Gaza: at least 19 killed and 90 injured as another UN school is hit
UN official condemns ‘in the strongest possible terms this serious violation of international law by Israeli forces’
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 July 2014 12.28 BST
At least 19 Palestinians were killed and about 90 injured early on Wednesday when a UN school sheltering displaced people was hit by shells during a second night of relentless bombardment that followed an Israeli warning of a protracted military campaign.
Pierre Krahenbuhl, commissioner-general of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, condemned “in in the strongest possible terms this serious violation of international law by Israeli forces”.
He said in a statement: “Last night, children were killed as they slept next to their parents on the floor of a classroom in a UN-designated shelter in Gaza. Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced.
“We have visited the site and gathered evidence. We have analysed fragments, examined craters and other damage. Our initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit our school, in which 3,300 people had sought refuge. We believe there were at least three impacts.
“It is too early to give a confirmed official death toll. But we know that there were multiple civilian deaths and injuries including of women and children and the UNRWA guard who was trying to protect the site. These are people who were instructed to leave their homes by the Israeli army.”
It was the sixth time that UNRWA schools had been struck, he added. “Our staff, the very people leading the humanitarian response are being killed. Our shelters are overflowing. Tens of thousands may soon be stranded in the streets of Gaza, without food, water and shelter if attacks on these areas continue.”
At the school, Assad Sabah said he and his five children were huddling under desks in one of the classrooms because of the constant sound of tank fire throughout the night.
“We were scared to death,” he told the Associated Press. “After 4.30am, tanks started firing more. Three explosions shook the school. One classroom collapsed over the head of the people who were inside.”
A spokeswoman from the Israel Defence Forces said that its initial inquiries showed that “Hamas militants fired mortar shells from the vicinity of the school, and [Israeli] soldiers responded by firing towards the origins of the fire”. An investigation was continuing, she added.
A UN source said there was no evidence of militant activity inside the school.
The shelling of the school came as diplomatic attention was focussed on Cairo, where a delegation including the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the main militant factions in Gaza, was due to take part in ceasefire talks. A key issue was whether the Gaza-based factions and their armed wings accepted the authority of the delegation.
The Israeli security cabinet was also due to meet on Wednesday afternoon and would consider any progress made in Cairo. Israel’s political and military leaders face crucial decisions on whether to press deeper into Gaza once the cross-border tunnels have been located and destroyed, or whether to accept a “quiet for quiet” deal. “The next 24-72 hours will be critical,” said a diplomatic source.
The last two nights have seen the most fierce bombardment in this Gaza offensive, with inense air strikes, tank shelling and bombardment from Israeli gunboats. In 23 days more than 1,240 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed. On the Israeli side 53 soldiers and three civilians have been killed.
The shelling of the UN school followed an incident last week when another UN school in Beit Hanoun was hit as the playground was filled with families awaiting evacuation amid heavy fighting. Israel denied it was responsible for the deaths, saying a single “errant” shell fired by its forces hit the school playground, which was empty at the time.
But according to testimonies gathered by UN staff, an initial shell was followed by “several others in the close vicinity of the school within a matter of minutes”, spokesman Chris Gunness said. Reporters who visited the scene minutes afterwards said damage and debris was consistent with mortar rounds.
UNRWA, said on Tuesday it had found a cache of rockets at one of its schools in Gaza and deplored those who had put them there for placing civilians in harm’s way.
“This is yet another flagrant violation of the neutrality of our premises. We call on all the warring parties to respect the inviolability of UN property,” Gunness said. Two similar discoveries were made last week.
Israel says militants from Hamas and other organisations launch rockets from the vicinity of UNRWA properties.
More than 200,000 people in Gaza have taken shelter in the UN’s schools and properties after Israel warned them to leave whole neighbourhoods that it was planning to bomb. UNRWA said it was at “breaking point”.
