“The radio reported that my friend was under the rubble”

Palestinians inspect the rubble of a destroyed police compound following an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, 29 December 2008. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)

Dr. Haidar Eid is an Associate Professor in the Department of English Literature, Al-Aqsa University, Gaza Strip, Palestine. He gave the following testimony to Eva Bartlett at 5pm Gaza Time on 30 December:

I was lying in my bedroom when the first strike happened, around 1:30 in the morning. A strike isn’t just one explosion, it’s a series of explosions. Boom, boom, boom, boom. The whole building shook. I woke up and went to the bathroom first, and within 30 seconds the second strike hit. F-16s were bombing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, about 500 meters away. I could hear glass shattering everywhere. I went back into the bedroom and saw glass everywhere, all over the bed which is right up against the window. If I had been lying there still, it would have shattered all over me, would have seriously injured me, or worse. It was a very strong blast, and the glass must have hit the bed with great force.

I brought a mattress into the living room, which faces the sea, and lay down trying to sleep there. Moments later, I heard a huge explosion, the third strike, this time from an area closer to the sea. The front, sea-facing window exploded into the room, landing on the desk and the floor, thankfully too far from where I was lying.

I tried to call a friend who lives two buildings away from the ministries. He’s got five children, ages five to 15. He said they were okay, but the children were terrified, screaming.

I went into the third room, a spare bedroom, and saw that the windows were already broken. I looked through the shards of glass and saw that four ambulances had come, as well as two fire engines. There were huge, black clouds. I was looking at the ambulances and the people below when another strike against the compound happened, another series of explosions. Again, my building shook from the impact. I heard people screaming, there was more smoke, fire, and a terrible smell. I don’t know what … the smell of death, I guess.

The radio reported that my friend, Dr. Fawaz Abu Sitta, whose house is just in front of the ministry compound, was buried under the rubble of his home. I was stunned, it really affected me badly. He’s such a kind man, and I couldn’t believe it. I called friends, I was so worried, and 15 minutes later finally learned that another friend had spoken to him: he and his wife were okay, in the basement of their house, locked in because something had fallen against the door.

The compound has three or four ministries, and each building has eight to ten floors. So I’d imagine you need three missiles for each building. So far there’d been three sets of hits against the buildings, as well as ongoing strikes around Gaza City and the Strip.

I could hear some of the explosions in Gaza’s neighborhoods, and the radio kept reporting the latest explosions. They were everywhere: Sheikh Radwan (a district of Gaza City, where my brother and his family live. I started calling him, but he didn’t answer), Zaytoun (another district of Gaza), Jabaliya, Beit Hanoun …

All the time, the building was shaking, like an earthquake. These were the loudest explosions I’ve ever heard. It was terrible, frightening, confusing. And you know, you don’t know where to run, what to do. I looked outside, but it was too dark, too filled with black smoke … I don’t know what kind of bombs Israel is using, something that creates fire, and very dark smoke. I could hear children screaming in my own building, screeching from fear. My landlord is in his eighties, and his wife had a stroke last year and cannot walk. They live on the 12th floor. I couldn’t imagine how they were feeling then, completely helpless, the power out, no way of escaping if our building was hit, or even if it wasn’t hit, but just to escape the terror.

I took my mattress and went to the corridor this time, the last place I could try. I lay down, and listened to the radio reporting the latest. And I continued to hear blasts all over.

Forty-five minutes after the third strike, they came back, to finish the job against the ministerial compound. With the fourth strike, more glass shattered, what was left of it. I rushed to the window closest to the attacks, already shattered, and again tried to see through dark smoke. But I couldn’t see anything, but could hear ambulances below, more screaming.

The electricity was off, the landlines down. No phone lines, no Internet, no cell phone connection. I had no way of speaking to anyone. It was very isolating, terrifying.

It seems ridiculous to go back to bed after all of this, to try to sleep. But there is really nowhere I felt safe, so I went back to the mattress in the corridor. It started raining, and I could see rain coming in the sea-view window, and my bedroom window. I got up, tried to cover things … my laptop, my stereo … I was just trying to save my things. And there was glass all over the floor, I was stepping on it.

This morning, my nieces came over, and when they saw my bedroom with the broken windows and thick shards of glass where my head and body would have been, they were horrified, started crying.

We still have glass everywhere. We tried to clean … it’s everywhere.

I heard later that they used more than 40 bombs, which when you add up all the strikes is entirely possible.

After the attacks, the drones were all over, flying low, buzzing like huge mosquitoes. The sound they make, it’s loud, grating, and you know it means they’re considering what to do next. They were up there the rest of the night, flying circles, coming lower, going back up, the pitch of their whine raising, going away, coming back … They want to make their presence felt. They are really saying to us, “we can do whatever we want, with impunity.”

There’s only so much one can bear, you know. You can’t think clearly. I don’t know what to do.

People are afraid they might strike the Ministry of Justice and next to it the Ministry of Education, just up the street, about 400-500 meters.

Update: 8am, 31 December, the Council of Ministers, hosting the prime minister’s office, was targeted Tuesday night at around 8:50pm, along with the Ministry of Interior in Tel al-Hawa (just 500 meters from Dr. Eid’s home), which was targeted for the third time. Both were completely destroyed.

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 Gaza, after the third successful voyage of the Free Gaza Movement to break the siege on Gaza.

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