted, we are trying to save lives. It is obvious who we are, we have sirens wailing and fluorescent rescuer jackets. Yet nine of our ambulance workers have been injured so far by return attacks and seventeen were killed before in the Cast Lead attacks.”

8198762989 7c01e57b70 z
A man holding one of the Abu al-Dalu children during the Abu al-Dali funeral in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City, November 19, 2012. (Photo: Anne Paq/Activestills)

Major casualties have been children. This was most horrifically manifested as arrived at the scene of what was the three-story Dalou family home, along Nasser street in Gaza City. With no warning, F16s dropped huge bombs, destroying the building with an estimated 15 people in it. We arrived to see the road filled with rubble, twisted metal and concrete with crowds of neighbours and ambulances waiting. Eight bodies had been pulled out, a man, four children and three women. Another woman’s body was pulled out while we were there. Four women died in total: Samah, Tahani, Suhaila and Ranim and four children – Jamal, 6, Yousef, 4, Sarah, 7, and 1-year-old Ibrahim. They were buried in Gaza City on Monday. The bombing of a family home is an evident war crime under any circumstance. The Hamas member alleged to have been targeted by Israel is understood not to have been there, and they are still searching for another little girl. Attacks on family homes have been a common occurrence.

Late Monday night Fouad Hijazi and his sons Mohammed Hijazi who is four and Suheib who is two years old, were murdered in their house in Beit Laheya. Fouad’s wife, Amna, was also pulled from the rubble. She was in intensive care but died shortly after. In all, 14 were wounded in this attack. An American friend went to the funeral yesterday.

Once the victims are counted up, the ceasefire discussions reported from Egypt and Jerusalem were appearing increasingly unlikely. Israeli F16s and drones spent the whole day and night targeting civilians, press cars, family homes. Even if you don’t understand that Palestinians have suffered years of ethnic cleansing, military occupation and in Gaza a five year encroaching siege on their land, air and sea borders, you can at least assess the recent days events. More Palestinians are now being killed each day than the total Israelis killed in eight years by Palestinian rockets.

The last days of Israeli attacks have been about the children of Gaza, as so many have been pulled limp and lifeless out of the rubble of their homes. As the mass scale bombings and gunship shellings at the beginning of the six days pulverised Gaza, the last days have seen frequent direct attacks on civilian homes, buildings, mosques, shops and factories. We’ve just heard that the Palestine stadium has been completely destroyed, a common theme as kids playing football have been attacked frequently. We will now visit an UNRWA school full of people who have evacuate, refugees for a second third, fourth time.

Its Mahmoud Darwish again:

Where should we go after the last frontiers?  
Where should the birds fly after the last sky?

Witnessing the merciless punishment of a defenceless and blameless people makes my heart heavy. Witnessing the human loss while governments and media sing for the perpetrator, makes my mind numb. It feels like you’re in no man’s land. Where dead kids don’t matter. Where it’s okay for people’s houses to fall in. Where every person living here can be executed and in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter. Things matter, when most of the world’s humanity decides it should. This means pressuring politicians, this means mobilisation, this means direct action, this means relentless protest, this means contacting and approaching media, and this means spreading the stories of those in the besieged Gaza Strip, the brave Palestinian youth determined to give voice to the destruction they are facing. This is what Palestinians need from you, for the whole region right now is on the precipice, and the children of Gaza will fall first.

Here are some of the names of the no longer living:

  • Gumana Salamah Abu Sufyan, 1 year old.
  • Tamer Salamah  Abu Sufyan, 3 years old.
  • Eyad Abu Khusa, 18 months old.
  • Tasneem Zuheir Al-Nahhal, 13 years old.
  • Ranin Mohammed Jamal Al-Dalou, 5 years old.
  • Jamal Mohammed Jamal Al-Dalou, 7 years old.
  • Yousef Mohammed Jamal Al-Dalou, 10 years old.
  • Ibrahim Mohammed Jamal Al-Dalou, 1 year old.
  • Hussein Jalal Nasser, 8 years old.
  • Mohammed Iyad Abu Zour, 5 years old.
  • Rama Al-Shandi, 1 year old

    Leave a Reply