The Israeli military said it had targeted more than 4,000 sites in Gaza since the start of the conflict on 8 July. It had detonated three tunnels in Gaza in the past 24 hours, it added. Among the overnight targets were five mosques, which the IDF said housed tunnel shafts, weapons stores and lookout posts, and two “facilities” utilised by senior Hamas militants.
International pressure for an end to the bloodshed has continued to mount. On Tuesday the British prime minister, David Cameron, added his weight to calls for an unconditional, immediate humanitarian ceasefire.
“What we’re seeing is absolutely heartbreaking in terms of the loss of life … everyone wants to see this stopped,” he said. Blaming Hamas for triggering the conflict, he added: “Hamas must stop attacking Israel with rocket attacks. That is how this started. It’s completely unjustified and they need to stop as part of the ceasefire.”
Four Latin American countries – Chile, Peru, Brazil and El Salvador – recalled their ambassadors to Israel. “Chile observes with great concern and discouragement that the military operations – which at this point appear to be a collective punishment to the Palestinian civil population in Gaza – don’t respect fundamental norms of international humanitarian law,” its foreign ministry said.
But support for the military operation among the Israeli public remained solid. A poll published by Tel Aviv university on Tuesday found 95% of Israeli Jews felt the offensive was justified. Only 4% believed too much force had been used.
Hamas released a video showing fighters inside tunnels in Gaza and containing a voice message from Mohammed Deif, the leader of its armed wing, the Qassam Brigades. “The occupying entity will not enjoy security unless our people live in freedom and dignity,” Deif said. “There will be no ceasefire before the Israeli aggression is stopped and the blockade is lifted. We will not accept interim solutions.”
On Tuesday flames and clouds of black smoke billowed over Gaza’s only power plant after it was destroyed. “The power plant is finished,” said its director, Mohammed al-Sharif, signalling a new crisis for Gaza’s 1.8 million people, who were already enduring power cuts of more than 20 hours a day.
Amnesty International said the crippling of the power station amounted to “collective punishment of Palestinians”. The strike on the plant will worsen already severe problems with Gaza’s water supply, sewage treatment and power supplies to medical facilities.
“We need at least one year to repair the power plant, the turbines, the fuel tanks and the control room,” said Fathi Sheik Khalil of the Gaza energy authority. “Everything was burned.” He said crew members were trapped by the fire for several hours before they were able to be evacuated.
Gaza City officials said damage to the power station could paralyse pumps and urged residents to ration water.
The home of the Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, was destroyed on Tuesday and a building used by Hamas-controlled broadcast outlets was damaged. Haniyeh was not at home when a missile struck shortly before dawn; most of Hamas’s senior leaders are presumed to be residing in underground bunkers for the duration of the war.
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, said he was in discussions with Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to find an end to the fighting in Gaza. The pair had spoken “two, three, four times a day in recent days”, Kerry told reporters in Washington.
They were working “very carefully and thoughtfully” on ways to “prevent this spiralling downwards”, he said.
Kerry reiterated US support for Israel’s right to self-defence, “to live free from rockets and tunnels”. The secretary of state has come under sustained attack in Israel over what was perceived as undue sympathy for Hamas’s position in ceasefire negotiations in the Middle East and Paris last week.
The Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem said 13 Palestinians in the West Bank had been killed by Israeli security forces since the start of the conflict in Gaza, raising concerns about excessive use of live fire.
Israel undermining its support in the west, Philip Hammond says
British foreign secretary refuses to say whether the country's shelling of Gaza is proportionate
Rowena Mason, political correspondent
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 July 2014 10.47 BST
Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, has said Israel is undermining its support in the west but has refused to say whether the country's shelling of Gaza is proportionate.
The senior Tory, who took over the brief in this month's reshuffle, said proportionality was an emotive word and claims on both sides would have to be investigated.
He repeated David Cameron's calls for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire after another heavy night of shelling in which a school was reportedly hit and many people died.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said: "Israelis have to understand that while they are defending their security in seeking to root out these rocket launchers and deal with the attack tunnels, they are also undermining the support for Israel that exists in the west."
The government has repeatedly emphasised Israel's right to defend itself but called for an end to the violence.
