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Testimony to Goldstone: ‘What happened at the mill is total destruction’

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elbaderflourmillThe Al-Bader Flour Mill. The destroyed area in the middle contained the mill’s production facility. (Photo: gloucester2gaza)

Ethan Bronner’s article on the Israeli response to the Goldstone Report said that Israel hopes to discredit Goldstone’s account of the conflict, and especially the contention that Israel purposely attacked Gaza’s civilian infrastructure. Bronner referenced the destruction of the Al-Bader flour mill, Gaza’s only working flour mill at the time, and shared Israel’s version of events:

The Goldstone report asserts that the Bader flour mill “was hit by an airstrike, possibly by an F-16.” The Israeli investigators say they have photographic proof that this is false, that the mill was accidentally hit by artillery in the course of a firefight with Hamas militiamen.

Bronner inexplicably did not seek out confirmation of Israel’s claims, and instead just reported on the Israeli "proof." We have been posting segments from the Goldstone Report, and one of the amazing resources that the United Nations has made available are the actual transcripts of the testimony the Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict heard. Here is the testimony regarding the destruction of the Al-Bader flour mill. It was given during a public hearing in Gaza City on June 29, 2009. You can find all the transcripts here.

(Note: The UN makes clear this is an unofficial transcript and is "posted as an information guide to the contents of the Public Hearings.")

Chairman Richard Goldstone

Well, good afternoon. This is – I welcome you back for the afternoon session on this, the second and concluding day of our public hearings in Gaza, and our first witness this afternoon is Mr. Rashad Hamada. I welcome you, Mr. Hamada, and thank you very much for coming to speak to us. I just want to confirm that you are aware that the proceedings are being televised, not only in Gaza but elsewhere in the world and that you have no objection.

Voice of interpreter speaking Arabic

Chairman Richard Goldstone

Thank you very much indeed. If you could tell us your full name and what you do, and then if you can talk to us about the events concerning the Al-Bader Flour Mill,that is owned by you and your brother.

Mr. Rashad Hamada

To begin with, I would like just salute to all the members of this Mission. My name is Rashad Mohammed Abraham Hamada. I am the general director and in charge of all the companies of Rashad Mohammed and Brothers Holdings. My brother and myself are the owners, and we work in the field of food production. We have a factory for tomato canning and another factory for fruit canning, in addition to Al-Bader Flour Mills, these were targeted during the Israeli aggression against Gaza.

In addition, we have a factory for the production of diapers. Our company, in normal days, has about 200 employees, be they engineers, technicians or workers. This is my introduction about myself, as you asked.

Chairman Richard Goldstone

Thank you, Mr. Al-Bader, if you would continue telling us something about the factory, the size, where it’s located and what happened during the Operation Cast Lead.

Mr. Rashad Hamada

During the Cast Lead Operation against Gaza, Al-Bader Flour Mill were destroyed. These flourmills of Rashad Hamada and Brothers, we had established in the year 2000. The production capacity is 220 tons daily. To establish this flour mill in the Gaza Strip was originally to make sure there was a provision of flour to all the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, especially during times of crisis, especially during the event of 2003, during the incursion into the Gaza, uh –. And at the beginning of the year 2000, we also had very large production, and at the beginning of the siege of Gaza, there were 15,000 tons of wheat and we were able to provide supplies for all the inhabitants of Gaza.

Chairman Richard Goldstone

Wheat, ah, flour.

Mr. Rashad Hamada

The local market, the local market, because the local market needs the full capacity of production of the mill. In addition, in 2005, we also faced some problems at the crossings because of the repeated closures. The mill covered all the needs of the Gaza Strip. This flourmill, and we thank God it is a private flourmill with no political affiliation. It is a purely economic activity.

At the end of last year, in particular, after the fourth of November 2008 the crossing points were closed. Wheat was denied access into the Strip. Fortunately, the flourmill had a reserve. This reserve was about 9,000 tons of wheat. This quantity of flour was the protective shield for the inhabitants of Gaza in order not to force a famine and a shortage of flour in the Gaza Strip.

We continued working with this quantity from the fourth of November until the day of the war, on the 27th of December 2008. One week or ten days before the start of the war, all the other flourmills in Gaza no longer had any wheat, and the concentration of flour for the whole need of the Gaza Strip was only from our factory, from Al-Bader Flour Mill. And we coordinated with the bakeries to distribute wheat only to bakeries, not to houses, not to households, because the flour, when given to the bakeries, every particular quantity or bag of wheat can cover for 20 families, when given to a bakery. However, when the bag itself is sold to a household, then it is only sufficient for one household. And it may not even be able to buy another bag because of political instability and each household may even buy four to keep in reserve.

On the 27th of December the war was waged. We continued working for four or five days. During the war, the mill was working 24 hours a day and we had also been working 24 hours a day one month prior to this date, we were working around the clock. We received a recorded message by telephone on a landline asking us to evacuate the mill. This call came from Israel. That was a Wednesday, the Wednesday after the beginning of the war.

Chairman Richard Goldstone

Did the person say who he was, with who he was calling for, from?

Mr. Rashad Hamada

The person speaking on the phone, I did not hear him personally but I was told by the worker at the factory who had received the phone call that the Israeli Defense Force orders to evacuate the factory.

Chairman Richard Goldstone

Mm hmm.

Mr. Rashad Hamada

I remember that was on a Wednesday, so it was the 30th or 31st of December 2008. We evacuated the factory of all workers, a total evacuation and waited until the next day. The factory was not hit. We went back to work for 24 hours, another 24 hours. We worked until Saturday or Sunday. So, this was about eight, nine days after the beginning of the war.

We received another message, I do not remember – the workers told me that it was Sunday, maybe, or Monday. We were told to evacuate the factory. The factory was evacuated. I would just like here to give you an idea of what this factory consists of. The factory is a part of several factories that are located in a closed area, a completely closed areas of 45,000 square meters was the surface area. It is surrounded by an external wall that is four meters high of cement, in addition to barbed wire at four meters distance.

The flourmill is located at 6,500 meters from that area. Next to the flourmill, there is also a diapers factory and it has refrigeration for the tomato canning. And there is also a plant for tomatoes – processing of tomatoes. We also have warehouses, commercial warehouses, and there are two houses, a house for my brother and a house for my children. And always there are three guards in this area.

After getting the second warning telling us to evacuate the plant, it was totally evacuated and my children and my brother also evacuated the land area of the flourmill where the houses are. And we have other houses and other factories, other businesses in El Tofah neighborhood in Gaza so we went there, and we left the guards in that area, in the factory land.

On the dawn of the tenth of January, we received a call from the guard telling us that the factory was targeted by air with a missile and that it had caught fire. After 15 minutes, he called us again and told us that there are tanks approaching the area and that the factory was targeted with tank fire. We immediately informed the ICRC and the Civil Defense in order to put out the fire in the mill. At 11:00 a.m., we were told by the Civil Defense that the fire had been put out and that the guard had been evacuated from the surface area of the factory.

el bader flour mill2 hamdan m hamada
Hamdan Hamada shows the remains of Al Bader Flour Mill. (Photo: Karl Schembri, Oxfam)

What happened at the mill is a total destruction, a total destruction of the whole production line of the factory. Because this factory, in fact, is vertical, the equipment is set vertically. There are six floors. The production line was destroyed from the sixth floor to the ground floor. Three floors, the fifth, sixth and fourth were destroyed including all the equipment, total destruction, therefore the building and the equipment. And the other three floors, the first, second and third floors, they were totally burned. This led to the following.

Firstly, this flourmill today is no longer operational at all. Secondly, this flour mill – the wheat that – that had to be, eh, that was to be brought in from the Israeli companies could not come through, could not be received at the mill, and the workers and employees who used to work for this factory are now unemployed. We also have a worse catastrophe. Our losses in this mill are 2.5 million American dollars. In addition to the loss of income from the day of the strike until this very day, as I said, there is also another problem because we lost what is more precious than the treasures of the world, my – our son, my nephew and the son of my partner and my brother-in-law, Dr. Mahir Hamada, who has six children, he fell from the fifth floor to the ground and that was during his going through to check on the results of the events on the 19th of February 2009.

In addition to all of the above, we have 3,000 tons of wheat in the Yivolei Hatavor, Israeli company. This company is now refusing to deliver this – these goods for, uh, an amount of 1.5 million U.S. dollars, that’s the value of the goods. Alleging that I did not receive the goods at delivery time and therefore, the company had to go bankrupt and the money of the 3,000 tons are included in this bankruptcy.

