Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces as world pleads for truce
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, July 28, 2014 14:50 EDT
Exchanges of fire killed eight Palestinian children in a Gaza refugee camp and four people in Israel on Monday, shattering hopes for an end to three weeks of devastating violence.
The missile that slammed into a public playground in the seafront Shati UN refugee camp also killed at least two other people and wounded another 46, many of them also children, the emergency services said.
Soon after, a security source said five Gaza militants were killed in a shootout with troops in southern Israel. Hamas’s armed wing claimed it killed 10 Israeli soldiers in a raid in the same area, and denied it lost any men.
The latest bloodshed pushed the Palestinian death toll from violence in and around the coastal enclave to more than 1,050.
Palestinian medical sources blamed the refugee camp killings on the Israeli military, with witnesses saying the missiles had been fired from a fighter jet.
“An F-16 fired five rockets at a street in Shati camp where children were playing, killing some of them and injuring many more,” one told AFP.
Inside Shifa hospital, an AFP correspondent saw the bodies of at least seven children from the blast at the camp, with more bodies being brought in on bloodied stretchers.
They were unloaded and taken directly to the mortuary.
The Israeli military categorically denied any attack, and said Hamas had aimed the rockets at Israel but that they misfired and hit the camp.
It also blamed an early attack inside the compound of Gaza’s biggest hospital on militant rocket fire that fell short of Israel and struck in the Palestinian territory.
In Israel, at least four people were killed when a mortar round fired from Gaza hit an administrative building in the Eshkol regional council, media reports said, in what was the biggest civilian loss of life inside the Jewish state since the start of the violence.
The latest deaths came after a brief lull in the fighting in Gaza for the beginning of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr, torpedoing hopes of a ceasefire despite intense international pressure for an end to the conflict.
- Abbas mission to Cairo -
Following increasingly urgent calls by the UN and the US for an “immediate ceasefire,” a senior source in the West Bank said Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was heading to Cairo with Hamas representatives for fresh talks on ending the violence in Gaza.
“Abbas is forming a Palestinian delegation including Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives to meet Egyptian leaders and discuss a halt to Israel’s aggression against Gaza,” the source told AFP, without saying when the talks would take place.
“The aim is to examine with Egyptian leaders how to meet Palestinian demands and put an end to the aggression,” he said.
Earlier US President Barack Obama phoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to demand an “immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire”, in a call echoed hours later by the UN Security Council.
As diplomatic efforts intensified to broker an end to the bloodletting which has claimed over a thousand lives, both sides appeared to have settled into an undeclared ceasefire arrangement with the skies over Gaza mostly quiet.
Military spokesman General Moti Almoz described the calm as “an unlimited lull” but warned that the army was ready to resume its activity at any time.
The army said two rockets had struck Israel since midnight (2100 GMT) while in Gaza, an AFP correspondent confirmed there had been no overnight air strikes, although sporadic raids resumed in the afternoon with a four-year-old boy and another person killed by tank shelling near the northern town of Jabaliya.
Another three succumbed to their wounds overnight.
- ‘Eid of martyrs’ -
There was little mood for celebration in Gaza City as the three-day festival of Eid al-Fitr that ends the holy fasting month of Ramadan got under way.
Several hundred people arrived for early-morning prayers at the Al-Omari mosque, bowing and solemnly whispering their worship. But instead of going to feast with relatives, most went straight home while others went to pay their respects to the dead.
Among them was Ahed Shamali whose 16-year-old son who was killed by a tank shell several days ago.
“He was just a kid,” he said, standing by the grave. “This is the Eid of the martyrs.”
Obama’s demand for an “immediate, unconditional” ceasefire has strained US-Israeli ties and put Netanyahu in a tight spot with hardliners in his government, commentators say.
And US Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday international efforts to agree a Gaza ceasefire must lead to the disarmament of Hamas.
It came after the UN Security Council appealed for both sides to accept an “immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire” to permit the urgent delivery of aid, in a non-binding statement which elicited disappointment from the Palestinian envoy.
*************Israel says Gaza campaign will continue 'until mission is accomplished'
House of Ismail Haniyeh, a senior Hamas leader, hit by missile after suggestions of a major escalation of military action in Gaza
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
The Guardian, Monday 28 July 2014 19.48 BST
Link to video: Israel vows to continue to act with force as nine children are killed in Gazahttp://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2014/jul/28/israel-vows-to-act-with-force-netanyahu-nine-children-killed-gaza-video
The war in Gaza erupted afresh on Monday as Israel warned of a protracted military campaign to destroy cross-border tunnels and disarm Hamas and other militant groups.
