On the night of March 2, IDF forces invaded the Al-Burej refugee camp in what the IDF Spokesperson referred to as an “IDF action against the terror infra-structure.” During the operation, the army blew up the house of ‘Adel ‘Abd a-Salam, whose son had committed, according to the IDF Spokesperson, a suicide attack in the Gaza Strip, wounding four soldiers.
As a result of the explosion, the wall of the neighboring house, the home of Shukri and Nuha al-Mukadame and their ten children collapsed. No one warned the members of the family or told them to evacuate the house. The mother, Nuha Al-Mukadame, 33 and nine months pregnant, was crushed to death under the rubble. Her husband and her children were all injured.
The announcement published by the IDF spokesperson regarding the invasion and the house demolition made no mention of Nuha Al-Mukadame’s death. B’Tselem has demanded that the IDF Chief Military Prosecutor open a military police investigation into the exact circumstances of her death.
Testimony of Shuqri Salman Hussein al-Maqadmeh
Al-Maqadmeh is age 40, married with ten children, restaurateur, resident of Block 3, al-Burej refugee camp. The testimony was given to Mazen al-Majadlawi at the witness’s home on 5 March 2003.
“I am the husband of Nuha and we have ten children, six boys and four girls: Majid (17), Jamil (14), Nissim (12), Saqer (10), Muhammad (6), Yusef (5), Nasma (16), Al’aa (8), Nur (3 1/2), and Muna (almost two years old). We live in a two-story house, 130 square meters, in Block 3 of the camp. There are three bedrooms on the first floor – one for my wife and me, and two for the other children – a kitchen, bathroom, and small living room. The second floor is divided into two parts: one part is a 32-square meter living room with an asbestos ceiling, and the other part is still under construction. I own a felafel and bean restaurant that is located inside the camp, about 350 meters from our house.
Two days ago, a Sunday, I was at the restaurant with my son Majid, who usually comes there at night to help me. At around 10:30 P.M., I closed the restaurant and went home. I arrived home ten minutes later and began to prepare food for the next day. I split up my work between the restaurant and home. My wife usually helps me with my work at home, and Majid helps me at the restaurant.
My wife was sleeping when I got home. I did not want to bother her, so I started to work by myself. Around 11:30 P.M., my wife joined me in the kitchen. She said, “I hear the buzz of a drone airplane in the sky.” She asked me if I heard it, and I said that I did. She said that she was afraid that the army would invade the camp. I tried to calm her and joked with her. “You are always afraid,” I told her.
When my wife calmed down a bit, she asked how she could help. She asked if she should begin to grind the chickpeas to prepare the felafel. I told her that we should leave everything as it is and go to watch TV. I left the chickpeas on the fire and we went into our bedroom, which is on the western side of the house. I asked her to turn on the TV so we could see if the Israelis were invading the camp. The news did not say anything about an invasion. We sat on the bed, facing the TV, and listened to the buzz that was getting louder and louder.
Muhammad, our six-year-old, came into the room. He came over to me and said that he was shivering in fear. “Daddy, Sharon’s plane came to butcher us.” I tried to calm him down. Then Yusef, who is five years old, joined us on the bed. I asked him if he was afraid, and he said that he was very scared. I hugged him and sat him down next to me. I tried to calm the two of them as well as my wife, who was also extremely frightened, though I saw that she was trying to keep her composure in front of the children. Several seconds passed, and then Majid came into the room and said that the army had apparently invaded the camp and that he heard the buzz of the drone getting louder. I told him that I too heard it and asked him to wake up his brothers and have them come into the room. I did not want the children to stay in their room because it was closer to the door of the house, which faced the main street, making it more exposed to shelling and gunfire. Majid told me that the other boys were already awake, and he went to get them. When they all came into the room and we were all sitting on the bed, I asked Majid to get his sisters from the other room. He brought them, and they, too, sat down on the bed. All twelve of us were now in our room.
A few seconds later, my wife said, “If the army really did invade, there will surely be martyrs, as usual. If that happens, we won’t open the restaurant in the morning because the camp will be in mourning. She asked me to get up and take the pot of chickpeas off the stove. I went into the kitchen, turned off the flame, and went back to the bedroom. I sat down on the bed. Then we heard gunfire and after that heavy shelling. I didn’t know where it was coming from or in which direction it was aimed. The shooting increased in intensity, and came closer and closer to our house. It was about 12:30 A.M.
