No words to console Gaza child after mother is killed by Israeli shelling

Darts fired by Israeli tanks shells are removed from the walls of the Abu Said family home in Gaza.

The Abu Said family are Bedouin whose isolated farm is located near Gaza’s boundary with Israel in the vicinity of Johr al-Dik. For the last forty years, the family never had any major problems with their belligerent Israeli neighbors. Abu Said, the family patriarch, explained that after the first and second Palestinian intifadas and following the start of the siege on Gaza, the threat of being shot by Israeli soldiers forced him to stop cultivating plots of land closest to the border. Twenty years ago, the family could still plough their property near the border, while in recent times they’ve had to retreat 400 meters, with considerable losses to their harvest. Beautiful orchards brimming with fruit once prospered; now even the trees’ roots are gone.

In spite of the farm’s unfortunate location, none of the family members were killed or injured during Israel’s 2008-09 winter invasion. However, this year, Israel’s brutal policies and actions affected the family directly.

Around 8:45pm on 13 July, 2010, a few of the women of the family were enjoying the cool of the evening in the courtyard in front of their house. They heard a muffled shooting sound, followed soon after by another, and then by a loud buzzing noise, as if a swarm of insects was approaching at full speed. The facade of their home was reduced to Swiss cheese and the flesh of the women was attacked.

Without provocation, an Israeli tank fired two artillery shells at the family’s home. Amira Jaber Abu Said, 30, was hit and wounded in the shoulder by a piece of shrapnel and by steel darts, called flechettes. Her sister-in-law, 26-year-old Sanaa Ahmed Abu Said, was wounded in the foot. Panicking, they took shelter inside their home and called an ambulance. Meanwhile, from the direction of the nearby military turret, an Israeli armor-plated vehicle was stationed underneath and a machine gun was still shooting toward the family and continued to do so for a solid ten minutes.

After being delayed for 15 minutes by Israeli troops, ambulances reached the family farm. However, the paramedics were forced to flee as soon as they arrived under threat of Israeli fire.

Ali Abu Said, a family member, said in an interview “After Amira and Saana were wounded, we continued to call for the Re Crescent ambulance. After 15 minutes the paramedics arrived in our area, but they told us they couldn’t get to our house because the Israeli soldiers wouldn’t given them permission. They threatened to shoot them if they had gotten near. They’ve had to go back to where they’d come from, in Deir al-Balah.”

After an hour of apparent calm, Nema Abu Said, a 33-year-old mother of five, realized that her youngest child, Nader, was still asleep outside the family home. Nema rushed out to find Nader when another dull shot was heard and she was hit by a round of flechettes, and was killed on the spot. Her brother-in-law, Jaber Abu Said, 65, was wounded by flechettes in his right thigh.

The family continued to call in vain for ambulances. The Israeli military allowed a Red Crescent ambulance to enter the area two hours later and retrieve the dead woman and three injured family members.

Jaber Abu Said holds part of the shell that wounded him.

One of Nema’s children stands outside the family’s home.

Israel’s winter invasion, dubbed “Operation Cast Lead,” resulted in the deaths of more than 1,400 Palestinians, the vast majority of whom were civilians, including more than 300 children. On 27 January, 2009, Amnesty International compiled a list of prohibited weapons that the Israeli forces used against the population of Gaza.

Flechettes are small metallic daggers with barbed points, four centimeters long with four small fins in the back. According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, flechettes are loaded into shells fired by tanks. When the shells explode in mid-air, 30 meters from the ground, they propel a swarm of 5,000 to 8,000 flechettes, covering a cone-shaped radius, 300 meters wide and 100 meters long (“Flechette shells: an illegal weapon”).

Although flechette shells are considered an illegal weapon, Israel continues to use them. In 2002, the Israeli high court rejected a petition presented by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights to end use of the flechettes in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Flechettes were also used by Israel during is July 2006 invasion of Lebanon.

On 5 January 2009, in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, numerous flechette shells were fired onto a main street, killing two civilians. Wafa Nabil Abu Jarad, a 21-year-old mother expecting twins, and 16-year-old Islam Jaber Abd al-Dayem were both killed by the darts.

Similarly, on 16 April 2008, Fadel Shana, a cameraman for Reuters news agency and two children nearby were also killed by flechettes. Shana was filming in Johr al-Dik, a few hundred meters from the Abu Said family’s farm, when he was hit by a tank shell.

In spite of the attack and Nema’s death, the Abu Said family will remain on the farm. They will do this out of a sense of pride, a desire to live and die on their own property, and because they have nowhere else to go.

Jaber, a member of the Abu Said family and a survivor of the attack, explained: “No form of resistance activity has ever taken place anywhere near our farm, ever. No threat whatsoever to Israel and its soldiers exists. I really don’t understand why they’ve done this to us.”

Meanwhile, young Nader asks relatives and visitors about his mother. None of his relatives have yet found the right words to explain to this innocent child what happened to his mother. Do those words actually exist?

All images by Vittorio Arrigoni.

Vittorio Arrigoni has worked as a human rights activist for more than a decade. He lived in Gaza until September 2009. As an activist with the International Solidarity Movement and freelance journalist with the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto he has provided eyewitness accounts for the world to read and is author of the book Gaza: Stay Human.

This essay was translated from Italian by Daniela Filippin.