Ed Miliband has done the same but clearly opposed Israel's incursion into Gaza, despite "extreme provocation from Hamas".
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, has gone even further by saying the Israeli response "appears to be deliberately disproportionate".
Pressed on his views about Israel's proportionality, Hammond refused several times to be drawn.
"What Israel does in Gaza must be proportionate – that's a requirement of international law. It would not be legal if it was not proportionate.
"Israel will argue that the actions it has taken are taken against military targets and that Hamas has deliberately planted military installations in the middle of civilian areas, using civilians as human shields.
"In due course, the claims on both sides will need to be investigated. What is needed right now is an immediate and unconditional ceasefire."
Loss of Shelter and Electricity Worsens a Crisis for Fleeing Gazans
By BEN HUBBARD
GAZA CITY — When artillery shattered their home near the Israeli border, Ibrahim Hillis, a grandfather, rushed his extended family to the city to seek shelter, but the schools were full and relatives’ houses were already packed with others displaced by the war.
So home became a patch of thin grass around a tree trunk behind this city’s central hospital, where his family rigged up sheets to block the sun. Scores of other families had done the same, food and water were scarce, and ambulances bearing the victims of new attacks screamed in day and night.
“We are living in the dirt,” said Mr. Hillis, 73. “There is no work, no money, no medical treatment, and everything is decided by those fighting, so what can we, the people, do about it?”
Three weeks of war between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have pushed the territory to the brink of humanitarian disaster. Israel’s military on Tuesday broadened its offensive, bombing 150 sites, and one strike set ablaze the territory’s only power plant, filling the sky with smoke and cutting the electricity needed to pump water and sewage systems as well.
As the Palestinian death toll has risen to more than 1,220, including about 300 children, 22 medical facilities have been damaged and 215,000 people have fled their homes.
The longer the war lasts, the worse it gets.
International efforts to secure even short-term cease-fires have so far failed, and aid groups say indiscriminate battle tactics on both sides have endangered civilians.
“The Israelis and Hamas this time have crossed the Rubicon,” said Stuart Willcuts, the director of Mercy Corps for the West Bank and Gaza. “There is some kind of psychological marker that they have crossed, and they are not going to quit until we don’t know when.”
Even before the war, Gaza’s humanitarian situation was precarious. An Israeli-Egyptian blockade meant to weaken Hamas had decimated the economy, and half the population depended on food aid.
More than a quarter of Gaza’s arable land was considered a buffer zone and was unusable by Palestinians before the war, according to the United Nations. Now, 44 percent of the territory is a no-go zone.
This has increased the pressure on Gaza City, originally home to about a third of Gaza’s 1.7 million Palestinians, but now holding many more who have fled the front lines.
In the stretches of quiet between the recent wars, Gaza City has striven to be like cities elsewhere, but even its finer areas bear scars. Shattered windows mar beachfront hotels, and Israeli airstrikes have collapsed parts of downtown towers.
“Our whole lives have been war,” said Sobhi Salim, 59, sitting with his family in the park of the Unknown Soldier during a lull this week. They had fled the eastern neighborhood of Shejaiya and returned to find their home destroyed, he said, making it unclear where they would go after the war. Three of his nephews had died fleeing the neighborhood, he said, and another had been killed fighting for Hamas.
As he spoke, a man with a plastic toy car outfitted with speakers and lights charged small change to give children rides. A fountain that children often dived in for respite from the heat had stopped working and now held a foot of dirty, green water.
“The violence will never bring a solution if there is not a political agreement,” he said. “They all say, ‘We’ll bring freedom with the rifle,’ but it’s all empty talk.”
Even when the two sides are not at war, Israel has a complicated relationship with Gaza. It insists it has not occupied the territory since withdrawing its troops and settlers in 2005. But it controls Gaza’s borders, sea access, airspace, cellphone frequencies and population registry.
A baby born in Gaza gets an identification number only after approval by Israel.
