by EWA JASIEWICZ
Beit Hanoun, Gaza.
I‘ve been working with the Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance services in Jabaliya, Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya for the past 5 days and nights.
For the past five days the Red Cross and the Red Crescent emergency services have been blocked from evacuating the injured and the dead from key areas surrounding Jabaliya and Gaza City. Special Forces have occupied houses in the areas of Zeitoun, Atarturah, Zoumo and Salahedeen.
Paramedic Ali Khalil’s team was shot at on Monday afternoon. He told me, ‘We had been told we had the go-ahead from the Israeli army through co-ordination with the Red Cross but when we arrived at the area we were shot at. We had to turn back’. Yesterday afternoon, a medical volunteer, Hassan, was shot in the leg as he and his colleague had to drop the stretcher they were carrying after coming under Israeli sniper fire. There are reports of scores of dead bodies lying in the streets un-claimed. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society estimates there are 230 injured which they haven’t been able to pick up.
There are reports of 18 corpses in one home alone and the injured dying from treatable wounds because of a lack of access to medical treatment.
Last night, at around 9pm, Marwan, an experienced paramedic, bearing the scars of years of Israeli invasions, sustained another yet another. He was shot in the leg by an Israeli sniper in Eastern Jabaliya. Gnarled by his work, picking up the pieces after Israeli attacks, he had said only the day before yesterday, ‘This is no life, its better to die, it would be better to be dead than this shit’.
The blockade on any rescuing is reminiscent of the battle of Jenin in April 2002. Israel forbade ambulances from entering the camp, blowing up one with a tank shell and killing Dr Khalil Sulleiman, the Head of the Palestinian Red Crescent. The army cut water and electricity and bulldozed an entire neighbourhood, complete with residents still in their homes, over the course of 11 days. The death count in the 11-day Jenin massacre was 58, but estimated to be much higher. Here in Jabaliya, this is the equivalent to around 4 days in the past week or almost the whole of yesterday. Between December 27th and January 5th, in Jabaliya alone, 119 people had been killed and 662 injured. An average of 15 people are dying, violently, every day. On January 6th, with the Fakhoura school massacre, 50 people were killed in just one day. Hospital authorities mark the day as the single worst day they have ever seen in Jabaliya.
Sporadic battles are taking place between Palestinian resistance fighters, armed with basic machine guns, the odd grenade, and warm clothes. They’re up against the fourth most powerful army in the world, armed with state-of-the-art war planes, Merkava tanks, regional governmental co-ordination and intelligence, a green light to kill with impunity in the name of self defence, body armor, night vision, and holidays in Goa when it all gets too much.
The paramedics, drivers and volunteers at the emergency services risk their lives every time they leave their base and even working within their bases. Medics evacuated their original base near Salahadeen street due to heavy shelling from Israeli forces early last week. They then moved to the Al Awda Hospital in Beit Lahiya because again, it was too close to the battle front, and again to a community centre in Moaskar Jabaliya to be ’safer’. However, against a backdrop of deafening crashes and bangs of bombs falling close by, on Monday at 12.45pm, an Israeli surveillance plane fired two missiles into the Al Awda Hospital compound. The first slammed into a police car, the second, impacted two minutes later into the ground just meters in front of the Hospital’s clinic. Two rescue workers were injured in the head and face, but we were all lucky to escape without any serious damage.
Right now we’re back at the Jabaliya base, still close to the sound of pounding tank shells, apache strikes, and light gunfire met with staggering rapid fire 50 caliber tank-gun fire, the odd grenade and the ever menacing and maddening sneer of surveillance drones.
Yesterday around 1am we were called out to a strike in the Moaskar Jabaliya area. The area was pitch black, our feeble torches lighting up broken pipes streaming water, glass, chunks of concrete and twisted metal. ‘They’re down there, down there, take care’, people said. The smell of fresh severed flesh, a smell that can only come from the shedding of pints of blood and open insides, was in the air. I got called back by a medic who screamed at me to stay by his side. It turned out Id been following the Civil Defence, the front line responders who check to see if buildings are safe and put out fires, rather than the medics.
