We will remember the killers and the killed

January 9, 2012
Sarah Benton

Previous postings remembering the third anniversary of Operation Cast Lead are:
Cast Lead: ‘Israel kills us like we are dogs and nobody stands with us’
Remembering lives taken and lives damaged by Cast Lead
Tell Gaza, tell Israel, Operation Cast Lead is not forgotten

Aftermath (5) Coming home

Wednesday, 18 March 2009
One of the most important factors in recovery from trauma is the ability to find sanctuary in the comfort of one’s home. The right to safety and security. For many people in Gaza, this right has been repeatedly violated, in the form of the destruction of their personal property, often wantonly, by Israeli military forces.

Alongside the 1,000s of homes partially or completely destroyed by bulldozers, tank shells and bombs dropped by F-16 fighter jets, are the homes that have been defaced by graffiti left by individual Israeli soldiers and the vandalisation of civilian property within them.

At Mos’ab Dardona’s home in Jabal Al Rayes, northeast Gaza, Israeli soldiers who had taken up positions in civilian houses in the area left behind intricate drawings on the walls, some depicting soldiers urinating on toppled mosques, or devouring Palestinian villages. In the house next door, belonging to Ibrahim Dardona, soldiers left behind dozens of bags of faeces in the bedrooms, despite the presence of a functioning toilet, and left crude sexual diagrams on the walls.

“The writing left by Israeli soldiers in the homes in Gaza provides an insight into the disturbing culture of hatred and racism towards Palestinians and Arabs which exists among parts of Israeli society,” says Hamdi Shaqqura, PCHR’s director of democratic development. “In light of the evidence PCHR has gathered of the wilful and wanton killing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, this graffiti is even more disturbing.”

The thousands of people who have been unable to return to what remains of their homes after Israel’s offensive are hard to count precisely. Hastily erected refugee tent camps that are unsuitable at this time of year have been largely abandoned and internally displaced people have moved in with extended family members.

Others have had to move back into their partially destroyed homes, clear up the debris and sometimes the evidence of the deaths of loved ones, and try to get on with their lives. The Dardona families have moved back into their houses, and are torn between unwillingness to destroy evidence of the behaviour of Israeli soldiers and reluctance to endure the constant reminders of the horrors that took place here. And there are similar cases in other parts of the Gaza Strip.

In the largely agricultural area of Johr-ad-Dik, Israeli forces established bases in some of the homes in the early days of their ground offensive. Tank tracks cut huge swathes through the fields and hundreds of olive and citrus trees were destroyed. Half the population of 2,500 was displaced.

At dawn on 4 January 2009, the first full day of Israel’s ground offensive, a shell landed near the home of Saleh Abu Hajaj in Johur-ad-Dik. Radio interceptions made by the Israeli military ordered local residents to evacuate their homes. Saleh’s 36 year old daughter Majeda Abu Hajaj tied a white scarf to a stick and led a group of civilians out of her neighbour’s house.

As they were trying to escape, tanks opened fire on the group and Majeda was shot dead, allegedly in the back. Moments later her 64 year old mother Raya, was also shot and bled to death a few metres from her daughter. Majeda and Raya’s bodies were not recovered until Israel’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire sixteen days later. These attacks may constitute willful killings, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and war crimes.

Israeli soldiers set up military positions in the Abu Hajaj house after the killings, and left graffiti in every room. Above Majeda’s bed are the words “Death will find you soon” scrawled in red pen. Other parts of the house carry the words “Have you ever wondered what hell looks like? Well… look around you —–! Ha ha ha

In the Zeytoun district, where 27 members of the Samouni family were killed by an airstrike while sheltering in a building they had been placed in by the Israeli army, there are more chilling messages on the walls. In Talal Al Samouni’s home Israeli soldiers wrote the words “Die you all”, “Make war not peace”, “Arabs need to die” and a gravestone engraved with the words “Arabs 1948-2009” referring to the dates between the creation of the state of Israel and its latest military offensive.

A stairwell in Rashad Helmi Al Samouni’s house a few doors down includes the following sentences written in chalk:

“There will be a day when we kill all the Arabs”
“Bad for the Arabs is good for me”
“A good Arab is an Arab in the grave”
“Peace now, but between Jews and Jews, not Jews and Arabs”

While much of the graffiti is inflammatory and disturbing, there are also more human expressions written by weary Israeli soldiers such as: “How much longer will we be here…?”, “Until when?”, “We want to go home” and “I have no other country”.

