UPDATED [12:00 pm Gaza time] 285 have been killed and over 750 wounded in attacks beginning Saturday morning after 11 am, in which over 100 bombs were dropped by 80 helicopters and Israeli warplanes, according to the Union of Medical Health Workers. Hospitals are overflowing with the wounded, and seriously incapable of dealing with all of the injured.
Among the civilians killed, the mother of my good friends in Jabaliya. Every loss is atrocious, but it is more poignant when you see it or know the dead. She, Sara, 55, was mother of 7 sons, 6 daughters. Her son H reported: “I saw the crater, where the missile hit.It was about 8 m deep and 8 m in circumference.Three people were killed from that one missile, dismembered, next to my mother. They died next to the mosque which was destroyed in an invasion 10 months ago.”
Her daughter-in-law added: “Everyone in this house depended on her. She got up every day at 5 am to clean the house, go to the market and bring back food and bread. She insisted on going out to buy bread, we didn’t have any last night and she insisted on it for the kids. Before leaving here this morning, she fell down and hurt her leg. But she still insisted on leaving to get bread for the children.The F-16 started dropping rockets around Gaza and she was on the street, killed instantly from shrapnel from the missile which landed next to her. Hussein refused to believe that it was her that was killed.”
Another international human rights activist and I spent last night with the family, not sleeping, crowded into a cold basement room made colder by opened windows, in hopes they would not shatter when the inevitable shelling re-commenced. Indeed, the front window, closest to the street and site of shelling hours later, did shatter .
The family worried that Israeli ground-troops might invade and occupy their home, as they did in March 2008, and so we stayed with them, in support, though they certainly are strong and have weathered many past terrible days alone. Mostly women and children, we rested fitfully, calling and texting those in other areas of Gaza with each new explosion, as the blasts continued from 11 pm on through the night. Apache helicopters circled above throughout the night, and the buzz of an Israeli drone could constantly be heard.
At 10:10 pm, a text from another international, in Rafah: “Isralis just phoned on the land-line to say that every house with weapons is a target.” How Israel knows which houses have ‘weapons’ is one question, and what gives Israel the right to blanket bomb civilian areas is the greater question. In our house, 13 women, 3 men (including one elderly man), and 6 children under the age of 3, one more girl 14 years old. Should Israel decide to know the house has weapons, that’s 23 more civilians lost.
Shortly after 11 pm, when Israel’s bombing had resumed, we heard the blasts which we learned landed in the Zaytoun area of Gaza city, and in Sheyjayee, east of Gaza. The radio announced that one of the missiles hit a girls school in Zaytoun.
11:35 pm, more bombing, in nearby Jabaliya area between Gaza and Jabaliya. 3 more are announced killed.
12:30 am, bombing has continued, near and distant, and we now hear on the radio that Israel has bombed a mosque across the street from Shifa hospital. Visiting there the next morning, I see a crater 15 m deep and 15 m as wide where the mosque stood, and damage to buildings and stores 400 m down one street, 150m down another street, 100 m up another street. One missile was all it took. The falafel stand I visited and wrote about last week has extensive damage. Later I learn there was at least one victim in the mosque…so far.
[Back at the Jabaliya house ]At 4:25 am, a deafening and house-shaking explosion erupts, sending the children into renewed cries of fear. They’ve slept little this night, and are already scarred by this trauma. A new Israeli F-16’s missile has landed 30 metres away, across the street on the neighbour, Abu Reia’s, land. Fatema tells us that Abu Reia lives in Ramallah, the house property is enclosed and secured by a wall and a gate. There is no way resistance fighters are within, no rockets being fired from there (expecting the accusation by Israeli authorities), they tell me. Morning light two hours later reveals a crater similar to what Hussein described: 8-10 metres wide and deep. The hole gapes among an otherwise serene grouping of olive trees.
Further missile strikes at 4 am and on hit the Security and Protection Forces building, Al Aqsa TV building, the Saraya building, leaving more dead and injured. After 5 am, another local explosion in Jabaliya renews the terror of the children, the house we sit in shakes more.
From the night raids heard from Jabliya, we go towards Gaza, to share our sordid information virtually. And nearing Shifa, we see the levelled mosque.
From the ruins of the mosque, I go to the ICU at As Shifa hospital, Gaza’s main hospital. It has had to turn away scores of wounded due to a severe shortage of space, equipment and medicine. Dr. Khaled, from the ICU, tours me around, although he’s been up working all night and will do so again tonight. [SEE NEXT POST FOR SHIFA HOSPITAL UPDATE]
“The amount of death and destruction is inconceivable“, Safa Joudeh, 27 December 2008
UPDATE ON ORIGINAL POSTING:
A horrible, strange numbness. It’s nearly 12 hours after the attacks across Gaza and still apprehension and fear of further strikes.
