It was just before noon when I heard the first explosion. I rushed to my window and barely did I get there and look out when I was pushed back by the force and air pressure of another explosion. For a few moments I didn’t understand but then I realized that Israeli promises of a wide-scale offensive against the Gaza Strip had materialized. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzpi Livni’s statements following a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak the day before yesterday had not been empty threats after all.
What followed seems pretty much surreal at this point. Never had we imagined anything like this. It all happened so fast but the amount of death and destruction is inconceivable, even to me and I’m in the middle of it and a few hours have passed already passed.
Six locations were hit during the air raid on Gaza City. The images are probably not broadcasted on US news channels. There were piles and piles of bodies in the locations that were hit. As you looked at them you could see that a few of the young men were still alive, someone lifts a hand, and another raises his head. They probably died within moments because their bodies were burned, most had lost limbs, some of their guts were hanging out and they were all lying in pools of blood. Outside my home which is close to the two largest universities in Gaza, a missile fell on a large group of young men, university students. They’d been warned not to stand in groups as it makes them an easy target, but they were waiting for buses to take them home. Seven were killed, four students and three of our neighbors’ kids, young men who were from the Rayes family and were best friends. As I’m writing this I can hear a funeral procession go by outside; I looked out the window a moment ago and it was the three Rayes boys. They spent all their time together when they were alive, they died together and now they are sharing the same funeral together. Nothing could stop my 14-year-old brother from rushing out to see the bodies of his friends laying in the street after they were killed. He hasn’t spoken a word since.
What did Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert mean when he stated that we the people of Gaza weren’t the enemy, that it was Hamas and Islamic Jihad which were being targeted? Was that statement made to infuriate us out of out our state of shock, to pacify any feelings of rage and revenge? To mock us? Were the scores of children on their way home from school and who are now among the dead and the injured, Hamas militants? A little further down my street about half an hour after the first strike, three schoolgirls happened to be passing by one of the locations when a missile struck the Preventative Security Headquarters building. The girls’ bodies were torn into pieces and covered the street from one side to the other.
In all the locations, people are going through the dead, terrified of recognizing a family member among them. The streets are strewn with their bodies, their arms, legs, feet, some with shoes and some without. The city is in a state of alarm, panic and confusion, cell phones aren’t working, hospitals and morgues are backed up and some of the dead are still lying in the streets with their families gathered around them, kissing their faces, holding on to them. Outside the destroyed buildings old men are kneeling on the ground, weeping. Their slim hopes of finding their sons still alive vanish after taking one look at what had become of their office buildings.
And even after the dead are identified, doctors are having a hard time gathering the right body parts in order to hand them over to their families. The hospital hallways look like a slaughterhouse. It’s truly worse than any horror movie you could ever imagine. The floor is filled with blood, the injured are propped up against the walls or laid down on the floor, side by side with the dead. Doctors are working frantically and people with injuries that aren’t life-threatening are sent home. A relative of mine was injured by a flying piece of glass from her living room window and she had deep cut right down the middle of her face. She was sent home; too many others needed more urgent medical attention. Her husband, a dentist, took her to his clinic and sewed up her face using local anesthesia.
More than 200 people dead in today’s air raids. That means more than 200 funeral processions, a few today, most of them tomorrow, probably. To think that yesterday these families were worried about food and heat and electricity. At this point I think they — actually all of us — would gladly have had Hamas forever sign off every last basic right we’ve been calling for the last few months if it could have stopped this from ever having happened.
The bombing was very close to my home. Most of my extended family live in the area. My family is OK, but two of my uncles’ homes were damaged,
We can rest easy, Gazans can mourn tonight. Israel is said to have promised not to wage any more air raids for now. People suspect that the next step will be targeted killings, which will inevitably means scores more of innocent bystanders whose fates have already been sealed.
Safa Joudeh is an master’s candidate in public policy at Stony Brook University in the US. She returned to Gaza in September 2007 where she currently works as a freelance journalist.