There have been many serious allegations made about the conduct of Israeli soldiers who were operating in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) is currently investigating many of these cases and will be bringing evidence to light in due course. But whatever the outcome of such investigations, it will do little to comfort the thousands of civilians whose sense of safety they should feel in the privacy of their own homes has been so categorically violated.

Aftermath (6) “The only BMW shop in Gaza”

Sunday, 29 March 2009
Nasser Al ‘Amoudi, with his biker’s jacket and sunglasses, embodies the essence of a car enthusiast. For years he has been the proud owner of the only BMW spare parts shop in the Gaza Strip.

People would travel from every corner to purchase second hand parts from his shop. Now Nasser’s workshop and garage, which were worth $300,000 before the Israeli army destroyed them during their latest offensive, lie in tatters, and his financial security has gone.

Al ‘Amoudi BMW Spare Parts is situated on a main street running through the Salateen area of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza. This area was one of the worst affected during Israel’s ground offensive – hundreds of houses and greenhouses were completely destroyed in Salateen, thousands of trees were uprooted, and there are still 100 families living in a tent camp just a few metres away. This predominantly fishing community has sustained many Israeli incursions over the years but the scars of the latest one are all pervasive and have made the area almost unrecognisable to its residents. Even the cemetery with its cracked gravestones and deep tank tracks, was not spared.

“This land belongs to me and my family and we have had this business for 22 years,” says 38-year-old Nasser, his hand leaning on the edge of the tent he has erected on the site of his shop. “I worked in the garage when I was a small boy, and I took over from my brother when I was old enough. We had customers from Gaza City, from Khan Yunis, and Rafah. This was the only place to find good used spare parts for BMW cars. All of Gaza knew this shop.”

Nasser used to have friends in Germany whom he did business with to secure the spare parts, but everything collapsed with the closure of Gaza’s borders two years ago: “People were still coming here before the war, but business had slowed down, almost to a standstill. Gaza has been closed off from the outside world for two years, and it’s impossible for businesses like mine to function under those conditions.”

The economic blockade and closure of Gaza’s borders since June 2007 has had a devastating impact on the Strip’s economic sectors. Most production facilities have ceased operations and the import and export of goods are severely limited. Israel’s policy of collective punishment has left the territory unable to secure basic foods, medicines, or other supplies and the result has been a skyrocketing of poverty rates and unemployment.

During the offensive, while Nasser sheltered in his home in Shati refugee camp with his wife and three children, Israeli fighter jets, helicopters, naval vessels, and ground tanks pounded Salateen. His garage and workshop were levelled by Israeli military bulldozers around the 14 of January 2009, when many of the local residents had fled the area. “I drove back here on my motorbike on the first day of the ceasefire, on 18 January 2009,” says Nasser. “There was absolutely nothing left. Years of work, just gone.”

Piled up around the refugee tent on Nasser’s site, are the crumpled metal bumpers of BMW cars. Nasser has tried to salvage whatever he could but the tent is little more than a testament to the human spirit. “I’ve set up this tent with the old sign from my shop as a symbol, even though I have no goods to sell,” Nasser adds. “Just to let the world see what happened to me…”

During the 22 day offensive Beit Lahiya suffered extreme levels of devastation and the resulting crisis is still affecting all aspects of life. Civilians like Nasser Al ‘Amoudi and others, continue to be denied their economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights.

Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) is considering upgrading its trade relations with Israel under the EU-Israel Association Agreement, which offers Israel preferential terms in its trade with the EU. Article 2 of the EU-Israel Association states that the relationship between Israel and the EU should be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, as a core part of the Agreement and as a precondition for economic cooperation.

In light of Israel’s latest actions in the Gaza Strip, and continuing breaches of international law, PCHR is calling on the EU-Israel Association Council to reconsider Israel’s request for a significant upgrading of relations, and to hold Israel to account for its continuing violations of international law and the human rights clauses within the Agreement. Upgrading the Association Agreement gives Israel tacit approval to continue violating its contractual obligations and makes the EU complicit in these acts.

Over 120 industrial and commercial workshops were completely destroyed by Israeli Occupation Forces between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, and at least 200 others were damaged, as well as some of Gaza’s largest factories producing soft drinks, concrete and other basic items.

The high civilian death toll and the extensive destruction to public and private property indicate that one of the objectives of the Israeli political and military establishments was to cause the maximum possible damage in Gaza. As Nasser Al ‘Amoudi, rearranges the metal sign hanging from his tent, it is apparent that the Israeli army achieved that objective.