My wife wanted to take the children into the second [middle] room, but I told her that our room was safer than the other rooms because, if the shelling comes from the street, it would hit the first room and maybe the second, but not the third, where we were. She was not convinced and insisted on going into the middle room. She got off the bed, picked up twenty-month-old Mona, and told the other children to go with her. Right at that moment, the electricity went out. She came back, sat on the bed, and said that she was scared and that we should go to the middle room the moment the electricity came back on. I told her to do as she wished, and asked Majid to light the kerosene lamp. He asked for matches, and I gave him a box of matches from my pocket. He got up, lit the lamp and came back to the bed. A few seconds later, the power came back on. On TV, we heard the Palestinian reporter reporting live via telephone. We tried to watch the sub-titles to understand what was happening, and then I felt an enormous explosion, like an earthquake, and found myself under the ruins.
The blast destroyed the southern wall of the room, which separates our house from that of our neighbor, ‘Adel ‘Abd a-Salam, and the wall collapsed onto us. I heard my wife say, “Help me, Shuqri, help the children,” and then she was silent. I got up from under the rubble. I was shaken. It was totally dark, and I couldn’t see a thing, neither my wife nor the children. I didn’t feel any pain. It was as if I had been anesthetized. I felt terribly heavy. I left the room and went into the yard and looked into the room. I did not see anything other than black, dense smoke.
I went into the main street and called to neighbors to help me. The army started to fire in all directions. I did not see the soldiers and had no idea where they were. When none of the neighbors came out, I went back into the house and to the room that had collapsed. The smoke had dissipated somewhat, and I could see better, though it was still hard to see clearly. I began to lift the stones near the door of the room and threw them toward the yard. And then I saw Yusef. I picked him up. As I did, I saw Muhammad. I took Yusef into the yard and then returned to remove the rubble on top of Muhammad. I freed him and took him outside. As I was clearing away the stones and the rubble, visibility improved. Then I saw Nur’s clothing. I went over to her, picked her up, and took her into the yard. Again I returned to the room to clear out more of the rubble. I heard Majid call for help. I said to myself, “Even you, Majid, need my help.” He was buried under stones. I grasped his hand and asked him to try to free himself and help me lift him up. When the stones were removed, I pulled him out of the rubble. He stood up and said, “Nasma is there.” I looked and saw that eighty percent of her body was covered by the rubble and the furniture. She said that her brothers were alongside her. I heard one of them say, “My head, my head,” but I couldn’t recognize whose voice it was. Majid and I began to remove the stones covering Nasma, we picked her up and took her into the yard. I suddenly had trouble breathing and felt as if I was going to faint. I ran into the yard and then into the street. I called out loudly to the neighbors, “Help, don’t be afraid, the army has already left.”
I heard Abu Khalil, who lives on the other side of the street, about four meters from our house, say: “Shuqri, are you sure the army has gone?” I said that I was, and then neighbors started to come over to my house. They went into the room and started to remove the rubble to get out those who were caught underneath it. I sat down in the yard, about two meters from the room, with my children whom I had managed to save sitting next to me. I started to feel pain all over my body, especially my neck. I felt that I couldn’t stand up. The neighbors extracted Nissim, Al’a, Jamil, and Saqer from the ruins and brought them, one after the other, to me. I told my neighbors that my wife and daughter Muna were still buried under the rubble, and they continued to clear away the stones.
I had trouble breathing, and a neighbor, Jamal Abu al-Hasna, massaged my face so that I would not faint. A few seconds later, I heard the neighbors, particularly Yasmin Shahin, say that they found Nuha. Yasmin and her father picked up my wife. They said that she was still alive. I heard them say, “She is still breathing.” Then I heard Abu Khalil’s wife say, “Here is the little girl.” The neighbors brought a blanket, spread it out and placed my wife on it. They picked up Muna and my wife and took them to the area behind the house, on the western side, and laid them on a mound of dirt and called for an ambulance. I went to sit alongside them.
When twenty minutes passed and the ambulance did not arrive, a neighbor from the al-Hamsi family, I don’t know his first name, suggested that some of the neighbors take my wife to the UNRWA clinic in the camp. Some of the neighbors picked up my wife and took her to the clinic. Two neighbors, one of them Ahmad al-Hamsi, supported me as we walked twenty meters northwards. When we got to the main street north of the house, we saw tanks, I don’t know how many exactly. We turned into a side street and continued on to the clinic, a distance of six hundred meters from my house. The nurses there gave me first-aid. There were lots of young people in the clinic, some of them my neighbors, who tried to help the wounded. I asked them about my wife and children, and they told me that my wife was all right, and that she was in the women’s department. They said that the children were all right and were with the neighbors.
About ten minutes later, one of the nurses came over to me with a sad expression on his face and told me that my wife had died. In shock, I started to slap myself. The nurses and neighbors tried to calm me. I stayed in the clinic until 6:30 A.M., when I was informed that the army had left the camp. I was taken to Shohada al-Aqsa Hospital. My children were also taken to the hospital. Examination and x-rays revealed that they had been injured all over their bodies, but that they were in good condition. An x-ray showed that I had suffered a neck fracture.
My wife was nine months pregnant.”