The numbness is not to loss, but to the noise, the shaking buildings and earth from continuous shelling.
But as for the loss, there is grief, intense grief.
Around me, in the home of my friends whose mother was martyred, her surviving husband and the women of the family ask me questions: “Do you see what Israel does to us? Do you understand that our mother was no terrorist, was just walking on the street? Do you see how we live?”
While the rush of US-supplied F-16s and Apache helicopters outside give some indication of possible missiles to fall, the strikes usually occur while we are talking, trying to sleep, distracted temporarily. They jar us back to a horrible reality. The younger women are amazingly strong, having endured this many times previously. But to the youngest children these shattering bombings and the raping of their childhood and of their innocence to death is new, and scarring.
At 7 am, on the way back to Gaza city, I see older children, having grown accustomed to Israel’s air and land strikes, crimes of war. The neatly groomed children walk to school, today another day although the shelling continues.
In the darkness, listening to the supplications and prayers of the widower, in a low monotone, I am reminded of times with Tibetans chanting their grief, making supplications for their martyred. The difference is that today’s slaughter, the count now at 227, has been backed by Western powers, a disgusting sequel to the ongoing siege which has already claimed 271 medically-related deaths due to closed borders and has poisoned the entirety of the Strip with malnutrition, poverty, undrinkable water, no bread, no cooking gas…
Grief. In the knowledge of the murderous carpet-bombing of Gaza. In the knowledge of the targeting of the mosque, the Jabaliya centre for the handicapped, and countless other thus-unrecognized victims of war crimes.
Grief, in the voice of the Imam on the radio and the voices of the women mourning their mother, the children wailing in fear.
When the attacks happened yesterday morning, I was in my apt, central between the many police stations and posts where policemen work. The building shook from the explosions a few blocks away, at the Jawazat, a police academy where a reported 70 were killed, young police graduates, and also at one of Gaza’s universities, Al Azhar.
I left to go to a friend’s home, some blocks away in the other direction from the Al Azhar and Jawazat bloodbathes. Black smoke rose in towers, in every direction I looked. Turning up one street, I saw a large crowd, some running from the direction in which I headed, others running in that direction. Some ran to escape, others ran to help pull bodies to safety. Around the corner and down Omar Mukthar street I saw the remains of a police station, rubble and blood strewn everywhere. As I watched Palestinians approach the station to begin extracting bodies, I witness a last rocket hit the street 150 meters away, where crowds had already gathered to try to extract the dead bodies. Ambulances, trucks, cars –anything that could move was taking injured and dead away.
Vehicles were having a hard time reaching the police station with all the rubble on the ground, so we began throwing hunks of concrete aside to clear the way.
At Shifa hospital, Gaza’s main, the same assortment of vehicles streamed in, horns and sirens blaring, parting the masses of people who’d arrived to search for friends, relatives. Hospitals, already malfunctioning under the months-long siege and the full closure since november 4, are now barely functioning, overcrowded, spare parts missing, machines inadequate in quality and quantity. Hospitals have had to evacuate sick patients to make room for the injured, and the dead were laid on the floors as the morgues were already overcrowded. Over 100 medicines were already absent due to the siege, and another 200 nearly depleted. Dr. Khaled from Shifa hospital’s ICU reports a lack of mechanical ventilators, vital to the ICU.
Ehud Olmert apparently stated that the operation was “not designed to topple Hamas, but to stop the projectiles coming into Israel. Defense Minister Barak and his chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi are supervising the operation, which Israeli news sources say will continue until it has achieved its goals.”
If the objective is indeed to “stop projectiles”, why were police stations across the Strip targeted? In the first strikes, nearly all police stations, including traffic police stations, and civil defense police stations, were leveled.
There have been and will continue to be accusations of collective punishment by Israel against the 1.5 million people of Gaza, because that is precisely what today was, in addition to the extended siege. Collective punishment and crimes of war.
It’ll be worse in the night. night is when they attack most. They’ll target factories, workshops, where they think weapons are stored,” Yousef al Helo, a Gaza-based reporter for Press TV predicted. [He was right]
“The children, they were out of school, everyone was panicking. the kids see the horrific scenes of blood and body parts everywhere. It’ll stay in their memories forever. Psychological warfare,” he added.
The Commissioner General of UNRWA Karen Abu Zayd said : “killing and destruction…follows weeks of a tight blockade that prevented UNRWA and other humanitarian agencies from assisting the population and mitigating the difficult economic situation. The population is already paying the price of the prolonged blockade, 1.5 million people are unable to fulfill their basic needs, and they now face military escalation.”
I will update more when time and electricity allow. For now, I want to go to the home of my friends whose mother was killed, I want to pay my respects and to cry with them, for she was as gentle a woman as my own mother.