“What is the point of addressing the international community about this issue?” asks Nasser. “No one seems to care. I will try to rebuild my shop. What else can I do? Where else can I go? I just hope that this will not happen again in Gaza.”

Aftermath (7) “I know every inch of this land

Monday, 30 March 2009
Words by Louisa

As farmer Jamal al-Bassyuni plucked a stalk of ripening wheat, a posse of young men danced in his field. The dancers were flanked by a lively crowd, many of them women wearing the traditional Palestinian embroidered thob dress. Despite the nearby rubble of destroyed houses, and tracts of land laid to waste by bulldozers and tanks, the mood was defiantly sunny. Local farmers and their supporters were celebrating Palestinian Land Day.

Land Day was launched in 1976, as a commemoration of the deaths of six Palestinian citizens of northern Israel killed by the Israeli military as they demonstrated against expropriation of their land. It has become an important symbolic day of action across the Occupied Palestinian Territory, highlighting the plight faced by farmers like Jamal Bassyuni and his family, who live in Izbat Beit Hanoun on the northern edge of the Gaza Strip.

‘I have worked on this land with my brothers for sixteen years’ says Jamal. His family owns 360 donumms of land that stretch right up to the infamous Erez border crossing.

‘If you had visited here even ten years ago you would have seen why we love this land so much. There were trees everywhere: we had apple, orange and lemon trees, and we grew olives, grapes, pears, almonds, pomegranates, dates and mirabella plums. Beit Hanoun was a garden.’

Local farmers across Izbat Beit Hanoun were renowned for their citrus fruits, especially the orange trees whose blossom famously perfumed the air. But these days there is only a smattering of fruit trees left. Since the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000, Israeli bulldozers and tanks have destroyed more than 42,000 donumms of agricultural land in the Gaza Strip, the vast majority of it in border areas like Izbat Beit Hanoun and the farmland in the eastern Gaza Strip.

Jamal says his land has been bulldozed many times. ‘When our trees were first destroyed in 2002 we replanted them’ he says. ‘But our land was bulldozed again in 2003, then 2004, and the following years as well. Every time we replanted, the bulldozers would come back and destroy our work again. We had been living here for a long time, but the Israelis finally drove us off our own land.’

After years of Israeli incursions onto their land, the al-Bassyuni family eventually left their farmhouse and moved to a house on the edge of nearby Beit Hanoun town. They worked on their land during daylight hours, and employed a local man, thirty six year old Mousa Mohamed al-Jeraitli, to guard the farmhouse at night. On 5 January, Mousa Jeraitli and his family were inside the farmhouse when it was struck by an Israeli projectile. Mousa was killed and one of his sons was injured in the attack. The farmhouse was also destroyed.

During the recent military offensive in Gaza more than 14,000 homes were destroyed or damaged and several thousand more donumms of land were ravaged by tanks and bulldozers. The scale of destruction of land and civilian property across Gaza indicates Israel’s intention to systematically destroy Palestinian homes and their livelihoods.

Farmers across the Gaza Strip, especially those living in border areas, continue to face danger if they attempt to work their own land. Israel’s unilaterally-declared ‘buffer zone’ of 350 metres inside Gaza’s borders has continually been expanded by Israeli military incursions, and farmers living more than a kilometre from the border have had their fields destroyed. Farmers report being shot at by Israeli soldiers as they try to plant or harvest their crops and the border areas are gradually being emptied as more and more families are being driven from their own land.

As the dancers stamp and cheer for the land, Jamal al-Bassyuni points to the ruins of his former home. ‘All the years we lived here we had no electricity’ he says. ‘But we had our farm, and our land gives us our feeling for life. I know every inch of this land, and my family still come here every day, though we are afraid, especially after the war and what happened here. We are not growing trees here now, but we are still planting wheat and vegetables. Because in our hearts we are farmers.’

Aftermath (8) Life is blind

Tuesday, 05 May 2009
Mahmoud Mattar spent his 15th birthday in February this year, lying in the intensive care unit of Egypt’s Sheikh Zayid hospital. He is one of the 1,606 children who were injured during Israel’s military offensive on Gaza, some of who sustained horrific disabilities, head and spinal injuries, facial disfigurement, burns and amputation.

