Ibrahim Gneim, 30, did not find it difficult to recall the brutal Israeli massacre committed on Rafah where he lives with his family in Gaza.
“We started to feel the bombardment echo from the East as it started to approach. This was shocking to us as the humanitarian ceasefire was about to come in effect. In a few moments, the artillery shelling along with the aerial bombardment overwhelmed our area with countless number of the air strikes, mortars, and tank fire,” Gneim said.
Gneim’s home was directly targeted by tank fire, the blow knocked him out for some time. His father and his sister were killed in the shelling, and three other family members were injured.
“I woke up startled then I started to search frantically for my family members. I found most of them injured. I quickly rushed to the street to look for ambulance to transfer them to the hospital,” Gneim told me.
On his way to find the ambulance, he found dozens of women and young children caught in the crossfire as well, they were laying on the street with their injuries.
“The terrifying scene amazed me. I found the ambulance after all. I begged them to come with me under this heavy bombardment to evacuate my injured family from home,” Gneim said.
Within few hours the local hospitals in Rafah were filled with huge numbers of killed and injured people.
The Hannibal Directive
The citizens of Rafah had been waiting impatiently for the internationally-brokered ceasefire to come into effect to resupply themselves with food, water and groceries after three weeks of fierce fighting.
Fathi Eid reached his home in the Shabora neighborhood in the morning at 8 am, exactly at the time of the ceasefire. “We were happy to return back home after being forced to evacuate, fearing the intense shelling in our area. Few moments later, the area was struck with all types of shelling. I took my family and rushed to my car to quickly leave the home. I tried to call my dad to tell him not to turn back. I found out after less than hour that he was killed with my brother after their car was targeted,” Fathi said.
What people in Rafah did not know was that the truce was immediately broken following a tunnel clash between Hamas fighters and Israeli soldiers.
Israel claimed they lost a soldier, Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, during a fight that took place in the early morning. Israel then broke the international ceasefire and rushed to incinerate Rafah looking for its missing soldier.
Israeli military sources revealed after the war that the Israeli army implemented the so-called Hannibal Directive on the 1st of August, in Rafah city. The directive entails a powerful response to any capture of an IDF soldier using heavy fire aimed at trapping the captors at the scene to prevent them from fleeing, even if it risks the life of the Israeli captive himself. The directive was first advised in 1986, but it was most vehemently applied on Rafah during last summer’s war.
The attack on Rafah caused wide-scale killing and injuries through the use of massive military force within a densely populated area. People who survived Black Friday in Rafah said that they were trapped under unprecedented Israeli fire that made it impossible for them to evacuate the area.
Palestinian medical sources reported that 135 civilians were killed in that attack, 75 of them children. Local hospitals in Rafah were overwhelmed, and suffered from a scarcity of highly needed medical equipment to cope with that great number of critical injuries. The image of bloodied bodies lying on the stretchers across hospital floors were broadcast worldwide.
Emad Saleem, a Palestinian doctor who served in Kuwaiti hospital, a small local hospital in the south of Rafah told me, “It was the worst day for me as a doctor in my career, I felt that I was helpless to face that great number of the severely wounded people. We appealed the UN to secure a safe access to necessary medical equipment, and doctors from other hospitals to help us confronting that number of bleeding bodies.”
Following Black Friday the Israeli army promoted the military commander of the Givati Brigade, Ofer Winter, who gave the order to carry out the Hannibal Directive to the rank of brigadier general.
Stalled International Investigations
Last month, Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture issued a joint study of the two most prominent Israeli military operations in Gaza last war, that in the Shujayea neighborhood and Black Friday in Rafah.
The study said that Israel had carried out wide-scale killing and colossal damage in the southern part of Rafah city after the alleged disappearance of one of its soldier. The study confirmed that Israel made a hugely destructive and disproportionate attack on a residential area which claimed the lives of more than 130 Palestinians, many of them were children. The group said that what happened in Rafah during that ghastly day amounts to war crimes, and a form of collective punishment.
Raji Sourani, head of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, told me that their staff fully cooperated with all the human right organizations, the UN was among them, that came to Gaza to investigate in the Black Friday massacre in Rafah.
“We escorted the delegations in their mission of collecting information, based on direct eyewitnesses from the survivors of the massacre, media coverage and their reports, videos from the people who survived that crime. We were very cooperative with them as we presented all what we have of strong evidence of what Israeli forces have incurred upon the Palestinian civilians,” Sourani said.
Sourani was very concerned with the fact that ICC investigations have been stalled on the question of Israeli war crimes in Gaza.
“Palestinians want an international guarantee that civilians will be secured in any coming confrontation in Gaza. They do not want to see the destruction scene repeated every two years.” Sourani said. “All the flagrant Israeli breaches: using individuals as human shields, leveling homes on the heads of their owners, intentional killing of children in cold blood, targeting the ambulances, shelling UN premises, all of these crimes must not go unpunished,” Sourani said.
Plea From the People
The tragic memories of the Black Friday are deeply embedded in the survivors’ minds.
Fadi Jaman, 23, tried to evacuate his grandmother, age 77, from their house when the fire intensified in their neighborhood. “I held her hand to cross the road, it was messy there, as the place was full of bodies. Suddenly a very close explosion blew up in the street, it became dusty around, and I lost my grandmother. I looked frantically for her. I found her then directly hit in chest by a shrapnel,” Fadi said.
He wanted to know what kind of “security threat” his old grandmother posed to Israel.
Ibrahim’s sister lost her legs in the raid of their house. He took her undergo several surgical operations in Egyptian hospitals. “We want to see those barbaric killers brought to justice, otherwise it will not take a long time to see these crimes repeated in worse forms leaving more victims,” Ibrahim told me as we were leaving his home.
A year after the massacre, inhabitants of the southern part of Rafah still live in the traumatic aftermath of that notorious day as many of them lost beloved family members, and their homes were completely or partially damaged during the atrocious attack.