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Gaza farmer’s house is destroyed for fourth time– ‘and we are ready for the fifth’

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The short phone call that Hamouda Abu Amra received from a professed Israeli security officer at 11:15 p.m on November 13 was the fourth catastrophic change to happen in his rural life in Gaza.

The call still echoes in Abu Amra’s ears. “A heavy load is coming to your shoulders soon, uncle!” the officer whispered. “Evacuate your family in two minutes and don’t switch off your phone”.

Hamouda Abu Amra at the ruins of his house in Gaza. Photo by Mohammed Asad

“Naima, wake up darling, we must leave now, wake up the girls as well.” Abu Amra, 51, is often facetious, but his wife understood that this was no joke.

Naima Abu Amra says, “I woke up scared by Hamouda’s facial features. He was chilled and said, ‘he is on the phone, darling!'”

“We gathered, my family and my neighbors, 200 meters from the house. A drone fired a warning missile, then a warplane fired two missiles,” Hamouda said.

And in an instant a huge explosion turned the four-storey house into a deep crater surrounded by cactus and orange orchards, and the Hamoudas found themselves homeless, just 20 minutes after the call. The eight family members live now seven yards away from the crater in a tin shack, 500 meters from the Israel border in Deir al-Balah, in central Gaza.

Baking in the clay oven, at the Abu Amra family property in Gaza. Dec. 2019. Photo by Mohammed Asad.

The Abu Amras live in a farm adjacent to what Israel calls the “buffer zone” along the Gaza border. There are very few houses this close to the fence. But the entire area is in the line of fire, and the Israeli government says nearby groves are used for rocket fire.

The attack took place during a four-day wave of Israeli air strikes on Gaza in November. Israel has periodically bombed the Gaza Strip since the 2014 war, sometimes informing residents of the need to evacuate minutes before destroying targets.

A floor-length navy blue velvet dress and a worn scarf are the only surviving clothes from Naim Abu Amra’s wardrobe. “I am an old lady who feels embarrassment when I ask the neighbors to take a shower in their bath without being able to change my underwear,” Naima says. “Why did this happen? We are not guerrillas. All we have left are a hen and pigeon coop, and a donkey made deaf by the house bombing.”

The Abu Amras are now rebuilding their house for the fourth time in the last ten years. It was struck and razed in 2009, 2012, 2014 and again last month. The whole family spent 22 days in an UNRWA primary school during the seven week assault in 2014.

Why have they been subject to such attack? The Israeli military answer for their ‘frequent deliberate displacement’ is that that the Abu Amras are “border area residents”.

Yazan holds remains of a rocket, at Abu Amra family property. Dec. 2019. Photo by Mohammed Asad

“They feel upset at us being here, but we will not leave, and we are ready to rebuild it again for the fifth time as long as my nickname is Abu Saber,” Hamoud Abu Amra said. Saber means Patient in Arabic.

“Didn’t he promise to give me a heavy load? I’m on it.”

Pigeons fly over ruins of Abu Amra house in Gaza as sisters point to the sky. Dec. 2019. Photo by Mohammed Asad

Jehan, 21, the middle daughter, a law school student, remembers an Israeli foot soldier swearing at the family and threatening them by wiping his chin with his hand, after inserting a powder in drinking water bottles. The same powder was sprayed on a melon patch near the house. “He was spiteful and wanted to deliver a toxic message without using words. They want to vanish us from the area, but dad taught us to be stubborn girls.”

“We became experts in homeless life,” said Ettemad, 19, as she flipped through a family album photos lifted out the debris. “One might think we are just young ladies. But we helped to build this house block by block, lifting bags of cement to the upper floors without using male builders. But all those months of fatigue and dreams went down like sand.”

Ettemad checks her bedroom’s ruins. Abu Amra family property, Gaza. Dec. 2019. Photo by Mohammed Asad

Ettemad, who used to teach traditional dance lessons for pupils in the area, felt sorry when she gathered the pupils again in a nearby house charity, and had to inform them that she had failed to dig out eighteen embroidered dance dresses that were buried in the wreckage, along with a makeup set that belonged to Jehan.

“I used to work as a makeup artist for any bride in the area,” Jehan said. “And yesterday I bought an eyebrow clipper, eyeliner brush and a single lipstick– hopefully to move forward.”

Ettemad (left) and Jehan flipping through an Abu Amra family album. Photo by Mohammed Asad

Both young sisters recall the last two hours before the house was flattened. “At nine p.m, we asked our brother to get a night supply of Pringles, snacks and Snickers, then we talked about Jehan’s unfulfilled promises to earn money to repaint the cement front walls of our bedroom,” Ettemad said. “Then a few hours later the walls were gone and not in need to repaint.”

I went back out to find the girls’ father and found Hamouda Abu Amra giving a hand to his son collecting dry palm fronds to feed the oven.

“I am not sad, but I do feel heartbreak when I recall my father’s trip to Israel’s Dimona city,” Hamouda said. “We drove for 40-50 minutes and came to a potato farm, and stopped by its gate, and my father said, “All that land belongs to your grandfather Hasan’. That is what really makes me broken, our unattainable legacy. And in exchange we live homeless in a tin shack.”

