Palestinians barricade themselves on the roof of a house targeted by Israel in Gaza, 19 November 2006. (MaanImages/Wesam Saleh)
Palestinians have started to employ new tactics to prevent Israeli air attacks on their houses. Hundreds of protesters successfully forced the Israeli air force to halt air strikes on a house belonging to Muhammad Baroud in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday night.
Israeli warplanes have already destroyed more than 60 houses belonging to activists from Palestinian factions across the Gaza Strip, using the same method of ordering the residents, through a telephone call at short notice, to evacuate their home prior to bombardment.
“This new phenomenon [of human shields] began when Muhammad Baroud, 29, a leader in the Popular Resistance Committees [PRC], received a warning phone call at 8 PM from the Israeli intelligence service ordering him to evacuate his house within 10 minutes because the Israeli air force was going to destroy the house. But he ignored this threat and said, ‘We are not leaving our house’. Once again his mobile rang, and Muhammad again ignored the warning. After that, Muhammad and I went to the rooftop of our house and started chanting slogans ‘Death to Israel! Death to America!’, and we started shooting in the air. A few minutes later an Israeli F-16 was hovering in the sky above our heads,” Wael Baroud, Muhammad’s brother, explained.
He added, “This area is very crowded and we managed to assemble many people after a man went to a mosque nearby and called people via a loudspeaker to go and support the family and prevent the bombardment of the house. People began to gather around the house, which is a three-storey building and houses five families. We remained inside the house. We were about 1,000 people — men and women — and some of us were on the rooftop and others inside the house and on the street.
“The whole world and the international community turned a blind eye and failed to protect us from the continuous Israeli attacks. We have to do something, so we are facing the threats of the Israeli F-16 fighter jets. We are ready to be killed and martyred for the sake of God and freedom. We don’t fear the Israelis. We are no better than the children of Beit Hanoun, who were slaughtered while they were sleeping in the latest Israeli massacre in Beit Hanoun.”
Issa Radwan, 31, took part in the demonstration near the house. He said, “We cannot bear [this] any more. It’s a very difficult life. We don’t feel that we are alive. Israel has made our life miserable and they claim that they are a democratic country and call for human rights. We want the whole world to know what is going on here and to protect us from the brutal Israeli genocide and continuous attacks. They are punishing the whole family because of some one [person]. We came here to protest and to send a message to the Israelis that it does not make a difference for us if we live or die. The Israelis have deprived us of our freedom and [they] still kill us every day, destroy our houses and impose a tight siege on us. They are punishing all Palestinians because of a few individuals.” He added, “Don’t be surprised if more people become militants and join resistance factions.”
He added, “My message to the international community, especially the Americans, is: Once again you failed to force Israel to halt its attacks and protect us, the civilians. You are always pro-Israel, so don’t be surprised when you know that all Palestinians hate you despite your financial support.”
Um Asa’ad, a neighbor said, “We came here to give our support to Baroud’s family not because he is a commander or because he belongs to a specific faction, but because our houses surrounds Baroud’s house and for sure will sustain damage.”
An Israeli military spokesman confirmed the raid had been called off because of the gathering of people.
“We differentiate between innocent people and militants,” the spokesman said, vowing that Israel would continue its strikes against militants. He also accused gunmen of using civilians in Beit Lahiya as human shields.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh arrived at Baroud’s house early on Sunday to support the protest. “We are so proud of this national stand. It’s the first step toward protecting our homes, the homes of our children,” Haniyeh said as he made his way to the roof.
On his way out, he was asked if there had been any progress in regards to the national unity government. He responded, “Yes, there is progress but, despite progress in the talks, there were no guarantees that the new government could persuade the international community to lift the sanctions.”
“We want to feel more secure, to be more comfortable that they are going to be committed to these guarantees and lift the siege,” he said.
The interior ministry spokesman, Khaled Abu Hilal, said, “We salute our brave people who formed human shields to prevent air strikes by the Israeli enemy, who doesn’t spare any effort to terrorize us and attack us day and night.”
The spokesman of the Popular Resistance Committees, Abu Mujahid, said in a press conference yesterday, “We salute the people who answered the call to assemble to protest. Members of parliament, including Dr Ahmed Baher, and Nizar Rayyan, a Hamas leader, visited Baroud’s house as well as the parliamentary member Jamila Al-Shanti whose house was attacked a few weeks ago by an Israeli F-16 fighter jet”.
On Sunday night, hundreds of protestors remained on the rooftop. Demonstrators said they split into 12-hour shifts to guard the house around the clock.
Yousef Alhelou is a freelance Palestinian journalist based in Gaza. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org