On Wednesday 7 January 2009, Mahmoud Mattar, then 14, was struck by a rocket near his home in Sheikh Radwan, Gaza City, that left him permanently blind and with extensive injuries. It was around 09:30 in the morning and Mahmoud was at home with his mother and siblings when an Israeli aircraft fired a missile at al-Taqwa mosque, 150 metres away.

Mahmoud ran to see what had happened, and shortly afterwards a second missile hit the scene, killing two 15 year old boys, including Abdullah Juda, one of Mahmoud’s school friends. Mahmoud’s uncle, Nahed Mattar, 43, went to find his nephew while people gathered in the area.

Just as Nahed reached out to grab Mahmoud, a third rocket hit. “I had gone to find Mahmoud and bring him home,” said Nahed. “I saw the two boys who had been killed and their bodies were dismembered. People were trying to evacuate them because ambulances were unable to reach the area and the mosque had been destroyed, with just a minaret left standing.:

As Nahed reached out for Mahmoud’s hand, a rocket landed just a metre and a half away from his nephew: “I was injured in the head and Mahmoud was thrown unconscious. His face was in a terrible shape – it has only improved now after numerous operations – and there were shrapnel injuries all over his body.”

The last thing Mahmoud remembers that day was his uncle was beside him: “I told my uncle something was going to hit us. I couldn’t see the missile but I could feel something was going to happen. I made my ‘shahaadah’ [Muslim declaration of faith before death] and was about to take a step forward. I don’t remember anything after that.”

Mahmoud’s eyes were burnt, and his facial bones were fractured. His lower jaw was broken, he lost some of his teeth, and had shrapnel injuries and third degree burns throughout his body.

Mahmoud was transferred to Gaza City’s Shifa hospital where the seriousness of his condition meant transfer to hospital in Egypt was essential. But later that same day, 7 January 2009, an ambulance convoy belonging to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, was fired upon traveling south of Gaza City, so Mahmoud had to wait until the 10 of January before he could be transferred. In Egypt Mahmoud endured numerous operations to reconstruct his face and bone transplants. He also suffered lung damage due to smoke inhalation and his breathing is now laboured.

Mahmoud spent a total of three months and ten days in hospital in Egypt, including one month in the intensive care unit of Sheikh Zayid hospital, and two months in Cairo’s Palestine hospital. He returned to the Gaza Strip in late April 2009 and is now trying to adapt to his new circumstances. Mahmoud’s father is unemployed and has health problems and the school for the blind in Gaza normally only accepts younger children. His family is now trying to arrange special dispensation so Mahmoud can continue his education.

“Mahmoud was very active in school and loved sports”, says his mother Randa Mattar, aged 36. “He loved gymnastics, especially in the sea. My son is the same person he was before.”

“The only different thing with me is that life is blind now,” adds Mahmoud, as he playfights with his younger brothers. “Sounds are much louder to me now. Now if an ant walks by, I hear it.”

The prospect of lifelong care for severely injured children who survived Israeli attacks is too much to bear for Gazan families already vulnerable after two years of border closures, 42 years of military occupation, and rising poverty levels.

While some of the costs of Mahmoud’s hospitalization were covered by the Palestinian Ministry of Health, he needs more follow up care and support and the ability to travel for further treatment.

“Mahmoud also needs cosmetic surgery and to be fitted with glass eyes,” explains Nahed, who stayed with his nephew for the duration of his time in Egypt and has developed a very close bond with him. “We will have to find the money to pay for that ourselves, somehow.”

On anniversary of Gaza war, we will remember IDF soldiers who destroyed Palestinian families

While Yoav Galant’s name is most prominently mentioned in the context of the third anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, we must recall the other, nameless soldiers, guided by the spirit of the army’s top brass.

By Amira Hass, Haaretz

On the third anniversary of the Cast Lead onslaught, we remember the anonymous soldiers who fired on a red car, in which a father, Mohammed Shurrab, and his two sons were returning home from their farm lands. It is not fair that the officer who then served as GOC Southern Command of the Israel Defense Forces, Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, will be the only one remembered on this anniversary. Indeed, the list of fighters who should be mentioned and recalled is long.

We will remember the pilot who delivered the bomb that killed Mahmoud al-Ghoul, a high-school student, and his uncle Akram, an attorney, at the family’s home in northern Gaza. We will remember the soldiers who analyze photographs taken by drones, who decided that a truck conveying oxyacetylene cylinders for welding, owned by Ahmad Samur, was carrying Grad rockets – a decision that led to an order to bomb the vehicle from the air which, in turn, led to the deaths of eight persons, four of them minors.

