The ghostly streets, the ghostly skies

At the Rafah border. (Laila El-Haddad)

17 May 2007

We’re used to things going from bad to worse very quickly here. But we never expected the situation to get as bad as it has over the past few days.

After a terrifying 24 hours, we awoke this morning to sporadic gunfire, and ghostly streets.

It was a welcome change. Sleep-deprived and anxious, my colleague Saeed, on his first visit to Gaza, and myself headed to Rafah in the southern part of the Strip to continue shooting a series of documentaries we are working on.

Though the gunfire had subsided, the gunmen were still patrolling the streets, each this time casually manning their own turf, masked and fully armed.

Impromptu checkpoints were still set up along the main Gaza-Rafah road, and we were stopped for ID and affiliation checks.

As we approached Rafah, we received word that clashes had broken out there, too, following the funeral of four Hamas men killed in an Israeli air strike the night before.

We decided to avoid the town centre, and headed instead to film near the border area along Rafah’s edge. Young children blissfully flew handmade kites above the iron wall separating them from the Egyptian Rafah. Their atbaq flirted in the infinite sky above with kites flying their way from the Egyptian side. “We play a game with the Egyptian kids” they explained of their unseen counterparts. “We meet here, through our kites, and see who can catch the other’s kites quicker by entangling. So far we’re winning — we’ve got 14 Egyptian kites,” he announced proudly.

The children are small enough that they can wiggle their way through the cracks of the large iron gates along the wall, where once Merkava tanks made their unwelcome entrance to battered camps here. And so they can call out to their Egyptian friends, and learn their names and new kite flying techniques.

Even then, we could hear the fearsome roar of Israeli fighter jets overhead, interspersed with the banter of machine guns from feuding factions.

I then received a call from my father back in Gaza City — a tremendous explosion, the result of F-16 jet bombing a nearby Hamas compound, had just sent intense shockwaves through our house. It was so powerful that it blasted off the windows from my cousin’s home in the neighbourhood behind us. This attack was followed by another then another, and then another.

Hamas’s Qassam Brigades have sent a barrage of rockets into Israel over the past two days. It has been in an attempt to redirect the battle towards the occupation, they say.

There have been six Israeli aerial strikes since this morning. The latest one happened just as we departed Rafah back to Gaza City. The victims this time were two young brothers, standing near a municipality garbage truck that was obliterated.

Even as I record this from back at home, we were shaken by another large explosion, Israelis tanks are amassing at Gaza’s northern border, and unmanned Israeli drones are whirring menacingly, incessantly, overhead in great numbers patrolling the ghostly skies that only the kites can reach, preparing, perhaps, for yet another strike against an already bleeding, burning, and battered Gaza.

Freelance journalist and blogger Laila El-Haddad lives in Gaza City. Laila’s blog, Raising Yousuf, is named after her two-year-old son.

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  • BY TOPIC: Israel attacks Gaza (16 May 2007)