Yesterday we published a brief account of an apparent massacre in the Palestinian village Khuza’a, a village east of Khan Younis and close to the Israeli border in Gaza. That had been sent to Felice Gelman over Facebook and today, Yamen Radwan sent Gelman another brief message: “#Massacre_Khuza’a: stilling going on until now executions of civilians and wounded by Israeli forces in the streets of Khuza’a.”
News reports of what happened, or is happening, in Khuza’a remain vague. Above, from Al Jazeera, is the only video news report we’ve been able to find. National Public Radio’s Emily Harris just now reported a telephone conversation with a woman who escaped the village after two days in a basement and who said that snipers were shooting people in the streets.
The Gaza NGO Palestinian Centre for Human Rights included these details from Khuza’a in an daily report it issued today covering events from yesterday:
At approximately 12:30, Israel forces that had moved into Khuza’a village, east of Khan Yunis, fired bullets and artillery shells at hundreds of Palestinian civilians who attempted to leave the village as there were reports about a one-hour coordination to evacuate casualties. Israeli forces fired also at ambulances and prevented them from entering the village.
At approximately 17:00, 12 ambulances attempted to enter Khuza’a village, but Israeli forces prevented and fired at them.
At approximately 18:30, an Israeli warplane launched a missile at a house belonging to Dr. Kamal Abu Rujaila, which he uses as clinic, in Khuza’a village, as a number of wounded Palestinians went to the house seeking medical aid. A number of casualties were reported as a result of the attack. Apparently, one Palestinian was killed. Medical crews were not able to reach the house. A volunteer paramedic, who was wounded throughout the body while he was attempting to evacuate wounded Palestinians, has been trapped in the area since Wednesday morning, 23 July 2014, as medical crews have not been able to reach him. According to reports from Khuza’a village, Israeli forces raided a number of houses and turned them into military sites. They also arrested scores of Palestinians. At approximately 23:00, an ICRC crew and 10 ambulances of Palestine Red Crescent Society went to Kuza’a village, but they were not able to evacuate victims because the situation was extremely dangerous.
At approximately 21:00, an Israeli warplane launched a missile at a number of Palestinian civilians in Khuza’a village, east of Khan Yunis, killing 2 of them: Mohammed Barham Abu Draz, 24; and ‘Essam Ibrahim Abu Ismail, 23.
At approximately 06:50, Israeli forces fired at dozens of Palestinian civilians who raised white flags and attempted to leave Khuza’a village, and forced them to go back homes.
At approximately 07:15, Israeli forces fired at a number of Palestinian civilians who attempted to leave Khuza’a through a dirt road leading to ‘Abassan village. One of these civilians, Mohammed Ahmed Suleiman al-Najjar, 56, was killed by a bullet to the neck. Two civilians were also wounded.
Also at approximately 08:30, medical crews were able to recover the body of Fadi Yousef Ahmed al-Najjar, 27, who is physically disabled, from Khuza’a village. He was killed by Israeli shelling.
At approximately 09:50, an Israeli drone fired a missile at a motor cart on which a number of Palestinian civilians were traveling attempting to leave Khuza’a village. As a result, 4 civilians were killed and another 2 ones were wounded. The victims have not been identified as their bodies were burnt.
This account is consistent with social media. The most complete comes from Khuza’a resident Mahmoud Ismail who tweeted out updates from the village. They were translated by Mohammad Alsaafin who retweeted them. The updates read:
Account: My family & I made it out, light injuries. Hundreds of casualties, bodies in the streets. Many of the dead in Khuza’a bled to death bc ambulances unable to reach. From my window I watched a 20 yr old die for hours. One doctor, Kamal Abu Rjeila, treated injuries that came into his clinic even after it was bombed & his father killed. The Israeli army used ten families as human shields. They took over their homes and wouldn’t let them escape.Home I was sheltering in with 50 others was bombed. I don’t know what happened to them but my shoes soaked in their blood. We escaped to our home under the cover of the dust from the bombing. Minutes later, it was hit by 3 artillery shells. We tried to escape on foot to Khuzaa’s exit, but helicopters fired on us. I saw a woman carrying her dead child in one arm and a white flag in the other. She used the white flag to wrap his body. As we walked I saw my uncle and his son, dead on the road next to their house. Snipers were hitting people in the legs. My other cousin died trying to save his bleeding brother in the street. They died on top of each other. There are corpses still lying in the streets, injured people waiting to become corpses, families who still haven’t escaped
The village was also attacked during Cast Lead, the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2009. The definitive report on the conflict by the UN Human Rights Council, the Goldstone Report of 2009, documented Israeli sniper killings of civilians in the village, and the prevention of ambulances from arriving to take the wounded away:
11. The shooting of Rouhiyah al-Najjar
780. The Mission visited the site of the shooting of Rouhiyah al-Najjar in Khuza’a. It interviewed two eyewitnesses of the shooting and six other witnesses to the events, including Yasmine al-Najjar, Nasser al-Najjar, Rouhiyah al-Najjar’s husband, and their daughter Hiba.
