Two nights ago the rain poured and the skies thundered. It was beautiful, dramatic… Through the open windows of the apartment life poured in, in fresh wafts and booms.
Yesterday, beginning around 11:30 am there were more booms. First, distant booms, unclear. Maybe it was something unloading…? But as Israeli fighter jets flitted overhead, north to south to north, and in broad circles, gradually lowering and becoming louder, so too did the planes’ noise and the booms.
Sonic booms, local press said, Israeli fighter planes deliberately breaking the sound barrier.
Israel’s truce with Hamas is still theoretically in place, yet war planes poison the skies above Gaza, first unseen but clearly heard.
11:56 [ I entered times and notes in my journal]
Israeli planes are flying lower and louder, now visible. Caoimhe, another international activist, relates the woes of Palestinians who endured sonic booms throughout the last some years. “During the worst of it, there were sonic booms every 15 minutes or so. People speak of who they were before and after the sonic booms campaign started. They could never get a good night’s sleep. With each explosion, children’s wails arose anew. And just when mothers had calmed children down, the next boom would come.”
The visible results of the sonic booms are broken windows, trembling buildings.
The physical and psychological effects are far more serious.
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP) note that miscarriages increased dramatically at the height of the 2005 campaign. They note also the effects on children: disrupted sleep, nightmares, poor concentration which leads to academic failures, bedwetting, headaches, and other physical ailments.
Most people in Gaza have seen or felt death by explosive bombing.
“For children between two and eight, a loud sound like this is a sign of imminent danger,…it is traumatic and we don’t know what will be the long-term effect,” said Dr. Iyad Sarraj, Director of the GCMHP.
Like the illegality of Israel’s siege on Gaza’s population –a collective punishment rendered against 1.5 million people—, sonic booms are also considered illegal under international law as they target innocent civilians, a violation of the Geneva Conventions.
With the same logic as the imposition of the siege [and its closure of all borders, denial of essential goods and medicines], Israel views the use of sonic booms as a means of turning the population against the elected Hamas government. Neither tactic has achieved this goal, only resulting in mass suffering amongst civilians.
At its height in 2005, the sonic boom campaign was defended by Rannan Gissim, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. “The inconvenience that it causes the Palestinian population cannot be measured against the question of life or death for Israelis on the other side,” he said.
Sirraj believes sonic booms are more than an ‘inconvenience’. “This is definitely a form of collective punishment, which under international law is prohibited and considered a war crime.”
Mohsen Ghazali, Programme Manager of Islamic Relief International, stops by the hotel table where I am typing, tapped into the hotel’s generator electricity. When I reply that I am writing about yesterday’s sonic boom, he in turn replies, “Yes, I heard one or two. That’s nothing. Last year was terrible. It wasn’t only the children who suffered and were terrified. Adults couldn’t take it either. At least 7 people died from it, from heart attacks,” he says.
In 2006, Father Manuel, the parish priest at the Latin Church and school in Gaza, wrote: “Many children have been violently thrown from their beds at night from the sonic booms. Many arms and legs have been broken. These planes fly low over Gaza and then reach the speed of sound. This shakes the ground and creates shock waves like an earthquake that causes people to be thrown from their bed. I, myself weigh 120 kilos and was almost thrown from my bed due to the shock wave produced by a low flying jet that made a sonic boom…Gaza cannot sleep…”
Yesterday, sitting in the apartment, I continued to monitor the frequency of the flights overhead. The planes’ engines alone are terrifying, a loud growling that becomes more insistent as it gets lower, closer, I wrote in my notebook.
12:02 Loudest yet, I wrote. The intensity of the planes’ screaming flight makes it seem a bomb will drop at any moment.
Every 2 or 3 minutes now.
12:12 Same old.