From under the bombs: our catastrophe and our hope in Gaza

23 November 2012

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Mourners at the funeral of 10-year-old Audi Naser, 16 November

(Sameh Rohmi / APA images)

Since the beginning of Israel’s “Operation Pillar of Defense,” the number of Palestinians killed or injured has risen dramatically. How harsh, I feel, to use the word “number” since we are not actually mere numbers, but very tragic, heartbreaking and harrowing stories.

My aunt lives in al-Bureij refugee camp in the center of the Gaza Strip, not far away from where I live in Deir al-Balah. Her house was bombed many times during Israel’s 2008-09 attacks on Gaza and is still a very possible target for the Israeli air strikes.

The actual target is her brother-in-law who now has taken Ahmad Jabari’s place as a new commander in Hamas’s military wing. For the sake of their target, Israeli F-16s couldn’t care less when they kill children, women or the elderly or to destroy a five-story building even if they know that “the wanted man” doesn’t stay with his wife and children in this home.

We heard a very loud explosion in al-Bureij and swiftly we called my aunt who was barely able to speak to check on her safety. The blast was in her neighbour’s house and the victim this time is a one-year-old baby Eyad Abu Khusa. Though she has refused to leave her house since the start of this ongoing assault, she, along with her two sons, came today to stay with us after the repeated bombardment of al-Bureij.

No shelter is safe

Another aunt left her house in Rafah and brought her two daughters, saying she doesn’t wish to die away from her parents and brothers. Both aunts, along with us, thought that our area might be a “safer one.” But what is a “safer place” when everyone is a possible target? When the whole strip is a bare land to the Israeli reconnaissance aircrafts?

Ironically, my aunts were welcomed by the most piercing blast we ever heard and we all witnessed the black smoke very close to us, the same moment we were speaking about the “safer place.” We knew later that it was the warplane Hamas declared it had downed. No shelter in Gaza is safe. I realize it is our instinctive human nature that we tend to grab a hold of our loved ones, keep them near and hold them tight such times. This, as it happens, is what might give us a sense of safety — we think.

Since the morning, with the killing of Tamer al-Hemry, a Palestinian Islamic Jihad member, a vast rage and anger at Israel has been stoked in Deir al-Balah. Though Tamer, 25 years old, was involved in armed resistance, he was not involved in militant tasks or firing rockets when he was assassinated.

The Israeli jet located him by calling him on his cell phone, which he answered, and hit him before he could escape death. Al-Hemry was a neighbor and relative and his funeral was held right outside my front door.

Whenever someone has been martyred, we can hear everywhere unfaltering calls from mosques emboldening people and encouraging them to keep their patience, steadfastness and resistance high. That dreary day, since the first hours of the day, a very close mosque has been asking people to come and pray over the martyr. Hundreds of townsmen did so, accompanied by photographers and buses bringing people from other places.

Radio-frequency amplifiers were transmitting religious and revolutionary songs all over the street. Though the number of mourners was really prodigious, people were conscious that Israel might, at any moment, bomb the funeral, as it in point of fact did on the first day of the offensive.

People have learned not to trust the occupier’s forces. There has been a general sentiment not to gather in large numbers. For Israel has repeated its vicious tactic of bombing a place, waiting five minutes, as people will gather to help and carry the victims — then it will hit the same place again to score more deaths. What a continuous process Israel is applying to dehumanize the people of Gaza.

Election bill

We have been asking ourselves why we always have to pay the bill of the Israeli elections. Honestly, we didn’t expect that this latest onslaught would keep escalating. Our catastrophe is shown to the world allowing it to happen again.

As I am writing these lines, the house is shaking from a huge explosion nearby. Looking from the window, darkness is all over the place as there is a blackout. I am using the UPS backup power supply, which not all people here have and even this device doesn’t last for long.

Now the UPS battery died and I have no net connection so I have to wait until I have electricity to resume writing this. The streets are completely deserted. Over the previous days, we have been forcefully listening to either explosions or ambulance sirens from the land or the relentless piercing sound of the drones, which are filling — literally filling — the sky of Gaza. Most of the time both sounds go together.

Tonight there is very heavy artillery shelling with the sound of drones rising higher. Have you ever imagined living with this noise day and night? It doesn’t stop. The whole situation is heartbreaking as Israel pounds the Gaza Strip from air and sea.