Ahmad Kabariti

Ahmad Kabariti is a freelance journalist based in Gaza.

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4 Responses

  1. Talkback on December 8, 2019, 3:39 pm

    That’s just part of Israel’s longer term expulsion and genocidal policies.

    The Genocide of the Palestinian People: An International Law and Human Rights Perspective

  2. Misterioso on December 9, 2019, 8:41 am

    Most timely: Dr. Norman Finkelstein on Gaza, etc.

    Norman Finkelstein: “Fatou Bensouda Has Done Everything in Her Power to Prevent an Investigation of the Israeli Crimes by the ICC.”

    American Herald Tribune, Nov. 30/19 by Slava Zilber

    Slava Zilber: “I would like to interview you about your new book. Could you please explain the title: ‘I Accuse!: Herewith A Proof Beyond Reasonable Doubt That ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda Whitewashed Israel.’

    Norman Finkelstein: “As you know, Israel has been occupying Gaza since 1967, which is more now than a half-century. Israel has imposed an illegal, immoral, and inhumane blockade on Gaza since January 2006, and Gaza is rapidly becoming – it might have already become – physically an unlivable space. Now, it’s important to keep in mind that the population of Gaza is more than half children. And 70 percent of the population consists of refugees and children of refugees and successive generations of refugees.

    “So you have a population more than half of which is children, 70 percent of which is refugees and successive generations which for more than half a century has been living under a brutal Israeli occupation and since 2006 has been living under an illegal, an immoral, an inhuman blockade that has rendered Gaza, in effect, physically unlivable.

    “Now, in the course of the occupation and the blockade, there have been several incidents as they are called in international law jargon. They have been referred to the International Criminal Court, the ICC. And the chief prosecutor is named Fatou Bensouda. And Fatou Bensouda has been desperately trying to quash these complaints – the technical term is referrals – to the ICC.

    “And on one of the two complaints, there have been proceedings that have gone on since 2013, which is more than six years ago now. A complaint was filed with her office. And Bensouda has repeatedly declared that she will not launch an investigation of the complaint filed with the ICC. And the case is closed. She said that twice now. But there are forces within the ICC which have been pushing back against her clear whitewash of Israel. And so she declares the case closed, then other forces say ‘not so fast,’ and other forces within the ICC say Bensouda has to reopen the case. And it has been going back and forth. Now, there is supposed to be an important intervention by Bensouda on December 2nd. And I wrote the book with one, very specific purpose in mind and that is to expose Bensouda’s lies, her falsifications, her fabrications, her misrepresentations in this systematic and methodical whitewash of Israel and to force her to either investigate Israeli crimes which to date she refuses to do or to step down from office.

    Slava Zilber: “Why does the International Criminal Court whitewash these crimes? To what extent is it about Bensouda? You have spoken very critically about her predecessor, Mr. Luis Moreno-Ocampo. To what extent is it about the ICC? Has there been outside influence? You spoke about the retraction of the Goldstone Report.

    Norman Finkelstein:
    “Richard Goldstone was the South African judge who was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity after Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9. After Goldstone issued a devastating report on Israel’s crimes during Operation Cast Lead, he came under a vicious attack by Israel and its apologists. And, for reasons which aren’t entirely clear, he then was forced to retract the report, whether he succumbed to the pressures that were exerted on him or he was blackmailed. I am inclined to believe the latter. Whether it was external pressures or internal blackmail, he succumbed. At that point, a lot of the human rights community got very nervous that, if you attack Israel, the Mossad and various other Israeli agencies are going to dig deep into your closet in order to find skeletons that can tarnish and, worse, destroy your reputation. So I think part of the reason Bensouda has been lying, fabricating, falsifying is the fear that she will become the target of the very same agencies that brought down Richard Goldstone. And also the US has made plain under the Trump administration – they have said literally, in no subtle language: If the ICC investigates the United States or Israel, the US will destroy the ICC.

    “So there are both personal motives, the fear that the many skeletons in Bensouda’s closet will be exposed to public view, and the institutional fear that the ICC itself will be under attack. On both those grounds, she has done everything in her power to prevent an investigation of the Israeli crimes by the ICC.

    Slava Zilber: “Recently, there has been a scandal regarding the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. There was an official report and then another report [an engineering assessment] was leaked. And now two whistleblowers have come forward.

    “Is there an organization that still has integrity on the issue of Israel/Palestine, which is not just a puppet of outside powers and can be objectively trusted to report on the human rights abuses?

    Norman Finkelstein: “It’s a question of degrees and gradations. Amnesty International can be very good, but it can be very bad. Human Rights Watch can be very bad, but occasionally it can be quite good. B’Tselem under its previous leadership – the executive director was Jessica Montell – was quite bad, but under its current leadership, [Hagai] El-Ad, the Israeli physicist, its record has been very good. So these kinds of organizations are subject to – always – a lot of external pressure. Sometimes they resist, and sometimes they succumb.

    Slava Zilber: “Have you contacted the people involved in this process at the International Criminal Court? Can people write petitions? Can people reach out and make a plea?

    Norman Finkelstein: “I have tried to contact a few of the individuals, not many. However, we have an expression in English: ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating.’ And I rather then see the finished product. Quite a few of them are serious. They don’t just read the cover and the blurb. And so I am hoping once they read the book, they will be convinced that I’ve made an overwhelming case and then hopefully will act on it. So it is a little bit premature to expect any action. They have to read my argument. And then we will see what they say. And we will see what they do.

    Slava Zilber: “What would the symbolic and the practical value of the indictment be?

    Norman Finkelstein: “It depends. Sometimes, symbolism can have a real, material impact. If the prosecutor is sufficiently embarrassed that she has to press ahead with an investigation, then a diplomatic conflict will erupt, and then we will have to wait and see what comes of it. The US, along with Israel, will push hard against the ICC. And then we’ll have to see how hard the ICC pushes back or whether it succumbs. It’s a battle, but it’s a battle about to cast light on Israeli crimes against Gaza. And that would be a good thing.

    Slava Zilber “Is there a realistic prospect of somebody being put on trial and possibly convicted?

    Norman Finkelstein: No, it’s not a realistic prospect. A realistic prospect is [that] pressure will be exerted on Israel to lift the blockade in order to avoid an investigation. It will be quiet backroom discussions: ‘You know, this guy makes a big case. A lot of people are very angry. They are calling me a liar. They are calling me a whitewasher. So maybe you can just lift the blockade so we can avoid this mess because I really don’t want to investigate you, you know. I don’t really have a choice now.’ So maybe it’ll put pressure on Israel to lift the blockade. But no indictments. That’s not possible. The ICC only indicts Africans. That’s why they call it the International Caucasian Court.

    Slava Zilber: “One could argue that this whitewashing by Ms. Bensouda and her predecessors is basically the function of this court. It’s fulfilling its function as International Caucasian Court.

    Norman Finkelstein: “I know a very good jurist, one of the leading international law jurists in the world. He is very respected. And I talk to him privately. He says the ICC is not a court; it’s a joke. It’s so corrupt. It’s so contemptible, just put into power to prosecute war criminals, for sure, but criminals in the great scheme of things who don’t really compare to, say, a Tony Blair, a George Bush or any of the others who are culpable for massive war crimes and crimes against humanity.

    Slava Zilber “In recent years and now during the presidential election, do you see a shift when it comes to discourse about Israel and Palestine and the issue you address in your book? Are reactions different now?

    Norman Finkelstein “We could see of the leading candidates it is pretty much down the middle. Two candidates, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, are of the old world, 100 percent support for Israel, basically abetters and appeasers of war crimes. And two candidates, Elizabeth Warren and in particular Bernie Sanders, have adopted a much more critical approach towards Israel. Elizabeth Warren is still pretty weak, but she issued a good statement on the recent Israeli massacres in Gaza. Bernie Sanders has, in general, been very decent.

    “So you see within the leading presidential candidates a manifestation in their statements of the split within the Democratic Party between the old guard, blind supporters of Israel, and the new constituencies in the Democratic Party which are more willing to out the Israeli criminality.

    Slava Zilber: “What is next for you, Prof. Finkelstein?
    Norman Finkelstein: “I don’t know. It depends on what happens in the world. For the moment, I am focused on the Bernie Sanders candidacy. If he wins, it’s a game changer. We will be living in a new country. I should amend that. We will be living in a country in which the left will have the potential to exercise serious institutional power and that would be a very good change. So let’s wait and see what happens.”

    Prof. Norman Finkelstein is a specialist on Israel-Palestine, author of numerous books including Gaza: An Inquest Into Its Martyrdom, Method and Madness: The Hidden Story of Israel’s Assaults on Gaza, Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel is Coming to an End.

  3. genesto on December 9, 2019, 1:02 pm

    The self-acclaimed ‘Most Moral Army in the World’ has used, as proof of this claim, the fact that it notifies Palestinian families (not all of the time, though) that it is going to bomb their home in time (barely) for them to leave.

    Where else in the world would such a claim serve as proof of moral superiority? This is beyond beyond chutzpah!

    • oldgeezer on December 10, 2019, 12:26 am


      I would disagree with barely. You wake by an explosion at 2am. You and your children were sleeping. You have to wake up enough to understand what woke you, what it means, and what to do to evacuate. You have to find your children who are frozen in fear, running around hysterically, somewhere in between. Granted after 70yrs of Israeli boots on their neck many families may have practiced escaping from the barbaric murderous savagery of the Israeli criminals.

      What would you do if you woke to a loud bang tonight?

      The time is inadequate.

      And makes no sense in terms of military sense. If there is a target of value their such as members of groups targetted by Israel then you’ve given them every bit as much notice to escape.

      This is merely a pr exercise as usual. Managing the occupation and slaughter.

      ps…. that’s not even getting into the fact that these putative warnings have killed people in their own right.

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