781. The Israeli armed forces launched the attack against Khuza’a, a small town about half a kilometre from the border (Green Line) with Israel east of Khan Yunis, around 10 p.m. on 12 January 2009. During the night, they used white phosphorous munitions, causing fires to break out in the al-Najjar neighbourhood on the eastern fringe of Khuza’a. Families in the neighbourhood, including the family of Nasser al-Najjar, his first wife Rouhiyah and their daughter Hiba, spent much of the night trying to extinguish fires in their houses. Israeli armed forces, possibly heliborne troops, had taken position on the roofs of some houses in the neighbourhood and observed the residents as they attempted to fight the fires. Around 3 a.m. residents also began to hear the noise of approaching tanks and bulldozers, with which they were well familiar, as in 2008 there had been several Israeli incursions into the farmland to the north and east of Khuza’a, in the course of which bulldozers flattened fields, groves, chicken coops and greenhouses.
782. In the early morning hours, some of the residents, including Rouhiyah al-Najjar, climbed on the roofs of their houses and hoisted improvised white flags. Using megaphones, the Israeli armed forces asked the men of the neighbourhood to come out of the houses and walk towards the tanks. There the men were separated into two groups which were then held in different houses under the control of the soldiers.
783. At some point between 7 and 7.45 a.m., Rouhiyah al-Najjar and the women in her immediate neighbourhood decided to leave their homes and walk with their children to the town centre. The group of women was headed by Rouhiyah al-Najjar and her 23-year-old neighbour and relative Yasmine al-Najjar, both carrying white flags. Rouhiyah’s daughter Hiba was right behind her. Other women were holding up babies in their arms, shouting “God is great!” and “We have children!” The group of women and children started moving down a straight alley, about six or seven metres wide, flanked on both sides by houses. At the other end of the alley, a little more than 200 metres away,431 was the house of Faris al-Najjar, which had been occupied by numerous Israeli soldiers (around 60 according to one witness). The soldiers had made a hole in the wall of the first floor of the house, giving them a good view down the alley into which the group of women and children were advancing. When Rouhiyah al-Najjar was about 200 metres from Faris al-Najjar’s house, a shot fired from that house hit her in the temple (she had just turned her head towards her neighbour next to her to encourage her). Rouhiyah al-Najjar fell to the ground; Yasmine was struck in her leg. This single shot was followed by concentrated gunfire, which forced the group of women and children to scramble back into the houses of Osama al-Najjar and Shawki al-Najjar, though it did not cause further injury. Because of the fire from the Israeli soldiers, they did not dare to leave the house and look after Rouhiyah al-Najjar. They stayed inside until around noon the same day, when they made a second, successful attempt to leave the neighbourhood and walk to a safer part of Khuza’a.
784. An ambulance driver from Khan Yunis hospital, Marwan Abu Reda, received a phone call from Khuza’a asking for emergency help for Rouhiyah al-Najjar at around 7.45 a.m. He immediately drove to Khuza’a and arrived in the neighbourhood shortly after 8 a.m., i.e. within no more than an hour from the shooting. He was already in the alley where Rouhiyah al-Najjar was lying on the ground when soldiers opened fire from houses or rooftops, forcing him to make a U-turn and take the ambulance to a nearby alley. He called PRCS and asked it to see access to the injured woman, through ICRC and in coordination with the Israeli armed forces, without success. Marwan Abu Reda was not able to pick up Rouhiyah al-Najjar’s (by then lifeless) body until the evening of that day. He confirmed to the Mission that she had received a bullet in the temple.
431 The Mission did not measure the distance; this is an estimate.
432 The Mission does not have information which would allow it to state whether Rouhiyah al-Najjar was still alive when the ambulance arrived.
12. Factual findings
785. The Mission has no reason to doubt the veracity of the main elements of the testimony of the witnesses it heard with regard to the shooting of Rouhiyah al-Najjar.
786. The Mission’s site inspection and the testimony of several witnesses appear to establish that the group of women and children led by Rouhiyah al-Najjar had slowly walked for at least 20 metres before the shot that killed Rouhiyahher was fired. During that time, Israeli soldiers standing on the roofs of the houses in the neighbourhood had ample time to observe the group.
The fact that, after shooting Rouhiyah and Yasmine al-Najjar, the soldiers directed warning fire at the group without injuring anyone, but forcing them to retreat to a house, is further indication that the soldiers had not observed any threat to them from the group. Indeed, a few hours later the same group was allowed to walk past the soldiers to a safer area of Khuza’a. The Mission accordingly finds that Rouhiyah al-Najjar was deliberately shot by an Israeli soldier who had no reason to assume that she was a combatant or otherwise taking part in hostilities.
787. The Mission also observes that, while it is unclear whether the ambulance from Khan Yunis hospital could have saved Rouhiyah al-Najjar’s life, the Israeli forces prevented the evacuation of the wounded woman without any justification.