The deep ink dark makes it almost impossible to see clearly, shadows and faces lit up by swiveling red ambulance lights and arms pointing hurriedly are our guides for finding the injured. ‘Lets get out of here, lets get out’ say the guys, and we’re leaving to go, empty handed, but straining to seeing what’s ahead when a missile hits the ground in front of us. We see a lit up fountain of what could be nail darts explode in front of us. They fall in a spray like a thousand hissing critters, we cover our heads and run back to the ambulance. One of the volunteers inside, Mohammad, is shocked, ‘Did you see? Did you see? How close it was?’
At approximately 4am, we hit the streets in response to an F16 war plane attack on the house of Abdullah Sayeed Mrad in the Block Two area of Jabaliya Camp in the Northern Gaza Strip. Mrad is said to be a high ranking Hamas official according to local sources. The attack leveled the house.
Every house strike is like walking into a smoking grave, broken doll-like bodies of children to be found beneath layers and layers of white rubble and burning shrapnel.
We took Adam Mamoun Al Kurdi, aged 3 to Al Awda. He died of multiple shrapnel injuries to his skull and lower thighs. We sped back 5 minutes later – four teams in four Red Crescent ambulances, to fetch more casualties. Thankfully there were none.
Whilst waiting in the ambulance we suddenly heard a deafening bang and saw an orange flash before our ambulance was showered with shrapnel, glass and brick. The target of the attack was another house belonging to Sayeed Mrad. Medics say the strike was from an F16. The depth of damage caused was consistent with the force of an F16-fired bomb.
The house, reduced to rubble, was just two meters from our ambulance. Ambulance driver Majdi Shehadda, 48, sustained deep lacerations to his face and right ear and went into shock in the ambulance. He was treated with oxygen. Four rescue workers sustained minor injuries and had to be treated for smoke and dust inhalation. One, Saaber Mohammad Awad, 34, was preparing to exit his ambulance when the bomb hit. ‘The door smashed against me and the windows smashed in because of the pressure. I expected to die. If we had been outside just a second later, we would have been killed. The ambulance saved our lives’.
The four ambulances, one with all of its’ windows blown in and damage to medical stocks inside, the others with cracked windows, were trapped by rubble blocking our exit route.
We had to carry Majdi on a stretcher over the debris of the bombed house in total darkness whilst Israeli drones menaced the skies above us. I tripped up over twisted steel foundation poles at one point and dropped the oxygen tank, the pipe detaching and hissing oxygen out over the rubble. We all evacuated the area after 15 minutes, along with a family, carrying their blankets, mattresses and belongings, as another property belonging to Sayeed Mrad also in the area was at risk of being bombed.
The ambulances would have been clearly visible to Israeli drones and special forces with their rooftop indentification markings, bright flashing lights and solo movement in the deserted, pitch black strees of Jabaliya.
An aerial curfew
Everyone is terrified by surveillance plane strikes here. ‘Zenane’ they call them, because of the zzzzz sound they make. They have been firing explosive missiles into people – people walking, in cars, sitting in doorways drinking tea, standing on rooftops, praying together, sitting at home and watching television together.
In Naim Street Beit Hanoun, at 9.30pm on Sunday, Samieh Kaferna , 40, was hit by flying shrapnel to his head. Neighbours called him to come to their home. Fearing his home would be struck, he and a group of relatives began to move from one home to another, to be safer.
The second missile struck them down directly. When we arrived one man, eyes gigantic, was being dragged into the pavement, half of his lower body shredded, his intestines slopping out. He was alive, his relatives were screaming, we managed to take four, whilst six others, charred and dismembered, were brought in on the back of an open cattle truck. Beit Hanoun Hospital was chaos, with screaming relatives and burning bodies. Three men died in the attack, 10 were injured, six from the same Abu Harbid family. Three had to have leg amputations, and one a double amputation.