A deep tragic sense of déjà vu is conveyed by the events unfolding in Gaza and the Israeli escalation of violence directed at the defenseless population of Gaza. Our memory recalls the moment on 4 January 2009 when Israeli soldiers invaded the Zaytoun area south of Gaza City.

Another outrageous massacre

Twenty-one family members were killed and 19 injured in the shelling of just one house belonging to the Samouni family. Nine of the dead were children and the youngest was a baby of just six months. This evening, an Israel F-16 jet bombed the home of al-Dalou family and committed another outrageous massacre, wiping out a whole family. Twelve persons,  including five children and three women, were killed in that strike, several of them members of the same family, marking this Sunday as the deadliest day of the current attacks on the Gaza Strip.

People in Gaza usually listen to local radio and TV stations especially in these circumstances. From the beginning of the attacks, Israel has hacked many local radio stations, along with the leaflets Israeli forces drop over Gaza, to transmit and circulate trepidation among the people.

Lately even media centers have been targeted as Israeli aircraft fired missiles at al-Shawa Hosary residential building, where most media broadcasting channels were located, and destroyed the local Hamas station al-Aqsa TV, as part of its psychological warfare. Since the inception of this war, we have been receiving calls from Israel to help in giving information about the resistance “terrorists.” In the last two days, we have got more threatening calls telling us to leave our houses because they’ll bomb it, but they don’t. Their aim is to spread panic and to terrorize people.

Attack on my family

At 7am on 19 November, two people from my extended family and a neighbor were hit by an Israeli missile. All three (Tamer, Amin and Rashid) were martyred at once.

It was Amin’s birthday.

Charred, shrunken and torn into pieces, piled up upon one another as they were covered by their white coffin shrouds. The three weren’t going to fire rockets on Israel, they weren’t going to kill Israeli children or women or even soldiers. They hadn’t got weapons, they were not “terrorists.”

I knew two of my relatives Tamer and Amin personally and am certain that they had never been involved in armed resistance. The three were farmers who grew tomatoes on their land — this was their work. Their van was open and the Israeli jet, with its high technology, could easily recognize the tomatoes in the back.

It hit them with a missile that not only killed them, but terribly deformed their figures. Nothing happened to the tomatoes because they were not the target.

Through their high level of technology and an expertise in killing, the computerized missile wasn’t dropped vertically as you might imagine, but from the side direction to penetrate the front door and kill the three sitting beside each other. It is only the front part of the van, which is completely destroyed, but the back part is intact.

Tamer and Amin were cousins who were 32 and 40 years old, respectively. Tamer had two sons and one daughter; Amin had two daughters. All children are less than eight years old. We went to Tamer and Amin’s house where hundreds of people gathered — relatives and otherwise, old and young, men and women.

Their mother was bawling, their wives fainted many times; their aunts were running after their funeral and their children were standing shocked with no expressions on their faces as if they were in denial or as if they couldn’t fathom what was going on as the tragic loss of their father was something beyond their comprehension.

Tamer’s father is, until now, in the hospital. One daughter asked her mother, “Please Mom, please call Dad to come soon.” Another daughter kept holding her grandmother who ran, along with men, to the cemetery saying that she has to keep looking at him until the last moment. When they returned, the daughter asked her grandma, “when will dad return, Teta?”

Trying to calm the child down, her grandma said, “Don’t get afraid Habibti [sweetheart], he will come tomorrow.” Shockingly and surprisingly, the six-year-old girl replied: “have dead people ever returned?”

Men brought the martyrs’ bodies to their homes, but they were completely covered. Martyrs’ faces are only covered when completely damaged. We couldn’t see Tamir and Amin’s faces. My brother said that Rashid’s head is shattered into two, but there was only one part to bury.

Now it is 6pm. While people are sitting in the funeral tent, an Israeli missile was dropped near the tent. People fearfully rushed away, but we don’t know if it will explode later.

Thanks to the blood of the children of Gaza in the 2008-09 massacre, of which we used to think as the Sharpeville and Guernica of Palestine, boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) gained momentum worldwide.

Now this massacre is over and we are still alive. But we Gazans survive only to remember our anguish. To ensure that the blood of our martyrs was not spilled in vain, we are sending a clear message to the world to intensify the calls for a meaningful ethical international campaign of BDS to isolate apartheid Israel until it abides by international law and ends its racist policies.

After Gaza 2012, BDS needs to become more effective so that it can take us closer to achieving our just rights.

Ayah Bashir holds a master’s degree in global politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Her first degree was in English language and literature. She is a member of the Gaza-based organizing committee for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.