“Shabbat Shalom” in Gaza

Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli air strike in the town of Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, 27 December 2008. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)

Shabbat Shalom! “Peaceful Saturday.” I don’t believe that Israeli leaders appreciate the meaning of this Hebrew greeting given at the start of the weekly Jewish day of rest. No more “Shabbat Shalom,” as on Saturday, 27 December 2008, just a few days before the start of a new year, Israeli warplanes dropped bombs on different parts of the Gaza Strip.

A sunny Saturday in Gaza became very dark as pillars of smoke blacked out the sky of the coastal territory, while the smell of blood was everywhere.

In Rafah city in the southern Gaza Strip, three family members, including a father, a son and a nephew, were all killed as Israeli warplanes dropped bombs on the Rafah police station. The victims were present at the Rafah police station for a routine matter, when the Israeli air strikes occurred. They did not know that their fate awaited them right there on this “Shabbat Shalom.”

That is one example of the killings at what Israel alleges were Hamas “terrorist” outposts. At dozens of locations, entire buildings were torn down, windows of homes were smashed and countless cars damaged. Under the rubble lay dozens of corpses. About 60 Israeli F-16 warplanes attacked up to 100 targets in Gaza today, mainly police stations and charities run by Hamas. One of the Israeli missiles landed in the sports field of the Islamic University of Gaza, home to more than 18,000 students.

Al-Shifa hospital alone, Gaza’s largest, received scores of bodies, and hundreds of injured. According to Dr. Moawiya Abu Hassanein, chief of emergency and ambulance service at the Hamas-run health ministry, the Israeli air assaults on Gaza claimed the lives of 228 and wounded about 700 others, 120 critically.

Abu Hassanein said that at least 15 of the dead had not been identified because their bodies had been dismembered by the Israeli bombs.

“The death toll is on the rise as many other dead are still under rubble of destroyed buildings everywhere,” Abu Hassanein explained, adding that scores of victims were civilians.

Al-Shifa’s morgue could not take all the bodies while crowds of residents gathered at its gates, trying to learn if their loved ones were among those whom medical staff had not yet identified.

A young man searched among the corpses, trying to determine whether his brother was among them.

“I have been informed by some friends that my brother has been killed today. My brother had been in custody at the Saraya security compound in Gaza City. A friend of mine told me that my brother was killed during shelling of the central Gaza Strip’s police station as he was transferred there shortly before the Israeli strikes,” explained Abu Fadi, a 33-year-old resident of the central Gaza Strip. That police station, on the Salah al-Din road, was completely leveled to the ground by the Israeli air strikes on Saturday.

Others around the morgue were crying over the deaths of their loved ones amid the overpowering smell of blood. Overwhelmed with injured people, Gaza’s health ministry lacks essential medicines and surgical supplies as a direct consequence of Israel’s blockade which was tightened two months ago, according to Abu Hassanein.

An Israeli army spokesperson claimed Hamas knew that Israel would attack locations like police stations, and it was to blame for failing to evacuate them. Ehab al-Ghosein, a spokesman for the Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza, told The Electronic Intifada: “Most of those killed today were security personnel and there were other civilian deaths. But the role of such forces is purely civilian. They are assigned to preserving the security of people and organizing traffic.

The dead “are not fighters,” al-Ghosein added. “We consider these strikes a deliberate action to destroy civil life and to kill as many Palestinians as possible.”

Al-Ghosein also blamed international and Arab parties for the latest Israeli attacks. “What Israel did today was approved by some Arab and international players,” he said.

As the new year approaches, it is unclear what is in store for Gaza as a six-month ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian resistance groups ended last week. In response to the crippling blockade and the extrajudicial killing of Palestinians by Israeli forces, resistance groups in Gaza had renewed the firing of crude rockets into southern Israel.

As Israel heads to elections in February, leading politicians have been outbidding each other with promises to attack Gaza and harm Palestinians. In the face of Israel’s escalating violence and siege against Gaza, the United States, European Union and other world powers have done nothing to hold Israel accountable. After today’s bloodshed it remains unclear whether that will change and what fate lies in store for the 1.5 million people imprisoned in the Gaza Strip as Israeli tanks deploy to their borders.

Rami Almeghari is contributor to The Electronic Intifada, IMEMC.org and Free Speech Radio News and is a part-time lecturer on media and political translation at the Islamic University of Gaza. Rami is also a former senior English translator at and editor-in-chief of the international press center of the Gaza-based Palestinian Information Service. He can be contacted at rami_almeghari A T hotmail D O T com.

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