“It’s a tool of control over people’s lives,” said Sari Bashi, of Gisha, an Israeli advocacy group focused on Gaza. “It’s one of the elements of occupation that did not end in 2005.”
The United Nations and the United States government consider Gaza occupied, though Israel does not.
Throughout the war, Israel has continued to allow food and electricity into Gaza, complicating Palestinian claims that they are besieged.
Ironically, Tuesday’s strike on the Gaza power station will make the territory even more dependent on Israel.
“Today there is no electricity in Gaza,” said Jamal Dardasawi of Gaza’s power company.
The plant would take months to fix, he said, and eight of the 10 lines that bring electricity to Gaza from Israel have been damaged by the war, leaving only a trickle coming in from there and from Egypt.
Mr. Dardasawi blamed Israel for the strike, but Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said Israel had not identified the source of the attack.
“I don’t have a clear picture of what happened there,” he said.
Israel has said the war is necessary to stop rocket fire by Gaza militants on its communities and to destroy a network of tunnels they have used to sneak fighters into Israel to kidnap soldiers. It blames Hamas for the vast destruction and the high civilian death toll, saying the militants fight from residential areas.
But such reasoning angers Gazans, who believe “the resistance” has a right to fight back against a stronger power and say that Hamas’s battle tactics do not justify razing civilian homes.
“Look at where they have forced us to live,” said Mr. Hillis’s wife, Insaf, in the family’s tent behind the hospital. “Every family here has a son or a father or a brother who has been killed, and all of their children will grow up wanting revenge.”
For many people in Gaza, it is the sounds of Israel’s military that fill their days: the ever-present whine of the drones that monitor movements and fire missiles, the deep thump of artillery fired by warships or troops, and the screech of fighter jets that dot the sky with flares and drop bombs that level homes.
There are also phone calls, in Arabic with heavy Hebrew accents, threatening Hamas members, “We will hunt you down no matter where you are!”
Leaflets dropped over the city this week bore a map of Gaza dotted with graves.
“Do you know where the bodies of Hamas and Islamic Jihad elements are?” they read. The back bore a list of dead fighters with a question: “Whose name do you think will be in the next leaflet?”
During the war, Gazans have heard little from Hamas, other than its television or radio stations, which splice jihadi music with news about the “Zionist enemy” and often predict victory “in the next few days.”
As the war continues, most Gazans are just struggling for a safe place to sleep.
About 400 people, all Muslims, have crowded into the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Porphyrius, where Archbishop Alexios has four rules: “Be quiet, be clean, no problems and no weapons.”
The displaced sleep in offices and meeting halls and string their laundry across the courtyard. When it is too dangerous to walk to the mosque, they lay out rugs and pray in the church.
Alaa Sukkar said his family had fled to Gaza City with no place to go and stumbled upon the church, where they had stayed since.
A fighter jet screamed overhead as he spoke, and he blamed Israel for the war and said Hamas had to fire rockets to keep Israel out of Gaza.
But when asked whether the rockets actually did that, he reconsidered.
“The rockets don’t protect us, and the Jews’ tanks and jets don’t protect them,” he said. “The only thing that could protect us would be peace between us.”
07/29/2014 01:34 PM
The Children of War: A Humanitarian Catastrophe Unfolds in Gaza
By Julia Amalia Heyer in Gaza City
Israel's incursion into the Gaza Strip triggered a bloody war. Brutal images of dead and injured Palestinians have circulated widely, but a cease-fire still appears to be a long way off.
Ahmed is hungry. Eyes closed, he clutches his mother's breast and drinks, oblivious to everything around him. He ignores the rattling of the ceiling fan, dangling precariously. And he doesn't notice the dull thuds that cause the walls to shake and his mother, Marwat al-Asasma, to cringe. Sometimes his body trembles, and he balls his tiny hands into fists.
Her son now weighs a little over three kilograms (6.6 lbs.), says al-Asasma, 18, and he is healthy and gaining weight. She sounds as if she can hardly believe what she is saying. Ahmed is just over two weeks old -- born in the night when the Israelis sent their first tanks to the Gaza Strip border.