"We need to be prepared for a long operation until our mission is accomplished," Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a televised press conference, rejecting mounting international calls for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.
Just after midnight , reports from Gaza described flares lighting up the sky amid intense shelling, with drones flying overhead. Gaza's interior ministry announced that the house of a Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, was hit by a missile. No immediate casualties were reported.
Netanyahu – who described the conflict as a "just war" – spoke after a series of dramatic events following a lull in fighting on Sunday and early Monday. Eight children playing in a park in a Gaza refugee camp were killed, the main public hospital was struck, four Israeli soldiers were killed in a mortar attack and militants from Gaza infiltrated Israel through a tunnel.
Israel Defence Forces warned residents of neighbourhoods in northern Gaza – including Shujai'iya, the scene of some of the most intense fighting in the three-week war – to evacuate immediately, suggesting a major escalation of military action was imminent.
Benny Gantz, Israel's military chief of staff, and defence minister Moshe Ya'alon also said the operation would continue as long as necessary. "Gaza residents should distance themselves from areas in which Hamas is acting because we will get there and it will be painful," Gantz said.
The renewed bloodshed added urgency to international calls for a ceasefire. Earlier on Monday the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, reiterated the security council's call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, demanding that both sides end the fighting "in the name of humanity".
The statements from the three men directing the military offensive on Gaza will gratify hawkish cabinet ministers and media commentators who have been stridently urging an expansion of the operation to try to deal a decisive blow to Hamas.
But Israel's decision to press ahead with the operation risks alienating its key ally, the US, after Barack Obama told Netanyahu of his concern over civilian casualties.
Eight children and two adults were killed, and dozens more injured, at the seafront Shati refugee camp on Monday. At the same time the Shifa hospital in Gaza City was hit. The incidents followed the end of a 24-hour unilateral ceasefire declared by Hamas to mark the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid.
Israel categorically denied its forces were responsible for the strike on the hospital or the camp, saying rockets launched by militants had misfired. But medical staff and other witnesses insisted missiles were fired at the hospital from an F-16 jet. Israel has previously accused Hamas militants of hiding in the hospital premises."We have not fired on the hospital or on Shati refugee camp," Major Arye Shalicar told AFP. "We know that Hamas was firing from both areas and the missiles struck these places."
In southern Israel a Palestinian mortar strike from Gaza killed four soldiers, the IDF said. A fifth soldier was killed in southern Gaza, bringing total military casualties to 48. A number of others were wounded in the attack. It was not confirmed whether the victims were military personnel or civilians.
At least one militant among a group which infiltrated Israel through a tunnel was killed as the men emerged near a community close to the border. Hamas said 10 Israeli soldiers had lost their lives but there was no confirmation from Israel.Warning sirens were reported in northern Israel, including the city of Haifa, suggesting Hamas could be deploying long-range missiles in its arsenal.
Earlier, following the end of the ceasefire at 2pm, there was renewed rocket fire from Gaza. The IDF warned that it would respond to rocket fire with further air strikes. "The IDF is free to attack after any fire if there is any," Brig Gen Motti Almoz told Israel Radio.
In New York Ban accused Netanyahu and Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Mishal of being morally wrong for allowing civilians to be killed.
He urged both sides to demonstrate political will and compassionate leadership to end the bloodshed.
Gaza was in a "critical condition" after three weeks of military offensive, which raised serious questions about proportionality, he told reporters.
The UN and Obama had also called for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. The calls followed a series of unilateral ceasefire announcements by both sides, each of which was rejected by the other amid mutual blame and recrimination.
A presidential statement issued by the UN security council just after midnight in New York on Sunday, called on the parties to the conflict "to accept and fully implement the humanitarian ceasefire into the Eid period and beyond" and "to engage in efforts to achieve a durable and fully respected ceasefire, based on the Egyptian initiative".
It noted "grave concern regarding the deterioration in the situation as a result of the crisis related to Gaza and the loss of civilian lives and casualties" and called for Israel and Hamas to respect international law.
Obama told Netanyahu of his concern at the rising number of civilian deaths and urged an immediate, unconditional ceasefire. He stressed the importance of "ensuring Israel's security, protecting civilians, alleviating Gaza's humanitarian crisis and enacting a sustainable ceasefire that both allows Palestinians in Gaza to lead normal lives and addresses Gaza's long-term development and economic needs, while strengthening the Palestinian Authority".
