*Israeli soldier’s trousers, left, shit-laden, in bathtub of occupied house, eastern Jabaliya.
There are many stories. Each account, each murdered individual, each wounded person, each burned-out and broken house, each shattered window trashed kitchen strewn item of clothing bedroom turned upside down bullet and shelling hole in walls offensive Israeli army graffiti…is important.
I start to tell the stories of Ezbet Abbed Rabbo, eastern Jabaliya, where homes off the main north south road, Salah el Din, were penetrated by bullets, bombs and/or soldiers. If they weren’t destroyed, they were occupied or shot-up. Or occupied and then destroyed. The army was creative in their destruction, in their defacing of property, in their insults. Creative in the ways they could shit in rooms and save their shit for cupboards and unexpected places. Actually, their creativity wasn’t so broad. The rest was routine: ransack the house from top to bottom. Turn over or break every clothing cupboard, kitchen shelf, television, computer, window pane, water tank…
The first house I visited was that of my dear friends, who we’d stayed with in the evenings before the land invasion began. Who we’d huddled with in their basement as the random crashes of missiles pulverized around the neighbourhood. And whose father I’d worried non-stop about. After seeing he was still alive, I’d done the tour, from the bottom up. The safe-haven ground floor room was the least affected: disheveled, piles of earth at bases of windows where it had rushed in with a later bombing which caved the hillside behind, mattresses turned over and items strewn… this room was the cleanest, least-damaged.
Upstairs to the first level apartment. Complete disarray. Feces on the floor. Broken everything. Opened cans of Israeli army provisions. Bullet holes in walls. Stench.
To the second floor, next two apartments, all of the extended sons and wives and children’s rooms. More disarray, greater stench. This was the main base, apparently, from the boxes of food –prepackaged meals, noodles, tins of chocolate, and plastic-wrapped sandwiches –and the left behind IOF soldiers’ clothing. A pair of soldiers trousers in the bathtub, soiled with shit.
F. tells me: “The smell was terrible. The food was everywhere. Very disgusting smell.
They put shit in the sinks, shit everywhere. Our clothes were everywhere. The last time they invaded (March 2008), it was easy. They broke everything and we fixed it. But this time, they put shit everywhere: in cupboards, on beds –my bed is full of shit.”
She is strong and has handled the invasions before, but the desecration of her house has got her down.
“A minute ago, Sabreen opened her clothing cupboard: there was a bowl of shit in it! They used our clothes for the toilet. They broke the door of the bathroom and brought into our room. I don’t know why.”
The door lies sideways on the floor of her bedroom, which itself looks like a tornado has taken apart. “They took out my lingerie and left it lying everywhere,” she goes on, listing the personal grievances which are more hurtful than the financial wreckage.
*more feces on the floor
As F continues to clear the soldiers’ mess, she talks about her family’s state of mind. “Abed (her young nephew) is very afraid, he wants to leave because of the zenana,” the drones which flew overhead days one, two, and three of the ‘cease-fire’ [which was by no means a cease-fire, with Israeli soldiers killing 3 since Jan 18 and injuring over 15].
Two days later, I re-visited, the house much tidier but still soured with the clinging stench of the soldiers’ presence. “We’ve cleaned as much as we can, but it’s so difficult. We still don’t have running water, we have to fill jugs from the town water supply.” I’d walked the sandy track up, I know how hard it is even empty-handed on foot, let alone laden with heavy jugs or trying to navigate any sort of wagon to carry large amounts of water. The track had been more of a proper dirt road before. Before it, and the land around, was torn up by Israeli tanks and bulldozers.
From the kitchen balcony I look out and see razed land below, bombed houses, the Jumeiza tree beyond, burned but somehow again still standing amidst the ruins. The cement water tank that had survived previous raids and that was there last month was finally gone, destroyed by some of the aerial bombing.
From the living room window we look out on the hilltop area behind which F had already explained hosted invading troops in the past. This time tanks not only amassed by created a massive earthen arena in which Israeli soldiers brought detained Palestinians. One neighbour, she tells me, was taken there. He, 59, and his son, 19, were led there at gunpoint, stripped to underclothes. The IOF surrounded them in tanks, in a circle. “We hadn’t done anything wrong,” they told F later. They were taken to some sort of detention and interrogation area in Israel where they were held for 3 days in solitary confinement, blindfolded, handcuffed, intermittently interrogated, beaten, interrogated…
“Do you have tunnels at your home? Where are the fighters? Where are the rockets? Do you know anything about Hamas? We will destroy your house if you know anything.”
Her sister, A, describes their 17 days at Foka school, after evacuating their Attatra home. The schools which were to be a safe-haven (but were not, as seen with Fokoura and the other UN schools which were bombed and hit with what is almost certainly white phosphorous) were no YMCA, not even with the most basic of luxuries, certainly not warmth, hot drinks, restful nights.
“We couldn’t sleep at all at night, we were very frightened. There was no security. Where could we go? We had no where to go.
We were 35 people in one small classroom. There weren’t any mattresses, no covers. It was cold, very cold, at night. No electricity. No water. The few bathrooms in the school had to serve hundreds of us, they were overcrowded, filthy. Our relatives were able to get us blankets after the first four days, then it was better. But we didn’t have enough to eat, only a little bread, not enough for a family, and canned meat.”
The usual perspective and gratitude for surviving overrides what is her right to be indignant, depressed, to cry and lament their suffering.
“Thank God we have a room in our house.Many people’s houses were completely destroyed,” she says of her own seriously-damaged house.The soldiers who ransacked, destroyed their clothes and shelled the home also stole a computer and 2,000 JD, she tells me. Why would she lie? I know the family to be honest, not deceitful. They have no reason to fabricate the thievery.And theirs is not an isolated case.
Amnesty International sent a fact-finding team to Gaza following the Israeli attacks. Chris Cobb-Smith, also a military expert and an officer in the British Army for almost 20 years, said: “Gazans have had their houses looted, vandalized and desecrated. As well, the Israeli soldiers have left behind not only mounds of litter and excrement but ammunition and other military equipment. It’s not the behaviour one would expect from a professional army.”
And that was just one family’s story.
*hilltop area before the invasion, when the cement water tank still stood