We have a side problem, and here I would like to address an appeal to Ban Ki-moon, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, because this is a problem I have with the U.N. UNRWA owes me $6,500.00 since 2006. I ask Mr. Ban Ki-moon to ask Mr. John Ging to help give this money back to me for some reason or another, Mr. John Ging refused to pay this amount for reasons that I believe are unjustifiable. Today, we have $1.5 million lost because of the Israeli businessman, we have 2.5 million lost because of the loss of equipment. The minimum is that Mr. John Ging would give us $360,000.00, this is money that he had received, that the goods received by UNRWA, that if he gives us this money we would be able to pay our workers, we’d give them their salaries.

If John Ging believes that we are at fault, the faultive must not be decapitated, he must not be put to death. What we have already suffered from the practices of the occupation is tremendous and I know that the United Nations is here to help the Palestinian people not to take revenge on the Palestinian people. I therefore appeal to Mr. Ban Ki-moon, and I appeal Mr. John Ging and your good selves to help me get back the $360,000.00 which is the price of the goods that was received by UNRWA, so that we may be able to pay the salaries to our workers.

There is something else I would like to refer to with regards to this hearing. The Israelis and I – and us, we have to live side by side on this land. We’re destined to live together on this land, and I call on all political factions to work on achieving peace in this region and I call on Mr. Barack Obama, the U.S. President, to do his utmost to achieve peace on this land. Peace is the objective of the Palestinian people, of the United Nations and of all peoples of the world. We are a peace-loving nation. We want peace. All wars take place and at the end we achieve peace, and this is what we want, we want peace, enough war.

And in conclusion, I appeal to the world and the Mission and the United Nations, and I am hopeful that this will be the last fact-finding mission to come to our country to investigate crimes. We want you to come in celebration, to celebrate the establishment of our state and to fly high our Palestinian flag and to live in peace with our neighbors and our people.

In conclusion, we call on you to quickly lift the siege and allow goods to go through so that we can reconstruct our factories and reconstruct our homes. If the siege is not lifted, this mission and other missions will remain in vain. We do not want words, we want acts. We want the United Nations to take action. We have been suffering for two full years under siege. We did not see the United Nations doing anything for us. We see that in Darfur there is a problem, the whole world goes running to Darfur, in Cambodia and Laos, everywhere in the world, but here, when we speak of the Palestinian people, everybody closes his ears, they do not want to hear about us or our problems. We call on the world, we call on the United Nations and we call on all those responsible in this area, in this region to find a solution to this conflict. Enough war, enough bloodshed.

Chairman Richard Goldstone

Mr. Hamada, thank you very much for your coming – for telling us about the destruction of your factory, and in particular, I would like to thank you for the very moving plea for peace. And I can assure you that I know I speak on behalf of all four of us, that nothing would make us happier or more fulfilled or content than if this is the last fact-finding mission into violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law in this area. Let us hope and pray that that may come about.

I’ll now ask the members of the Mission if they would like to ask any questions.

Colonel Desmond Travers

Mr. Hamada, thank you very much for your very detailed presentation. You mentioned that the strike by the F-16 was very precise or very deliberate. Can you tell us why, in your opinion, that this was so?

Mr. Rashad Hamada

Let us be truthful in what we say, war is war. War is war. Be it economic through siege, be it, uh, through F-16s, it is war. It is a war that took place and, uh, continues. It is a war that was launched by Israel and these are the results. We see the results. The shelling, the death and the destruction, but war is war. We have been dying for over two years, dying of siege and the last war came as a culmination of the siege.

Hina Jilani

Thank you, Mr. Hamada, for your statement. Do you have any opinion on why the Israeli defense forces targeted this particular establishment, this particular mill?

Mr. Rashad Hamada

From what we could see on the ground and from what we had in Gaza, this flour mill was the only flour mill for the past ten years providing for the needs of the Gaza Strip in wheat. It is well known everywhere in Gaza. And in Israel, they know that Al-Bader Flour Mill – know that the strategic reserve of flour for the strip was there. The Israelis prohibited the entry of wheat on the fourth of November 2008.

There is no flourmill that works except ours and it was shelled. I do not want to give conclusions. It is well known, this is a flourmill that works and that provides for the needs of the country. It was targeted because we are in a state of war. There is no peace. What I know is that war is war. We hope that all of this will end and will be replaced by peace and that we will forget about these hearings.