However, in his television address on Monday night, Netanyahu vowed: "We will not end this operation without neutralising the tunnels whose sole purpose is killing our citizens."
According to the UN, more than 20 hospitals and medical centres have been hit by Israeli shelling and about 1,060 people – mostly civilians – killed, with 6,000 injured. The Israeli death toll exceeded 50.
In Egypt, former president Mohamed Morsi who was overthrown in a military coup a year ago praised the "resistance" in Gaza.
"Our compass is set on supporting Palestine against the usurping occupier and we are with any resistance against any occupier," Morsi said in a message posted on his official Facebook page. "A full salute to those who resist and to the revolutionaries."
Hamas is an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which has been outlawed under the regime of Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.
**************Gaza pounded by Israel after Netanyahu promises prolonged battle
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem and agencies
theguardian.com, Tuesday 29 July 2014 10.35 BST
Israel increased its attacks on Gaza on Monday night
Gaza endured a night of relentless bombardment that brought some of the heaviest pounding since the start of the conflict three weeks ago, in the hours after the Israeli political and military leadership warned of a protracted offensive.
Palestinian officials say more than 110 people have been killed in Gaza in the past 24 hours.
Israeli forces targeted key strategic targets, including the home of the Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, and a building housing Hamas-controlled broadcast outlets.
Haniyeh's home was hit by a missile shortly before dawn, causing damage but no injuries. Eleven people were killed in a strike on a house in Bureij refugee camp in Gaza City.
Shells hit fuel tanks at Gaza's only power plant, causing a massive explosion and black smoke to billow into the air. The plant's capacity - already down to about three hours' electricity supply a day - is likely to be further reduced.
Hamas said al-Aqsa TV and al-Aqsa Radio were also targeted. The television station continued to broadcast but the radio station went silent.
The Israel Defence Forces struck 150 targets in total during the course of the night. Sirens warning of rocket fire sounded across southern Israel.
The IDF said overnight that five soldiers had died in a gun battle on Monday with militants who crossed into Israel via a tunnel near the community of Nahal Oz, close to the border with the Gaza Strip.
The incident raised to 10 the number of military fatalities for the day, bringing the total to 53. Four others were killed in a mortar attack and another died in clashes in the south of Gaza.
A building within the Gaza port on fire after Israeli bombardment. A building within the Gaza port on fire after Israeli bombardment. Photograph: Loulou D'aki/AFP/Getty Images
Hamas's armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, claimed it had killed 19 Israeli soldiers on Monday and a total of 110 during the military campaign.
Speaking at a televised press conference on Monday evening, the Israeli prime minister warned that the operation would step up, in remarks that flouted international pressure for a ceasefire. "We need to be prepared for a protracted campaign. We will continue to act with force and discretion until our mission is accomplished," said Binyamin Netanyahu.
The IDF continued to categorically deny that its forces were responsible for hits on Shati refugee camp and the Shifa hospital on Monday. At least eight children were killed at Shati while playing in a park.
Gaza conflict timeline
The military released an aerial photograph that it said showed rockets fired by militants had fallen short. In a statement it said red lines drawn over the photograph indicated “the paths of the four terrorist rockets, as detected by IDF radars and sensors, that were launched in the attacks that resulted in one hitting the Al-Shifa hospital and one hitting the Shati refugee camp. Of the other two rockets, one landed at sea and the other was intercepted on its way to the city of Ashkelon.”
Witnesses in Gaza said missiles had been fired from Israeli F-16 jets. A spokesman for the interior ministry in Gaza, Iyad al-Buzm, said explosives experts from the Gaza police had examined "the targeted places and the remnants of shells there" as well as the wounds on the bodies, determining them to be from an Israeli strike.
The Palestinian death toll stood at around 1,100, mostly civilians. Two Israeli civilians and a Thai agricultural worker have been killed in rocket fire in the past three weeks.
The renewed bloodshed followed growing international calls for a ceasefire. On Monday the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, reiterated the security council’s earlier call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, demanding that both Israel and Hamas end the fighting “in the name of humanity”.
Israeli forces' flares light up the night sky of Gaza City early Tuesday Israeli forces' flares light up the night sky of Gaza City early Tuesday. Photograph: Khalil Hamra/AP
The US president, Barack Obama, told Netanyahu by phone on Sunday of his concern at civilian casualties. He also pressed for an immediate ceasefire.
Meanwhile there were fresh clashes in East Jerusalem between Palestinian protesters against the war in Gaza and Israeli security forces.