Ahmed is both a child of the war and one of its victims. Ten days after he was born, he lost his father, his grandparents and his home. His mother doesn't know how much is left of the family house. She remembers only dust and smoke, but is trying to forget even that.
She and her siblings used to live in Shejaiya, a suburb east of Gaza City. Now, though, no one lives there anymore. Shejaiya, where entire city blocks were demolished, now lies in ruins. The Israeli army, after identifying Shejaiya as a Hamas stronghold and a center of resistance, sent in tanks and combat units. At least 100 Palestinians were killed there on the Sunday before last. The exact casualty figures are unknown, but the Red Cross expects that there are significantly more dead, people who were burned to death, crushed or buried under the rubble of collapsed buildings, some of which were still smoldering days later. The ongoing fighting has made it difficult to recover the bodies.
Shejaiya has become a symbol for the people in Gaza, for the brutality and relentlessness of this latest war, one that they cannot escape. There is no longer anywhere in the narrow, sealed-off Gaza Strip that can be considered safe; no place where the lunacy of death and suffering is not palpable.
In a Handcart Through the Rubble
Before Shejaiya came under Israeli fire, thousands of people living even closer to the border had fled there seeking shelter from the advancing tanks. Now, the displaced have moved even farther from the border, into Gaza City, that dense tangle of tall buildings and narrow streets. According to the United Nations, the number of people now in the city has almost doubled, from 600,000 to more than a million. An estimated 100,000 people have lost their homes, some temporarily and some for good. They now live in building entrances, on parking lots and in schools. And they are not even safe here, as evidenced by the death of the German-Palestinian Kilani family. Having heeded Israeli warnings, the family moved from the north into an apartment in Gaza City. A rocket fired by the Israeli army destroyed the building a short time later.
On the Sunday when shells struck the neighboring building and then her own, Marwat al-Asasma was still so weak from giving birth that she could hardly walk. Her sister Noura put baby Ahmed carefully into a backpack and placed Marwat and her own daughter in a handcart before pulling them two kilometers through the rubble to a church.
That is where the two sisters are now sitting, on the stone floor of a whitewashed, windowless room, a space of 30 square meters (323 square feet) that they share with 20 women and children. There are not enough mattresses to go around, so the youngest sleep in cardboard boxes. When a bomb struck the neighboring cemetery, the sisters considered going somewhere else. "But where?" asks al-Asasma. "No place is safe."
A little boy is sucking on his toes, making noises to imitate the impact of artillery fire. He presses his lips together and then pops them open. Noura al-Asama is even afraid to take her five-year-old daughter out into the courtyard to use the toilet, worried that they will be killed along the way.
The women from Shejaiya who have fled to this church with their children yearn for a ceasefire. Both sides must stop the killing, says Noura al-Asasma. "We're not a buffer zone, we're people." She has nothing but contempt for Hamas. "If Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashal lived like us, they would think twice about continuing this war." Instead, she says, the former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas leader Mashal live safely in exile in wealthy Qatar.
'Prepared for a Lengthy Campaign'
Only a few weeks ago, the two sisters still felt optimistic about the future. They hoped that the unity government formed recently by Fatah and Hamas would improve the situation in the Gaza Strip. But it didn't happen. The sisters believe that Israel began this war to prevent a more tolerable life for the Palestinians.
The death toll is mounting on both sides. According to Tuesday media reports, 53 Israeli soldiers have died along with three civilians. More than 1,100 Palestinians have reportedly been killed in the fighting, most of them civilians. Dozens of children have been among them, and there is no sign the violence is going to stop anytime soon. Despite international efforts to at least establish a temporary ceasefire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised address on Monday evening that the offensive will continue until the tunnels used by the Palestinians to hide and launch rockets into Israeli territory are neutralized. "We need to be prepared for a lengthy campaign," he said.