We will remember the soldiers who turned the Abu Eida family home in eastern Jabalya into a base and place from which to shoot, and confined in one room an elderly invalid, a blind woman and two older women. We will remember how these soldiers did not allow these four persons to go to the restroom for nine days. We will remember the soldiers who herded members of the Samouni family into one house and were themselves positioned 80 meters from it when it was shelled, with all its residents inside, under orders from brigade commander Ilan Malka – someone else whom we will remember, of course.

The list goes on and on, and we ask forgiveness from those we haven’t cited due to lack of space. But on this occasion we shall especially remember the soldiers at a certain post in the eastern part of Khan Yunis.

On Saturday, January 17, 2009, at 8:46 (a day before the cessation of the attacks ), I received the following letter from the United States in my inbox: “My father and two brothers were attacked yesterday [Friday, January 16th] while driving home from their farm. One brother [Kassab – 27] died, but the father [Mohammed Shurrab – 64] and the remaining brother [Ibrahim – 17] are now wounded and stranded in an Israeli Defense Force (IDF ) controlled area. They were attacked between 1:00-1:30 P.M. local time during the cease-fire time, and emergency services are unable to reach them.”

The IDF did not allow an ambulance to approach this area; the letter writer, Amer Shurrab, believed that media pressure would help bring about such authorization. “We are very desperate, and trying as many avenues as possible to get aid to reach them. If you know even a foot soldier who might be able to push the ball by calling a local commander we would really appreciate any help,” he wrote.

Shurrab did not know that while he was writing this desperate appeal to a person he did not know, his second brother was already dead, after bleeding in his father’s arms for 10 hours. The bereaved brother also did not know that from 6 A.M. that same Saturday, Tom, a field worker for the Physicians for Human Rights nonprofit organization, was in touch with me.

This was a case of death on via live broadcast: Until the battery of the father’s cell phone went dead, Shurrab phoned his relatives in Gaza and the United States, as well as the Red Crescent and the Red Cross, Tom from PHR, and local journalists.

The humanitarian cease-fire, as it was called by the IDF, had lasted on that Friday from 10 A.M. to 2 P.M. The father, who was driving, and his two sons passed an IDF checking position, and were allowed to continue on. Around 1 P.M. they reached the Abu Zeidan supermarket, in the Al Fukhary neighborhood in eastern Khan Yunis, whose residents had fled at the start of the ground attack. The neighboring house, the largest building on the street, had been turned into an army base two weeks beforehand. Shots were fired from this base at the Shurrab car. Wounded in his chest, Kassab got out of the jeep, collapsed and died. Ibrahim jumped out of the vehicle, and was then wounded in his leg by unrelenting gunfire.

The father was wounded in the arm, but managed to drag his surviving son to a nearby wall. He saw a tank, and soldiers coming and going. The soldiers could see him. At 11 P.M., 10 hours after the shooting, still pinned against the wall, the father noticed that his bleeding son was becoming cold and that his breathing was becoming labored. He managed to carry his son back to the gunshot-riddled vehicle, hoping it would be warmer there. But half an hour after midnight, between Friday and Saturday, the son drew his last breath, in his father’s arms.

All this occurred some 50 or 100 meters from the soldiers. Periodically, the newly bereaved father spoke on the phone with Tom who, stationed in his Tel Aviv home throughout the night, joined the Red Cross in efforts to persuade the army to allow an ambulance to come immediately to the scene. The European Gaza Hospital is located some two kilometers, a one- or two-minute ride, from this area.

Around 9:30 Saturday morning Tom was informed that the IDF had given authorization for the ambulance to come at noon that day.

At the time, the IDF Spokesman relayed that, “In general, during the cease-fire the IDF opened fire only when rockets were fired at Israel, or shots were fired at the IDF. We are unable to investigate and retrieve the facts of every incident, or to verify or deny each piece of information that is brought to our attention. The ambulance’s entry was allowed only after an assessment was made of the situation in the field, and a decision was reached that operational conditions allowed such entry. The wounded persons [!!] were evacuated by the Palestinian health ministry, and brought to the hospital in Rafah.”

I well remember those anonymous solders who destroyed the Shurrab family. Upon my arrival at the site on January 24, I discovered that they had left behind not only the usual images of destruction, and the routine filth, at the Palestinian home from which they fired shots against this family: They also left behind the inscription, “Kahane was right.”

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