Burning shrapnel in eyes is a common injury, shrapnel slices deep into to any soft fleshy parts of the body. We brought a boy from Beit Hanoun with a distorted heavily bandaged head wrapped in bandages, to Al Nasser hospital with its specialist eye unit and mental health clinic. When we get there, its pitch black, doctors are sitting around candles, the place is freezing and full of shadows. Both the doctors and their have been patients blinded with Israeli-controlled power cuts that intensify the confusion, fear, and psychological darkness caving in on people here.
Burning shrapnel in eyes – like those of three year old Shedar Athman Khader Abid from Beit Hanoun, ‘injured in the left eye, explosive injury, full thickness corneal wound, iris prologue and vitreous loss’ according to her medical report. Her father approaches my friend, quietly, to ask if its possible for me to help her, to get her out to have eye surgery, ‘This girl, she was like a moon, haram, three years old and her beauty is robbed from her’.
Extremely hot, shrapnel lodges in chests, legs, faces, hands, stomachs, and skullls. I’ve been taught, don’t focus on stopping bleeding with shrapnel injuries, there is very little blood, the foreign bodies burn inside. Many casualties we’ve brought in that seem ok, literally, on ‘the surface’, only to die a few days later. People talk about the missiles being poison tipped, and there have been reports of white phosphorous being used.
Dead for buying bread
Last night four members of a family were traveling back from the bakers in Beit Lahiya. Squeezed into a white skoda, their bag of bread still warm, they were struck by a surveillance plane missile at 6pm. Khaled Ismaeel Kahlood, 44, and his three sons Mohammad 15, Habib, 12, and Towfiq, 10, were cut into pieces by the attack which blew their car in two. Taxi driver Hassan Khalil, 20, was also martyred in the attack. The bodies brought into Kamal Odwan hospital were virtually unrecognizable.
A Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees ambulance was fired upon at approximately 8.30am on Sunday morning killing Paramedic and father of five, Arafa El Deyem, 35. He and another rescue worker had been evacuating casualties which had come under fire from an Israeli tank East of Jabaliya in the North of the Gaza Strip. Witnesses report that as the door of the ambulance was being closed a tank shell hit El Deyem. El Deyem died from a massive loss of blood following a major trauma to his chest. Paramedics I ride with cherish his memory, carrying his photo - a kind and strong looking, bearded man - on their mobile phones.
The following day, at the family’s grieving tent, five of El Deyem’s relatives were killed when a missile smashed into the tent in the Beit Hanoun Area. Arafat Mohammed Abdel Deinm, 10, Mohammad Jamal Abdel Dein, 25, Maher Younis Abdel Dein, 30, and Said Jamal Said, 27, all died from head and internal explosive injuries. Witnesses claim the missile was fired by an Israeli surveillance drone.
The Ministry of Health confirmed that Doctor Anis Naeem, a nephew of the Hamas Minister of Health, Bassem Naeem, and a colleague were killed in the Zeitoun area on Sunday afternoon when a missile strike from an Israeli surveillance plane impacted on the home they had entered in order to retrieve casualties. Rescue workers Ihab el-Madhoun 35, and Mohammad Abu Hasira, 24, were struck by Israeli missiles when trying to collect casualties in the Jabal Al Rais area of Jabbaliya last Tuesday. Witnesses said Ihab went to assist his colleague following a strike on the rescue workers. He too was then struck. Abu Hasira was brought to the Kamal Ahdwan governmental hospital in Jabaliya and died at 7.30am according to hospital records. The cause of death was multiple trauma injuries. Ihab died from massive internal injuries following an operation on his chest and abdominal area five hours later.
Khalil Abu Shammalah, Director of Al Dhumeer Association based in Gaza City said: ‘It is a breach of the fourth Geneva Convention to target emergency medical services under conditions of war and occupation. Battlefield casualties are also protected under the Geneva Conventions and cannot be targeted once injured. Israel is in breach of international law’. The Israeli news agency Y-Net recently reported that Yuval Duskin, Director of the Israeli intelligence agency Shin Bet, told the Israeli cabinet that large numbers Hamas operatives are hiding in hospitals and dressing as medical workers. Palestinian medical officials have dismissed the claims as ‘nonsense’. Rescue workers are terrified that hospitals will join the list of civilian targets including homes, schools, universities, mosques, and shops hit in Israel’s offensive so far.
People and their homes are being pulverized by Israeli tank shells, F16s and bulldozers. I traveled to the buffer zone area of Sikka Street close to the Erez checkpoint, to see the damage. 27 houses had been crushed by either bulldozers or tank shells, one had been destroyed by an F16 bomb. 10 water wells and 200 dunums of land – orange groves and strawberry fields, have been bulldozed, and approximately 250 people have been made homeless.
Six members of the Kiferna family were crushed to death when their home was fired upon by Tanks on Sunday night. People were coming back to their homes for the first time. The Hamdan Family had three homes in a row destroyed. I asked one woman sitting amongst the ruins of her home where she would go now? She replied, ‘Beit Hanoun UNRWA school’.
‘But do you think that will be safe?’ I asked her. ‘No, but I have nowhere else to go’ she replied.
The Al Naim Mosque was also completely destroyed, holy books still smouldering from the attacks. Approximately one in 10 of the some 100 mosques in the Jabaliya area have been destroyed in Israel’s assault. ‘We see them as personal centers for us, theyre not Hamas, and we paid for them out of our own money, they belong to us, not anyone else’, explained one Imam based in Jabaliya.
The demolition of Mosques means many people are praying in the streets, at the Kamal Odwan hospital, people pray in the garden area opposite, and at the funeral for the 42 people, mostly children, massacred at the Fakhoura School , hundreds prayed on the ground that was turned into an early graveyard.
On Sunday night, all Sikka Street residents were given five minutes to leave their homes, ordered out through loudhailers, unable to take any belongings with them, rounded up by Israeli occupation forces and taken to the Al Naim Mosque. Women, children and the elderly were put inside and men aged between 16-40 were kept in a field outside in the cold and interrogated. Six were taken to Erez, three were released a day later and were told by soldiers, according to a witness, that it was safe for them to make their own way home along Salahadeen Street. It was there that special forces allegedly shot 33 year-old Shaadi Hissam Yousef Hamad 33, in the head.
Torn schoolbooks lie amidst rubble, and Iman Mayer Hammad picks through the debris of her life, a hejab, shoes, pictures, she cries out, ‘Its all gone, everything, they’ve taken everything, my children can’t finish their exams, how will they finish their exams?’
Hundreds of children won’t be finishing their exams in Gaza because they’re dead.
Whether people stay in their homes or leave, they are being bombed. Majid Hamdan Wadeeya, 40, was hit in the leg and spine with shrapnel while he and his family were preparing to leave their home in Jaffa Street, Jabaliya. We arrived at his home on Tuesday afternoon to find the family’s decrepit red car still running and the family minivan stuffed with mattresses, towels, blankets, and belongings, blasted open. They had been hit by a missile from either a drone of apache. ‘We were going from the bombing, from the bombing’, screamed his children, all terrified. We managed to take half of the family, the rest got in their red car and followed.
We were interviewing residents at the UNRWA elementary school in Jabaliya, close to the Fakhoora school, at exactly the same time of the massacre.The Sahaar family, which had walked from their home in Salahdeen Street to seek refuge in the school on the first day of invasion, were asking us, ‘But do you think we are safe here? We feel that any time a missile could come down us? Are we safe here?’ The 500 people, some 50 families living in classrooms, share just 14 toilets and rely on rations to survive. The nights are cold as the windows have been smashed out by Israeli bomb attacks. No one can sleep at night because of the sounds of homes, mosques and people being bombed to the ground.
The fabric of life
Everyone here knows someone who has been killed in Israel ’s massacres. I can’t keep up with the stories of missile struck cousins, nephews, brothers, the jailed, the humiliated, the shot, the unreachable, the homeless, the now even more vulnerable than ever, people, not pieces, piling up in morgues all over Gaza, not pieces, people. These people are struggling to live and breathe another day, to avoid the lethal use of F16s, F15s, Apache Helicopters, Cobra Gun Ships, Israeli naval gun ships that are targeting them.
