To walk in Gaza city now is to walk through a ghost town, passing shells of buildings, rubble-filled streets, closed shops, and streets barren of life.
Before Israel’s attacks across the Gaza Strip’s densely-populated civilian areas began on December 27th, Gaza was a different scene: it was stifled under a siege which deprived Palestinians of medicine, wheat, food products, cooking gas, clean water, electricity, education and movement, and which had turned Gaza into a region without import or export, without an economy, food-aid dependent, and with a dire medical crisis –hospitals suffered with poor machinery missing replacement parts, with absences and shortages of over 300 types of medicines, and with the electricity cuts which necessitated back-up generators running on frequently-unavailable petrol, putting incubators and life-saving ventilators at risk.
But Palestinians in Gaza still walked the streets, still frequented the parks and public spaces, still pursued education within the Strip and had weddings. On any given day, the main street, Omar Mukthar, would be crowded with taxis heading along the east-west road, kids going to and from school, shoppers, and vendors.
Walking Omar Mukthar now is an eerie experience, as is walking along the coastal road, or on many of Gaza’s streets, in Jabaliya’s neighbourhoods, to the Red Crescent hospital…
In the first days after the missiles hit police stations, mosques, civil administration buildings, Municipal buildings, cars, houses, iron and metal workshops, and universities across the Gaza Strip’s tiny length, people walked carefully, avoiding the bombed sites, very aware they could be re-bombed. Avoiding, also, potential sites: more mosques, police stations or anything police-related still standing, and places that had received bomb scares.
But now its gotten to such a point, all over Gaza is so completely and thoroughly bombed, that the initial detours we took are pointless: there are simply too many bombed-out buildings and sites to bother avoiding the street.
The number of slaughtered civilians in Gaza rises by the hour. It would seem an exaggeration to state this, but since the ground invasion began on Saturday, conservative figures put the number of dead at 82 (others at 90), 573 dead since the December 27th air-strikes began. And this does not include the most recent house-bombings which have occurred in two areas in the north, as well as in the south. Figures of injured are now at over 2,700, and many of the injuries I have seen and medical staff have told me about are brain trauma (shrapnel in the brain), complete dismemberment and burning, amputations of one or more limbs, gaping holes in the body, internal damage and internal bleeding. More than one doctor has stated that the type of missiles Israel is using seem to be designed to kill immediately or later: if the person is not blown apart, then he/she dies from shrapnel poisoning later, be it days later or even months later, doctors have told me.
In the first days after the initial air-strikes, I visited a neighbour, had coffee. His phone rang, it was a friend with a one year old daughter. I’d seen the routine before: S. would hold the phone close and make noises at the baby, encourage her to baby-talk to him. His adoration was evident, though his own kids are far away, in the West Bank, he separated from them.
This night, when I visited, he began the routine, happy to tease her. But the phone cut. The lines had gotten worse, perhaps interference from the hundreds of drones and many warplanes and helicopters clogging the skies. I’d watched as he re-dialed the friends number. His posture was usually straight, proud, but was now slumped, tired. That was 10 days ago.
He spoke with the baby’s father about the lack of fish on the market now. Under siege, the markets were already deprived of vegetables, basic goods, luxuries…But there were at least some comparatively-expensive fish and meat to be had. Some. But S., who has money, cannot even find fish now. The fishermen have stopped going out, the Israeli warships patrolling closer than ever. While Israeli naval boats routinely surrounded, or fired upon Palestinian fishing boats as it was before the December 27th attacks, there was some pretense at legitimacy: “they’re fishing outside their waters” was the standard line (although the Palestinian fishermen had the right to fish up to 20 miles out, Israeli authorities regularly imposed a six or less mile limit). But now, with attacks full-scale and incessant, there’s no need to make up excuses. And everyone knows it. No one ventures out to fish, and those unfortunate who live along the coastline suffer the navy’s shelling.
I know, I stayed a few nights in our apartment across from the coast, heard and felt the explosions like those all over Gaza.
Now, the tunnels are destroyed. The siege continues, along with the criminal air and land attacks. Bread lines are hopeless, long, pointless. The falafel shop which had managed, and had survived the bombing of the mosque across from it and across from Shifa hospital (survived but with significant damage to the building) has not survived the bread crisis.
So a bombed population already besieged, with no where to run, shot and shelled when running no where, already deprived of medicines and medical care, is now on a new level of starvation, deprivation of water (70 % of people are without), and continues to be psychologically-terrorized by the air activity and bombing.
Where to walk? Anywhere, it doesn’t really matter.