Three years after the murder of seventeen from the Athemna family –among them fourteen women and children, including an infant –and one from the Kaferna family, the pain has little receded for the Athamnah family survivors.
When Desmond Tutu visited the region a year and a half after the attack [coming from Rafah after being prevented entry by Israeli authorities], he aptly described the 8 November 2006 Israeli shelling of the family sleeping in their homes as a ‘massacre’ (one of many, many…seemingly endless Israeli massacres of Palestine).
This particular massacre came just a day after the Israeli army had pulled out of Gaza, following their 6 day-long invasion dubbed “Autumn Clouds” (in line with the sadistic tradition of naming their attacks, like the “Summer Rains” attacks just months earlier, killing 300 civilians) which killed at least 50 people.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reports that just after 5 am on 8 November, Israeli soldiers along Gaza’s northern and eastern borders began shelling the area of the multi-storey Athamna homes. With the first 10 shells, sixteen of the extended family were killed. PCHR reports that when neighbours and relatives came running to help, the Israeli soldiers fired another round, killing one more Athamna family member and one person from the Kafarnah family. Tens more were wounded in the shelling attacks.
The list of martyrs holds some in their thirties, a grandmother over 70, and eight children under 18 years, including a toddler and an infant.
Palestinian journalist Sameh Habeeb wrote a vivid account of the massacre, in which he writes of Bassem al-Kafarnah, “the father of five little girls, the eldest of them is seven years old…” Kafarnah, writes Habeeb, “was killed (by shelling) at his own doorstep while calling for an ambulance for the injured who were scattered all over the street.”
Habeeb writes also of Nema al-Athamnah, “killed with her daughter Sana,” both leaving behind orphaned children, three of whom with limbs lost.
He writes of the nine shells which hit the next Athamnah house, “leaving three generations of one family a mixture of burnt flesh and crushed bones.”
Another woman, Nisreen, relates to Habeen her horrifying testimony: “My mother, Manal, and Fatima Masoud, the three of them turned to piles of burnt and torn flesh. We collected what was left of them from the walls, doors and trees, and then put them in buckets carrying their names. We recognized them from pieces of their clothes which were stuck to their burned flesh.”
Hayat al-Athamnah, Habeeb writes, saw many of her children martyred in the most brutal way.
“I saw Mahdi (17), his head was wide open and I could see his brain lying to his side. I called him, but received no answer, so I said, may God rest your soul. I then saw my son, Muhammad (16). His body was burned out and deformed and I called him, but only silence answered me, so I said, “May God rest your soul.”
I ran out from the shelling to a nearby alley; there I found my son Arafat (18). The lower half of his body was completely ruptured and his guts were dangling on the ground. I said Arafat, my baby, sweetheart, go with your brothers, they have all left, he pulled his head up and looked at himself then he started collecting his flesh and put it on what remained of his abdomen. Yes, he was alive and looking at me. He then passed away in the hospital.”
She adds, “We found the head of Maram (3) at the entrance of the path and the body was at the other end.”
The shelling, it should be noted, was ongoing, not merely a one or two time blast, but a continuous onslaught of explosions that picked off victim after victim, or multiply so.
And just as justice was immediately post-massacre denied the surviving Athamnah family members –with the Israeli army brushing off the massacre as due to “incorrect range findings” and a “rare and severe failure in the artillery fire control system…” [see the Guardian report] –still three years after the fact, the Athamnahs have no closure, no justice.
At the now-vacant former site of the homes, graves lie in a long line, marking the martyrs. Weathered photos of some of the child-victims stand on rusted poles. And in the distance, past the barren land razed of its trees, the Israeli border fence and towers, a painful reminder of where the day’s shelling came from and of the anticipation of the next Israeli assault Palestinians must live under on a daily basis in Gaza.
Invasion after attack after massacre, it is endless in Gaza. This pain, still so fresh from three years ago, is buried under new agonies from the February/March 2008 Israeli invasion (“Hot Winter”, which Israel’s then deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai pledged would be a “shoah”, or ‘holocaust’, on Gaza), which killed at least 120 and injured over 300, the random shellings and on-going shooting in buffer zone areas and the sea, and the winter 2008/2009 Israeli massacre of Gaza, killing 1500.
How does one move on when the past is so present? When past atrocities are future likelihoods? When no semblance of justice has, nor will, been offered?
The faces of surviving Athamnah family members said it all: one moves on, but the pain does not.