Monday evening's statements from the three men directing the Israeli military offensive on Gaza – Netanyahu, defence minister Moshe Ya'alon and military chief of staff Benny Gantz – will gratify hawkish cabinet ministers and media commentators who have been stridently urging an expansion of the operation in order to deal a decisive blow to Hamas.
**************Deadly blasts in Israel and Gaza threaten fragile truce
Missiles strike refugee camp and hospital compound, as four Israelis die in mortar attack near Gaza border
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Monday 28 July 2014 17.47 BST
The war in Gaza threatened to erupt again on Monday following a lull in fighting after several children and adults were killed when missiles struck a refugee camp and the compound of Gaza's biggest public hospital, and four Israelis died in a mortar attack near the Gaza border.
The renewed bloodshed added urgency to international calls for a ceasefire. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, reiterated the security council's call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, demanding that both Israel and Hamas end the fighting "in the name of humanity".
The Israel Defence Forces later warned residents of neighbourhoods in northern Gaza – including Sujiai'iya, the scene of some of the most intense fighting in the three-week war – to evacuate immediately, suggesting an escalation of military action was imminent.
Ten people were reportedly killed at the beachfront Shati refugee camp shortly after the Shifa hospital in Gaza City, the scene of countless horrors in the past three weeks, was struck on Monday afternoon.
The incidents followed the end of a 24-hour unilateral ceasefire declared by Hamas to mark the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid.
Israel swiftly denied that its forces were responsible for the strike on the hospital, saying rockets launched by militants had misfired, contradicting reports from medical staff and other witnesses. Israel has previously accused Hamas militants of hiding in the hospital premises.
In southern Israel, a Palestinian mortar strike from Gaza killed four people, Israeli medical officials said. A number of others had been wounded in the attack, they said. It was not confirmed whether the victims were military or civilian.
Following the end of the Hamas-declared 24-hour ceasefire at 2pm, there was renewed rocket fire from Gaza. Warning sirens sounded across southern Israel, and the Israeli authorities reported several rockets landing on open ground.
The Israel Defence Forces warned that it would respond to rocket fire with further air strikes. "The IDF is free to attack after any fire," Israel's chief military spokesman, Brigadier General Motti Almoz, told Israel Radio.
In New York, Ban accused the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Mishal of being "morally wrong" for allowing civilians to be killed in the conflict. He urged both sides to demonstrate "political will" and "compassionate leadership" to end the bloodshed.
Gaza was in a "critical condition" following three weeks of military offensive which raised "serious questions about proportionality", he told reporters.
According to the United Nations, more than 20 hospitals and medical centres have been hit by Israeli shelling since the start of the conflict, three weeks ago on Tuesday. The World Health Organisation said it was "appalled by the continuing trend for healthcare facilities, staff and vehicles to come under direct fire in Gaza since the escalation of violence".
The UN and US president Barack Obama called for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. The calls followed a series of unilateral ceasefire announcements by both sides, each of which was rejected by the other amid mutual blame and recrimination.
A statement issued by the UN security council just after midnight in New York, called on the parties to the conflict "to accept and fully implement the humanitarian ceasefire into the Eid period and beyond" and "to engage in efforts to achieve a durable and fully respected ceasefire, based on the Egyptian initiative".
It noted "grave concern regarding the deterioration in the situation as a result of the crisis related to Gaza and the loss of civilian lives and casualties" and called for Israel and Hamas to respect international law.
Obama told Netanyahu of his concern at the rising number of civilian deaths and urged an immediate, unconditional ceasefire.
Saying the US backed a ceasefire plan tabled two weeks ago by Egypt, Obama stressed the importance of "ensuring Israel's security, protecting civilians, alleviating Gaza's humanitarian crisis and enacting a sustainable ceasefire that both allows Palestinians in Gaza to lead normal lives and addresses Gaza's long-term development and economic needs, while strengthening the Palestinian Authority".
But amid a confusing sequence of temporary ceasefires, there was little sign of a longer-term deal to end the military confrontation. The US secretary of state, John Kerry, returned to Washington at the weekend after his efforts to forge a ceasefire agreement between the two sides failed.
Kerry said the work to continue an unconditional humanitarian ceasefire would continue.
"Our discussions over there succeeded in putting a 12-hour humanitarian ceasefire in place," he said, adding that there were "regrettably" misunderstandings, between both sides, about the terms of the short pause in fighting.
Kerry said the immediate humanitarian break in conflict was an essential precursor to a more permanent cessation in hostilities.
"We believe that the momentum generated by a humanitarian ceasefire is the best way to be able to begin to negotiate and find out if you can put in place a sustainable ceasefire – one that addresses all of the concerns."
He said that while the underlying causes of the conflict "obviously [would] not all be resolved" in the context of a sustainable ceasefire, it was essential to begin the process.
Kerry said any process to resolve the crisis in a lasting way "must lead to the disarmament of Hamas".
Mishal told PBS that Israel must end its occupation. "We are not fanatics. We are not fundamentalists. We are not actually fighting the Jews because they are Jews per se. We do not fight any other races. We fight the occupiers," he said.
In Egypt, former president Mohamed Morsi, who was overthrown in a military coup a year ago, praised the "resistance" in Gaza.
"Our compass is set on supporting Palestine against the usurping occupier and we are with any resistance against any occupier," he said in a message posted on his official Facebook page. "A full salute to those who resist and to the revolutionaries."
Hamas is an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which has been outlawed under the regime of Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.
*************Baby born by emergency caesarean after mother dies in Gaza shelling
Doctors save newborn after woman who was eight months pregnant was buried by rubble at her home in Deir al-Balah
Agence France-Presse in Gaza
theguardian.com, Monday 28 July 2014 19.33 BST
When the doctors gently pulled the tiny newborn from the womb in an emergency caesarean, her mother had already been dead for an hour.
Shayma al-Sheikh Qanan, 23, was eight months pregnant when an Israeli tank shell hit her home in the central Gaza strip town of Deir al-Balah, reducing it to rubble. She was left in a critical condition. Her husband, a local radio journalist, was also badly wounded.
"Her body was brought in after an Israeli shelling at 3am on Friday," said Fadi al-Kharti, a doctor at Deir al-Balah hospital. "We tried to revive her but she had died on the way."
Before paramedics managed to dig her out, she had been stuck under the rubble of her home for an hour. "Then we noticed movement in her stomach, and estimated she was about 36 weeks pregnant," he says. Doctors performed an immediate caesarean and saved the baby, who was named after her late mother.
For 43-year-old Mirfat Qanan, it was a tragedy to lose her daughter, but there was joy at becoming a grandmother.
"God has protected this child for me. My daughter Shayma is dead, but I now have a new daughter," she said. "She'll call me 'mummy' just like her mother did."
The newborn was being looked after in the intensive care unit in another hospital in Khan Yunis to ensure her survival. Now four days old, she was breathing through an oxygen mask in the hospital's maternity ward.
Abdel Karim al-Bawab, head doctor at the ward, said staff were keeping a close eye on the baby to monitor her condition. "Her vital signs are stable, but she must stay here in this state for at least three more weeks," he said.
****************Life under fire in Gaza: the diary of a Palestinian
What's it like for families struggling to survive in Gaza? A Palestinian author describes the overcrowding and shortages, the horror of seeing familiar places reduced to rubble – and the constant fear of death
Atef Abu Saif
The Guardian, Monday 28 July 2014 19.15 BST
Wednesday 23 July 2014
Yesterday evening, my sister-in-law, Huda, her son and three daughters had to move to the place where we are staying, in Jabalia Camp. They usually live to the south of Gaza City, in an area called Tal al Hawa, its southernmost tip. For the past five days, tanks have bombarded the area. In one of these attacks, large chunks of debris from a house nearby flew in through the windows; half of another house inside Huda’s house.
My sister-in-law says they are used to this kind of thing. In the 2008-9 war, half the house collapsed when a rocket made a direct hit, entering horizontally through the lounge window. Her husband, Hatim, has refused to come with her to Jabalia this time, however. Nobody remains on their street but him. Over the past couple of years, he has developed a passion for keeping birds. He has converted one room in his house into an aviary, in which he raises around 50 different kinds of birds, including hummingbirds, pigeons and sparrows. He prefers to stay and take care of his birds – who else will look after them?
Now there are 14 of us living in my father-in-law’s house. The house consists of just two rooms. This morning, there is a long queue for the bathroom. Once inside, you hear nothing but the calls of those queuing, encouraging you to finish as fast as you can.
Over the past week, most houses have started to face water shortages. My father spends most of his day watching the level in his water tank, obsessively. The other day he had to carry water in bottles from the neighbours’ tank. He himself is hosting two extra families inside his little house – that of my sister with her 12 family members, and that of his uncle with his five family members – as well as the family of my brother, Ibrahim.
Queues are everywhere now. A few days ago, we were living a normal life – waking at 8am, washing our faces, brushing our teeth, having breakfast, starting our days and whatever our daily routines entailed. Now we have to abandon those routines and live according to each and every moment.
Life is getting complicated. You wish that you were simpler and could accept things more easily. My little girl, Jaffa, who is 19 months old, was utterly terrified in the first week of the war. We couldn’t bring ourselves to explain what the sounds of the explosions were, but she could easily understand the fear written on our faces when we heard each one. After a week, we started to tell her that these were the sounds of a door being closed quickly by Naem, her older brother. Jaffa accepted this and started to adapt to the situation. She even played with the idea. When hearing each explosion, she now shouts, “The dooooooor!”, and then calls out to Naem to stop slamming it. In Jaffa’s logic, someone is slamming a door to keep us all imprisoned in this situation. Each door slam is a door slammed shut on the opportunity for peace. Each cry from Jaffa to her brother Naem to stop shutting the door is fruitless.
Thursday 24 July
The worst thing is when you realise that you no longer understand what is going on. Throughout the night, the tanks, drones, F16 fighter jets and warships haven’t let up for a minute. The explosions are constant, always sounding as if they’re just next door. Sometimes you’re convinced that they’re in your very room, that you’ve finally been hit. Then you realise, it’s another miss. My mobile has a flat battery, so I’m unable to listen to the news. Instead, I lie in the dark and guess what’s going on, make up my own analysis.
In time, you start to distinguish between the different types of attack. By far the easiest distinction you learn to make is between an air attack, a tank attack, and an attack from the sea. The shells coming in from the sea are the largest in size, and the boom they make much deeper than anything else you hear. It’s an all-engulfing, all-encompassing sound: you feel as if the ground itself is being swallowed up. Tank rockets, by comparison, give off a much hollower sound. Their explosions leave more of an echo in the air, but you don’t feel it so much from beneath. A rocket dropped from an F16 produces an unmistakable, brilliant white light, as well as a long reverberation. A bomb from an F16 makes the whole street dance a little, sway for a good 30 seconds or so. You feel you might have to jump out of the window any minute, to escape the collapse. Different from all these, though, is the rocket you get from a drone. This rocket seems to have more personality – it projects a sharp yellow light up in to the sky. A few seconds before a drone strike, this bright light spreads over the sky, as if the rocket is telling us: it’s dinner time, time to feast.
These are just impressions, of course. But when you sit each night in your living room waiting for death to not knock at your door, or send you a text message, telling you, “Death’s coming in one minute’s time,” when you are unable to answer the one question your kids need an answer to (“When is it going to end, Dad?”), when you struggle to summon the strength you need each day, just to get through that day … in these situations, which are, of course, all the same situation, what else can you do, but form “impressions”.
War teaches you how to adapt to its logic, but it doesn’t share its biggest secret, of course: how to survive it. For instance, whenever there’s a war on, you have to leave your windows half-open, so the pressure from the blasts doesn’t blow them out. To be even safer, you should cover every pane with adhesive tape, so that when it does break, the shards don’t fly indoors, or fall on people in the street below. It goes without saying you should never sleep anywhere near a window. The best place to sleep, people say, is near the stairs, preferably under them. The shell that fell two nights ago landed 150 metres away, smack in the middle of the Jabalia cemetery. The dead do not fight wars, but on this occasion they were forced to participate in the suffering of the living. The next morning dirty, grey bones lay scattered about the broken gravestones.
Friday 25 July
I only realise it’s a Friday when the prayers from the mosque start up. In a war, days no longer matter. Everything is tied to its rhythm, its discourse, its sounds and silences.
This morning I decide to go into Gaza City to see the centre. A young man is driving a horse and cart carrying mattresses and pillows, which presumably he plucked from the ruins of his house, in the direction of some shelter, in one of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools, I imagine. The man calls out to another on the street: “What day of Ramadan is it?” “The 27th,” comes his reply. This means that Eid is just three or four days from today. Normally, by this point, we would already be preparing for the celebrations. Every corner of the city would be strung with lights; shops would be open day and night, heaving with all the latest must-haves – mostly beautiful clothes that we ought to be wearing for Eid. Eid has its own smell and taste, you can’t mistake it.
But not this year. Now, everything is closed. All I can see is debris, collapsed buildings, huge ugly gaps where buildings used to be, ruins. Rubble is the only permanent image I have when I close my eyes.
Women, babies, old men, young boys and girls – all start to move slowly down in Unknown Soldier’s Square. They’re beginning to wake up; a few are still stretched out, asleep on the pieces of cardboard or material they’ve brought with them – few are lucky enough to have mattresses – and which they’ve spread out over the square’s gardens to spend the night on. This was the safest they could do in terms of refuge: the open air. The UNRWA schools, acting as refugee camps across Gaza, have been full for more than a week. The horrors these people have seen, the death they’ve been forced to taste back home, has been enough to make them drop everything and spend the night exposed like this: either in the Unknown Soldier’s gardens, or on the triangular-shaped patch of grass in the middle of Omar al Mokhtar Street, opposite the Palestinian Legislative Council. These gardens normally represent glamorous parts of the city; they are surrounded by expensive shops, the best restaurants. Now the gardens have become just another refugee camp. As I walk through them, I see that the fountains, at least, are providing a distraction for some of the boys now camped among them – they’re making the most of the cold water, stripping off and reclaiming the fountains as swimming pools, determined to make a little paradise of their own in this hell.
Suddenly an F16 breaks the sound barrier above us, rattling the square with its sonic boom. All necks crane as we scan the sky for a glimpse of where the rocket might land. A few seconds later we hear it: the F16 has taken its meal somewhere in Al Rimal neighbourhood. Like everyone else in the street, I run to the safest possible place: the centre of the street. On such occasions, you learn to keep away from any buildings still intact. I run along the centre of the street, along with everyone else, towards the ruins of the Al Isra Tower, which was hit a week ago and in which many families died. This was one of first tall buildings to be built in Gaza after the peace accords of 1994. Architecturally, it was quite impressive. Now it’s just a hill of rubble; no reason for a rocket to strike here. Back in Jabalia, my wife Hanna is fighting with the children over whether they should be allowed to go outside. They want to see the street and breathe the outside air. Even when they try to stand at the window, to look out over at the refugee-filled school across the street, Hanna snatches them back. My boy, Mostafa, wants to go my father’s house, to play with his cousins there. “No is no,” Hanna insists. They look at me pleadingly. I suggest that I take them with me this evening. What Hanna does not know, and I keep a secret from her, is that when I take the kids to my father’s place, which is just four minutes’ walk, the kids spend most of their time in the internet cafes next door, playing computer games.
Every day I quarrel with Hanna about this. In the end, I take the kids for a few hours before bringing them back. Every minute of our walk there we are at risk. Every step we take is another risk. As I hurry towards my father’s place, holding their hands, I pray the unthinkable doesn’t happen.
Saturday 26 July
It has now been 40 hours with no electricity. The water was also cut off yesterday. Electricity is a constant issue in Gaza. Since the Strip’s only power station was bombed in 2008, Gazans have had at best 12 hours of electricity a day. These 12 hours could be during the day, or while you are fast asleep; it’s impossible to predict. Complaining about it gets you nowhere. For three weeks we’ve barely had two or three hours a day. And right now, we would be happy with just one.
These blackouts affect every part of your life. Your day revolves around that precious moment the power comes back on. You have to make the most of every last second of it. First, you charge every piece of equipment that has a battery: your mobile, laptop, torches, radio, etc. Second, you try not to use any equipment while it’s being charged – to make the most of that charge. Next you have to make some hard decisions about which phone calls to take, which emails or messages to reply to. Even when you make a call, you have to stop yourself from straying into any “normal” areas of conversation – they’re a waste of power.
On Friday night, my friend Hisham, who works at Beit Hanoun Hospital, phoned to say that they had been bombed. Shells struck the x-ray room and the operating theatre. People, patients, doctors, and nurses were all terrified. Hisham’s three-minute description of the chaos was concluded with the insistence that some kind of intervention from the Red Cross or the UN must come. Hundreds of families were camping out in the gardens of the hospital, having nowhere else to go. I phoned Palestine TV and told them that people were trapped in Beit Hanoun Hospital and that they should make a plea to the Red Cross and UN. I was at my friend Husain’s place at the time with another friend, Abu Aseel, smoking nargila in the darkness. It was nearly midnight on the Friday, so I headed off towards my place.
There were several UNRWA schools-turned-refugee camps on my way home. I visited the second of them, where my friend Ali Kamal, who works as a teacher there, is part of the team taking care of the displaced people. In the administration room, Kamal was wearing a UN bulletproof vest. We sat outside, in front of the school, and he told me that the school is hosting some 2,450 persons, equating to 430 families. They serve each family one proper meal a day, plus a few biscuits. As we talked, I stared at the queue of people on one side, waiting to receive blankets from a window, and at another queue on the other, waiting to receive food. Kamal works a 24-hour shift, then goes home for 24 hours, before returning.
