16 January 2009, 5:11pm
Wael Selmi displayed a surprising kindness and welcome — you are welcome any time — given that his life’s work had just been leveled by the invading Israeli army. Even more surprising, given that the brothers’ furniture factory in northern Gaza was destroyed by the Israeli army four years ago, causing $300,000 in damage and losses. They’d had it just two years at the time. Along with that ruined factory, the family owns agricultural land which they cannot access near the Erez crossing.
At 4am on 13 January, two Israeli F-16 warplane missiles destroyed the sea-side Jazeera hotel and the next door Shihab hotel, leaving the Jazeera, in particular, skeletal, with entrails of concrete and wiring dangling from ceiling to floor, and with other random survivors testifying what had been: matching, semi-intact chairs clustered in a corner, marbled stairs and tiled walls. One of the 14 employees, while describing the building beneath the wreckage, detailed the losses: $28,000 for the 160 kilowatt generator, $25,000 for the electricity regulator, and the other losses amounting to $1.3 million in damage, with another $600,000 in unpaid debts.
Amer and Wael Selmi co-invested in the project two years ago, putting $2 million into construction and related costs. The Selmis aimed for the summer wedding season, and for conferences and conventions. The decor had been carefully selected in China: marble, matched tiling and furniture, finishings to render the hotel a choice place for a wedding. The siege which tightened a noose around Gaza meant it was impossible, for the time, to add a fourth floor and hotel rooms, for want of construction materials. And since the air attacks began on 27 December, the Jazeera hotel had been closed, with only a doorkeeper to act as night watchman.
It is a consolation that the watchman was not killed in the massive bomb, instead receiving a broken arm, ribs, and hip.
“I don’t know why Israeli soldiers destroyed our hotel,” Wael said. “There’s no reason: we’re not political, not resistance, have no rockets. This was just a business.”
He spoke of the 20 members in his and his brother’s families: “Every day, we thank God that we’re okay. There’s nothing to say but thank God and there’s no one to blame but Israel for this disaster.”
Perhaps as painful as the destruction itself was that the tangible realization of their careful work and dream, was in less than 10 seconds completely erased, along with their hopes.
Amer was more visibly upset by the unexpected destruction. Holding the weighty tip of the expired F-16 missile which took down his hotel, he asked rhetorically: “Where would we go? We’ll stay here, we’ll rebuild again. Whatever Israel does, we’ll stay on this land.”
Eva Bartlett is a Canadian human rights advocate and freelancer who spent eight months in 2007 living in West Bank communities and four months in Cairo and at the Rafah crossing. She is currently based in the Gaza Strip after having arrived with the third Free Gaza Movement boat in November. She has been working with the International Solidarity Movement in Gaza, accompanying ambulances while witnessing and documenting the ongoing Israeli air strikes and ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.