During the three weeks the war has lasted thus far, the women have learned that there are different kinds of threats. They recognize the thundering noise of F-16 fighter jets, and they can distinguish between the reverberating detonation of bombs dropped from the air and the dull thud of tank artillery. Shells from ships off the coast are always fired three at a time and produce a ghostly echo. When it is quiet in Gaza City, the drones buzz in the hot air like nervous insects. But it is rarely quiet, and whenever a ceasefire is agreed upon, it is almost immediately violated.
For days, US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have tried unsuccessfully to put an end to the fighting. Their goal is a humanitarian ceasefire that would last several days, so that an agreement could be negotiated to guarantee a long-term cessation of violence. The plan calls for Hamas to stop launching attacks on Israel, while Israel would pull back its army. Egypt would also open the Rafah border crossing to allow both people and goods to pass through once again.
But on Friday evening the Israeli government rejected the proposal for a prolonged truce. The majority of the Israeli cabinet called for a continuation and even intensification of the attacks on the Gaza Strip. A high-level Middle East conference in Paris, which Kerry attended over the weekend, made little headway.
Both parties to the conflict appear to have an interest in continuing the war. Hamas is placing its bets on resistance, losses be damned -- and each dead child drives the price of negotiations even higher. Every day on which flights to Ben Gurion Airport remain cancelled or life in Tel Aviv comes to a standstill is a small victory for the militant organization. Israel, for its part, has taken the ground offensive so far that even moderate members of the government like Justice Minister Tzipi Livni now want to see its continuation until Hamas is incapacitated. Even though the country hasn't suffered this many casualties since the 2006 Lebanon war, recent opinion polls likewise show that popular support for the Gaza Strip offensive remains strong.
This stands in contrast to the rest of the Western world, where social networks are full of expressions of outrage over the deaths of so many innocents, of so many children. The war has become a duel of images, and in contrast to the battlefield, this is where the Palestinian side has the tragic upper hand. No matter how often government officials from around the world insist on their support for Israel's right to defend itself, public opinion would seem to be firmly on the side of the Palestinians. Twitter and Facebook are filled with disturbing photos of dead children, and the hashtag #GazaUnderAttack offers eyewitness reports from the combat zone. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is right when he speaks of "telegenically dead Palestinians." He knows that Israel cannot win this war of images.
Many in the US and Europe are seeing such unfiltered reality in Gaza for the first time. Reports in newspapers tend not to include the most brutal of images. But pictures and videos posted directly by Gaza Strip residents are unfiltered and often originate from the victims themselves.
One mobile-phone video in particular has been viewed almost 2 million times on YouTube. It shows a young man in a turquoise T-shirt searching for his family members in the wreckage of Shejaiya, only to be shot dead by Israeli snipers.
The pain of losing a child is no different for a parent in Tel Aviv or Beit Hanun. But the two sides are not suffering equally in this war -- and it doesn't take a comparison of the casualty numbers to reach this conclusion. In contrast to Israel, where people still go to work and the beach despite rocket warnings, normal life no longer exists in Gaza. The people of Gaza, unprotected and at the mercy of the violence, are suffering most of all. Streets are empty and life is concentrated into small spaces, all of them illusions of safety, such as hospitals, schools and international facilities. Last Thursday, when an Israeli missile struck a UN school where many families had taken refuge, 16 people died and more than 200 were wounded. On Tuesday, Israeli air strikes heavily damaged the Gaza Strip's only power plant.
"What's happening here is totally unacceptable," says Canadian national Pernille Ironside, 40, who runs the UNICEF office in Gaza. She says the Israeli army is destroying the civilian infrastructure, and not just Hamas's tunnels and arsenals. She runs her hand through her hair as she sits in front of a clothes rack full of bulletproof vests in UN blue. She used to work in Eastern Congo and Yemen, she says, but "Gaza is worse." She estimates that the war directly affects about 120,000 children and many of them are seriously traumatized. She supports the UN Human Rights Council in its effort to create a commission to investigate possible Israeli war crimes in the Gaza Strip.