One of the school’s refugees, from the Ghabin family, went out yesterday afternoon to see his house and check on his animals in the field behind it. He was shot by a tank. His family and relatives organised a funeral for him inside the school. Sad faces, bitter eyes, terrible silences all under this metal ceiling – one that used to hang over a sports room where boys played, now a place for tributes and condolences.
Before I left, at around 2am on Saturday morning, news spread through the school that there would be a 12-hour humanitarian truce starting at 8am. You always greet talk of truces and ceasefires with a degree of scepticism. But in the school, everyone responded to it optimistically, planning their return to their homes and farms.
In the morning, the first question I ask when I open my eyes is: is there a truce? Hanna nods. This time she doesn’t mind if the children go to my father’s place, to play in the internet cafe. She is happy that finally, for 12 hours at least, they can move about. She is happy for herself, too. For the past hour she has been trying to decide where to go. I decide to go and see the damage in Shujaia, with my friends Aed and Salem.
Looking at the rubble where his house once stood, a man says: “This is not a war. This is the beginning of doomsday.” So much of this neighbourhood has been destroyed that, further down the street, another man cannot actually work out which bit of it had been his. The whole street is just rubble: stone, metal, bricks, piles of sand. Large strips of tarmac twist out of the sand suggesting where the street might have been. But there is no real definition to the street, no limits or boundaries between any of the houses either.
People’s homes now merge and weave together all over Gaza, like threads in a woollen scarf, knitted together by an old woman. Different colours, different materials, different styles. One of the men picking through the chaos, starts to scream: “This is 60 years of my family’s savings!” This is what I see as I drive with Aed and Saleem towards Shujai’iya. Baghdad Street – one of Shujai’iya’s main streets, running from the entrance to the quarter through towards the start of Gaza City to the east – is the main site of destruction. Baghdad Street, ironically enough, looks not unlike the scenes left behind by the American and British armies after the 2003 war.
A dozen or so cows have been killed near a farm on the edge of the neighbourhood. Even cows have failed to escape this war. Each one lies on its side; its tongue lolling out of its mouth, its belly starting to inflate with decay. One cow seems to be be split cleanly in half. We’re delighted, eventually, to see that one cow is still alive. It’s standing in a small square of rubble – presumably the remains of what was its barn – and we approach it carefully. It keeps its face close to the one remaining part of a wall; it looks pale and appears to have a leg wound. As we get near it limps away, clearly in pain, but too scared to let us help it.
Old women sit helplessly in the debris of their homes. A few kids can be seen searching for toys. Ambulances and medical teams work through the day to find people still alive under these ruins. Today, some 151 corpses have been found in this rubble. Some of them have started to decay already. You can smell the dead bodies on every corner of Shujai’iya. One of the corpses found was of a women: she had been carrying both her children, one in each arm, when the tank shell hit her home. It seems she was simply trying to protect them. She held them tight to her chest, and despite the weight of the masonry she never let go. What they found under all that concrete was like a still life, apparently, a photograph, a perfect composition. Abu Noor, my neighbour, was busy with his family helping to look through the rubble of a building in which six members of a family were killed. A child’s corpse was still missing. Everyone was desperate to find trace of the body. Abu Noor finally touched flesh. Something that to him felt like the body of the child. He screamed out, calling everyone around him to help him lift the stones. He managed to get a firm hold on a limb and dragged it slowly to the surface. It was a leg of a man. Whose leg? Nobody knows.
The truce is meant to be for 12 hours, running 8am until 8pm. We remain in Shujai’iya until 4pm, moving from one street to the next, trying to process the damage, and help as much as we can in the removal of debris. A man calls us over to the side of the street, as we start to drive east, warning that there are tanks just a few hundred yards away. He says if they see the car we’ll be a target. We have to turn back.
In Beit Hanoun and Khoza’a the scenes are no better. The tanks start shooting at people again at 5pm, three hours before the truce in Beit Hanoun was supposed to end. In Khoza’a, people are not allowed to visit the debris of their homes. Everyone looks at his watch to see how much time there is left.
Despite everything – the killing, the destruction, the missing people, the displaced people, the tears, the wounds, the suffering – for these 12 hours of truce, I see Gaza as it used to be. People in their thousands on the street, buying food, moving from one place to another; the shops open, kids playing in the streets. It is a city that has poured itself out into a few moments of peace. Now the truce is coming to an end. The tank mortars have started to roar again, filling the air with their terror.
Atef Abu Saif is a Palestinian author who lives in Gaza.