“Oh my God, not again!” Shouted taxi driver Abu Omar while sharply parking his car on the side of one of Gaza City’s traffic-jammed streets. A thunderous explosion echoed throughout the city, as Israeli fighter jets broke the sound barrier over the Gaza Strip.
The old man’s hands were shaking as passengers tried to calm him down and reassure him that it was only a loud sound. “I couldn’t sleep well when it happened last night,” sighed the Abu Omar. “This is simply unbearable.”
It all started with an explosion on September 23, at a military rally for the militant Palestinian movement Hamas - its last before declaring an end to all weapon displays in the streets of Gaza.
The rally, which included thousands of Hamas members and supporters, was in progress at the packed Jabaliya refugee camp when an explosion shook the place and sent a large pillar of smoke in the air.
The death toll was 21, including three children, and more than 80 other Palestinians were injured. Some are still in critical condition.
From the start, Hamas leaders blamed Israel for the explosion, arguing that it was a bombing by unmanned spy drones targeting several leaders in the movement. At press conferences Hamas officials showed pieces of what they described as the rockets that were fired, and an electronic chip that they claimed was part of the fired missile.
However, and in an unprecedented move, Palestinian Authority (PA) officials said that the explosion had actually resulted from “an internal error” during the rally, caused by a malfunctioning makeshift ‘Qassam’ rocket.
The Israeli army had categorically denied any involvement in the incident, while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas blamed it on Hamas, based on an investigation conducted by the Palestinian security services several days later.
Hamas did not attempt to clarify the situation and, on the same night of the explosion, it sent 30 rockets into the Israeli town of Sderot. Five Israelis were reported injured in the heaviest rocket attack in more than six months.
The Israeli response was fierce, as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered his defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, to deploy tanks and batteries of artillery along the northern Gaza Strip, and enforced a tight closure on Gaza and the West Bank.
The following morning, all of Gaza shook. Israeli fighter jets banked steeply over the shabby, concrete city blocks, filling the sky with thunder.
Not far from taxi driver Abu Omar was Adnan Bakri, a florist, opening his shop and starting his business day by sweeping the glass of his shop window, which had shattered after the sonic booms of Israeli jet fighters.
“This is the second window front I replace in 24 hours,” Bakri said.
“Now, how am I going to pay for another window? This is out of control and we thought it would be a long time before we witnessed any raids again.”
But the Israeli attacks were not always only “sound”. Combat helicopters fired several missiles at buildings and areas that Israel suspected of being affiliated with Palestinian militant groups.
The town of Beit Hanoun in the north and Khan Younis in the south were the hardest hit, as several houses, buildings and even bridges were reduced to rubble, when Israeli forces attempted to target militants thought to be connected with the makeshift rocket attacks on Israel.
One of the most prominent militants to be assassinated by Israel was Mohammed Sheikh Khalil, the leader of the Islamic Jihad movement’s militant arm - Al Quds Brigades.
Throughout the Gaza Strip the despair and fear on people’s faces was evident.
The “fake” Israeli raids and the thunderous sounds of fighters breaking the sound barrier have spread panic among children and adults alike.
Dr. Eyad Sarraj, a psychologist and prominent human rights activist in Gaza who also heads the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, asserted that the recent “sound raids” and bombings in Gaza have shattered people’s hopes of a better future following the Israeli withdrawal two weeks ago.
“The only reason for the fake Israeli raids is to spread fear and panic among the citizens, [resulting] in a state of confusion and disorientation, which helps in creating more despair, helplessness and inability to anticipate future events,” Sarraj said.
“It is simply sound terrorism by Israel,” he added.
The Gazan psychologist noted that Israel would never have used this method if Jewish settlers were still in the Gaza Strip, further corroborating the idea that this method specifically targets the civilian population.
Meanwhile, Ashraf Ajrami, an Israeli affairs expert, said that the Israeli raids were an attempt by Israel to prepare the world for a full scale offensive against Gaza.
He added that there was an Israeli determination to strike a deadly blow at Palestinian militant groups, as was announced by Mofaz.
“These attacks have two main goals; the first is to cover up for the crisis Sharon is having with his competitor, former finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who’s accusing him of making too many concessions to the Palestinians, forcing Sharon to prove the contrary,” Ajrami said.
“The second goal of this offensive is to give the Palestinians a clear message that Israel will not tolerate any attack.”
Back in his taxi, Abu Omar was going about his daily rounds around noon when another explosion sound occurred. This time he kept on driving.
“This is not a life,” he said, angrily. “We want to live, work and sleep in peace. This would break us apart and force us back on the path of violence that we hoped we would never return to.
“Israel should understand that and so should our resistance factions.”
BY TOPIC: Post-‘disengagement’ sonic booms over Gaza
Yasser Abu Moailek is a freelance journalist and translator living in Gaza Strip. He contributes news items and feature stories to several news agencies around the world and has worked with foreign media outlets and NGOs in the Gaza Strip. He can be contacted on email@example.com.