As for the targeting, it is because a flourmill that is working. There were four flourmills that were not producing and were not targeted. My flour mill is far from international borders, by six kilometers distance, and it is far from the eastern borders, also six kilometers. I am at the seashore, at the seaside and it’s an open area. There is no resistance there. After the end of the war, I went to have a look and I asked are there any combatants that died here, any Israelis that died? Not at all, nobody told me of any kind of resistance in the whole area.

And as I told you, this flourmill is in a closed area, 45 dunums, that is totally fenced, cement walls and there are three guards who are permanently present. We do not allow any person to enter except with a special authorization. Therefore, I – I do not want – what I can say is that war is war. All the factories in the eastern region were destroyed. Did they also have resistance? I don’t know, but what I do know is that vital factories were targeted. Why? Because war is war, I say it again, and we want peace, enough war.

Chairman Richard Goldstone

Mr. Hamada, if I can just get some understanding. The – you refer to the factory being in a closed area with a wall, was that just for the flour factory or was it closed also for other factories and other businesses?

Mr. Rashad Hamada

This factory – this flourmill – the flourmill is a part of a whole, it is one part. The mill is 6.5 dunums within 45 dunums that are totally closed. In this area there is the tomato factory, the tomato refrigeration, there are the diapers factory, the warehouses. There is the house of my brother, my house. All of this together is closed in four meters high cement walls and barbed wire. Only the production line of the flourmill was targeted.

The tomato factory was not targeted. The diapers factory was not targeted. The houses, uh, they were taken in after the incursion. They used the houses, the houses were entered into at that time, but nothing in the mill justifies it, there is no resistance, nor in the mill nor around it, neither in the mill nor around it.

And as I told you, after they ceased fire and the end of the war, I asked the neighbors, I asked everybody around, did anybody die, anybody was a martyr, anybody wounded, any Israeli wounded, any Palestinian wounded. I was told there was no resistance whatsoever.

Chairman Richard Goldstone

And was the whole closed area part of the Al-Bader – under Al-Bader ownership?

Mr. Rashad Hamada

Yes, exactly. The closed area, the whole closed area, 45 dunums or 45,000 square meters is the property of the owners of Bader, Rashad Hamada and Brothers. It is private property. We are four brothers, co-owners of all of these businesses.

Chairman Richard Goldstone

When was the factory built?

Mr. Rashad Hamada

It was built in the year 2000.

Christine Chinkin

Thank you again for your very full account. I understand that after the shelling of the factory, the Israeli soldiers came in and fired from the roof of the factory into the surrounding areas, is that right and could you describe what are the surrounding areas, what were they firing into and what were the targets there?

Mr. Rashad Hamada

This is correct. I do not know what they were targeting, I wasn’t there. However, I saw the results of the firing in the flourmill, I didn’t see who they were targeting or where they were firing, I wasn’t there. Testimony has to be real, it’s a word of truth, I cannot tell you what they targeted or who they targeted. What I did see are the empty bullets in the factory, on the factory roof, that’s what I saw.

Christine Chinkin

But what is in the surrounding areas? What are the surrounding areas like?

Mr. Rashad Hamada

They are all residential houses and agricultural land. Agricultural and residential property, this is what surrounds it.

Christine Chinkin

Thank you.

Chairman Richard Goldstone

Well, thank you again, Mr. Hamada, and for coming to talk to us. We are very grateful to you. We’ll take just a five-minute adjournment while the next witness is getting comfortable.

Mr. Rashad Hamada

I have just a small world, where at the end of this encounter, I call again on the Mission and those in charge in the United Nations to work on lifting this siege as quickly as possible and to allow us to reconstruct our property. In Arabic, we say don’t cry over him who lost his, uh, his money, but cry over him who lost his work. Today, we have lost our work in the flourmill in addition to losing the production of the other factories, the diapers, the tomato canning and the other canning facility, we lost all of that because raw material is not allowed into the Gaza Strip.

So we appeal to you to work on lifting the siege so we may receive raw material. And here, I would like to let you know that I spoke to the Israelis, I called them and I sent them a message, saying that I call on them to allow us to bring in equipment in order to restart working the flour mill, and they answered please send us a letter. I did, I sent a letter with details of what I need and they said that they would look into this as a special request so that they would allow us to reconstruct the flourmill and bring in the necessary machinery. Thank you.

Chairman Richard Goldstone

Thank you, Mr. Hamada. I assure you that the Mission will take into account very seriously all of the pleas that you have made this afternoon. We’ll adjourn for five minutes.

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