These networks and vision have held strong for 60 years, but another fabric of life is being planned by Israel. Whilst people say they are resisting the worst attack on them since the Nakba, Israel proceeds to cantonise the West Bank, under a project of roads and tunnels ‘for Palestinains’ which reinforce the existing illegal settlement system, apartheid wall, land and water theft and Palestinian bantustanisation. Under the banner of ‘development’, this network of new facts on the ground, ‘for the Palestinians’ is called, ‘The Fabric of Life’. Israel is blasting holes in one corner of the Palestinian fabric of life through extreme violence, and tearing up another part with the help of international companies and governments and internal authority complicity.
Back at Kamall Odwan hospital, Dr Moayan, explains, ‘It’s not about just riding the streets of civilians, because, they are bombing us even when we have left, when we are inside supposedly safe compounds. I have left my house, and now have nowhere else to go, nowhere else to go.’ He continues to say what hundreds of people are saying, ‘This is the worst we have ever seen, we have never had this level of violence. It has shocked even us. In Lebanon they killed over 1700 people, will it come to this here?’
The global intifada
This killing continues, day and night, and its not just people that are being physically dismembered, their families are being dismembered, their communities are being dismembered, the landscape of Gaza is full of holes. The fabric of these communities, that neighbours no longer neighbours, that families no longer living or alive together is being stretched to breaking point. People are being made refugees again, tents as homes awaiting them again, as no buildings or building materials are available for people to even rebuild their shattered lives, their smashed homes, shops, mosques, governmental buildings, community centres, charities, offices, clinics, youth centers.
How do you break a people that won’t be broken? ‘They will have to kill each and everyone of us’ people tell me. From the first days here people were expecting ‘the shoah’ threatened upon them by Matan Villai , Israel ’s deputy defence minister this February. It is happening. It is happening now. This is the Shoah.
The third Intifada being urged now has to be our intifada too. As Israel steps up its destruction of the Palestinian people, we need to step up our reconstruction of our resistance, our movements, of our communities in our own counties, where so many of us live in alienation and isolation. We need to be the third intifada – people here need more and say repeatedly that they need more than the demonstrations, because they are not stopping the killing here. Demonstrations alone, are not stopping the killing here.
The arms companies making the weapons that are targeting people here, the companies that are selling stolen goods from occupied land pillaging settlements, the companies building the apartheid wall, the prisons, the East Jerusalem Light Railway system. These companies, Carmel Agrexco, Caterpillar, Veolia, Raytheon, EDO, BAE Systems, they are complicit in the crimes against humanity being committed here. If the international community will not uphold international law, then a popular movement should and can – we can use the legal system of international law as one of many means to hold on to our collective humanity.
The European Union decision, undertaken by the Council of Ministers this December, to upgrade relations with Israel, from economic ties to cultural, security, and political relations must be reversed. The EU represents a core strategic market of legitimacy and political economic reinforcement of Israel and as such its capacity to commit crimes against humanity, with impunity.
We can cut this tie, we can halt this decision which if approved this April, will empower Israel further, bring it closer to the ‘community of nations’ of the EU, and give a green light for further terror and crimes against humanity be inflicted upon the Palestinian people. This is a decision which has not yet been ratified. We can influence that which hasn’t happened yet.
There are concrete steps that people can take, learning from the lessons of the first Intifada and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign to dismantle the South African Apartheid regime. Strategies of popular resistance, strikes, occupations, direct actions. From the streets into the offices, factories and headquarters is where we need to take this fight, to the heart of decision-makers that are supposedly making decisions on our behalf and the companies making a killing out of the occupation. The third intifada needs to be a global intifada.
Ewa Jasiewicz is an experienced journalist, community and union organizer, and solidarity worker. She is currently Gaza Project Co-coordinator for the Free Gaza Movement.