Last week, the army even issued a warning that an airstrike on Al-Shifa Hospital was planned. Israel justifies attacks on hospitals and schools by claiming that Hamas uses them to store weapons. Furthermore, there have been unsubstantiated rumors for years that Hamas maintains a secret command center beneath Al-Shifa Hospital, though no proof has been forthcoming. What is certainly true, however, is that Gaza extremists fire rockets from residential areas, and that many of the tunnels it has built for attacks on Israel start in private homes. This has prompted Netanyahu to accuse Hamas of using civilians as human shields, and he asserts that the Islamists are committing a war crime because international law forbids such tactics. It also, however, also forbids the targeting of civilian facilities, even if there is reason to believe that the enemy is hiding there.
"Bombing hospitals is not allowed," says Mads Gilbert, 67, a professor of emergency medicine, as he stands in his turquoise scrubs in the driveway of Al-Shifa Hospital. His voice cuts through the noise of sirens, announcements and the screams of the wounded. The smell of disinfectant is almost completely overwhelmed by the effluvium of hundreds of people. It is hot and it stinks, but there is hardly any water for bathing. Gilbert has been working in the emergency room at Al-Shifa Hospital, sometimes 36-hours at a stretch, since he arrived in the Gaza Strip from Tromsø, Norway about three weeks ago.
Everyone in Gaza becomes a human shield almost perforce, says Gilbert. Hamas doesn't even have to plan. There are simply too many people in too little space, he explains. But this, he adds, is precisely the reason hospitals and schools should be off-limits, since the Israeli army knows full well that civilians seek shelter in such buildings.
Gilbert also worked in Gaza during the last two wars -- in 2012 and in the winter of 2008/2009 -- but he believes that the situation has never been as dire as it is now. This time, he says, many of the severely injured are children. After the attack on Shejaiya, ambulances brought entire loads of dead and wounded to the hospital. "We just pulled them out and placed them on the ground, anywhere, wherever there was room."
There is no space left in Al-Shifa Hospital, not in the wards and not in the yard or the parking lots, where newly-homeless families have laid out pieces of cardboard and rugs. "Where else should we go?" asks a woman who calls herself Um Abulata, or the mother of Abulata. She too fled from Shejaiya, first to her grandfather's house and, when it was bombed, to her aunt's. After moving three times in the last four days, she now lives on a piece of foam mattress under the stairs in a wing of the hospital. She hopes that she will at least be safe there.
Aside from her hope for a rapid end to the violence, Um Abulata has only one wish: that one day she will once again live in a building with running water and won't have to wash herself in the sea every morning. That could take some time: Seventy percent of Gaza residents lost their drinking water after bombs destroyed the main water pipes.
It is Mahir Salim's job to repair them, but the engineer, wearing a white shirt under an orange fluorescent vest, says the damage is too extensive. A 48-year-old who went to university in the German city of Hanover, Salim is in charge of the water supply for Gaza City. He is now sitting in his office, in front of shelves stuffed with yellow binders, but he has to head out again soon. "To be honest, we don't know what to do anymore," he says. Four of the six wells that supply the Gaza Strip with drinking water are no longer accessible because they lie in the contested border zone. Three of Salim's men have died while on duty, killed in Israeli attacks.
The army apparently mistook the pipes the men were trying to replace for rockets, says Salim. He is a polite man and cloaks his criticism in a question: "Why do they destroy everything so that we can no longer live here?" Gaza was already anything but a paradise before, he says, but now it's become hell on Earth. "We're not their adversaries, and we're trapped here."
Even before Tuesday's attack on the Gaza power plant, there were no more than three hours of electricity a day. But sewage treatment plants cannot operate without power. "The Israelis say they are hunting terrorists. If that's true, why are they striking civilians most of all" Salim asks? Each new war is more vicious than the one before, he says. Last year, the UN warned that Gaza was well on its way to becoming uninhabitable.
Salim fears that people in Gaza could soon be fighting over water. "Just imagine that a baby survives the war and then dies of diarrhea, because there is no longer any clean water." Once the fighting is over, he says, the slow dying will begin.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan