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"Life Is Awful in Gaza": Two Residents' Accounts

Wednesday, 06 August 2014 13:01 By Dennis J Bernstein, Truthout | Report
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2014 806 gazPalestinian refugees at a United Nations school, which was turned into a shelter in mid-July and struck by at least 10 Israeli shells on July 30, at the Jabaliya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, Aug. 3, 2014. (Photo: Wissam Nassar / The New York Times)

Israel continued its massive air strikes on the Gaza strip on Saturday and Sunday. Various news sources are reporting that at least 10 people were killed in an Israeli strike near a UN-run school housing Palestinians displaced by the Gaza conflict. The attack hit the entrance of the facility in Rafah, where thousands of Palestinians have taken shelter, in the midst of Israel's withdrawal of some ground forces. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the attack as a "moral outrage and a criminal act."

As of this writing, the death toll for Gazans has exceeded 1,660. On Saturday, Gaza's Health Ministry stopped publishing statistics, as the numbers of the dead and wounded continued to grow and all Gaza hospitals had reached the bursting point.

Meanwhile, thousands of Gazans are trapped in their houses and apartments, reeling from the destruction and fear that any number of their loved ones may be facing grave dangers, or may have been wounded or killed trying to reach a safe haven in Gaza.

For Mohammed Alqattawi, the worst had come. On Friday, Truthout interviewed Alqattawi, a young dad who was "trapped" in his apartment with his sickly 18-month-old child in desperate need of medical care. And still worse, on July 20, his cousin, 20-year-old Salem Shammaly, was filmed by rescue workers being gunned down by Israeli snipers in Kahn Younis, during an attempt to rescue others who had been wounded. Shammaly was shot once; he struggle to escape; he was shot again - and then a third time, fatally, as rescue workers stood by helpless, themselves pinned down by Israeli sniper fire.

It was late Friday night when Truthout reached Alquattawi, on a noisy phone line. I asked him to describe what was going on around his apartment complex. "Right now the situation is totally a mess. The only power station, which is not fully functioning, has been totally off right now. No water for consumption or access to civilian homes for the majority of the citizens of Gaza Strip. People are losing their homes to bombs. We are being completely bombarded."

At the time I reached him, he was in a bit of a panic, as his infant boy was quite ill, but he didn't dare move outside his apartment in the northern Gaza strip, not far from where the Israelis entered Gaza for their land invasion. "My son . . . he is 14 months; he is sick," said Alqattawi, "and I can't take him to the hospital because of the hovering of F16s. I cannot take him to a risk outside the home . . . at least I feel secure, kind of secure, inside my home. I can't take him to the hospital."

International Solidarity Movement activists had alerted Alqattawi and other family members that a troubling video showed the killing of Alqattawi's cousin. The troubling video shows clearly that he was shot - and then killed, it appears, as he struggled to call someone on his cell for help. After Alqattawi saw the video, he said the family went "to the hospital to find someone to help us, because the activists told us that Salem's body is still there and no one can bring [the] body to them because the Israeli soldiers keep shooting. We asked the ambulances, the Ministry of Health, we asked the International Commissions, but nobody could help us."

"At one time, we go there within just 100 meters, and Israeli soldiers fired," said Alqattawi. "We wait a whole six days until we can reach Salem's body . . . Six days. His body has been decomposed. No one can say even 'Good-bye' . . . from his family. Just me and his father, his uncle bury him under the buzzing of patrols, and the hovering of F16s . . . His mother cannot even say good-bye or hug him and say 'Good-by, my son.' "

Farah Baker is a 16-year-old Gaza-based tweeter and blogger, who is now hoping to make it alive through her third massive assault by Israel. Baker says she has taken on the job of counteracting all the "big lies" coming out from Israel and America about what's going on in Gaza and what the war is really all about.

On a shaky phone line, with drones and F-16s crisscrossing the sky over the tiny, densely populated Gaza strip, she talked about what life is like on the strip in times of war. We reached her under fire at her home in Western Gaza.

Baker told Truthout she started tweeting "because I see that most of the world thinks that Israel is under fire, and we started the war. And I'm trying to show them that we are the victims, not [the] Israelis. They have shelters, while we do not have any shelters. We go to UN schools, but they are also being bombed. So there is no shelter, and under the siege, the borders are closed always, so we cannot go to another country to escape."

Baker said, "The electricity has been cut since four days . . . we can't go anywhere far, because they can bomb. And we don't use cars because . . . they bomb most of the cars. So most of the time, I stay at home with no electricity, and no internet and nothing."

Baker said, "They bombed many places near my home. The night of the 28th of July, it was the worst night. The power was cut off, and the only light we could see was the flares, and the only sounds we could hear were F16s, rockets falling, fire engines and ambulances. . . That was the most awful night; I will never forget it."

As far as the endless buzzing of drones: "Their sound is too annoying, and they keep us in all the time. So they make us angry."

Like so many other Palestinians and international workers, Baker told Truthout there is no place to hide in Gaza when Israel takes to the land, sea and sky. She lives down the block from Shifa Hospital, the site of great suffering and carnage, as doctors work around the clock to piece together the bodies of Palestinians who have been shredded by the attack

"I'm at home," she said. "F16s just keep appearing everywhere, and bomb us. Life has become awful and unfit, because you know this is my third war to witness, but this is the worst one because this is my first time to feel unsafe everywhere," said the troubled 16-year-old tweeter. "In this war, they bombed civilian houses. Most of what you see, most of the wounded, are civilians. So I really feel unsafe because they can bomb my house at any moment. And the bombs are too loud, all the time."

As she spoke, this reporter could hear the war and the ambulances in the background, the sky shattered by the F16s. Baker said just about every family has a family member, a friend, a relative who has been hurt in some way by Israel's unrelenting onslaught. Farah's mom was slightly wounded by a recent bombing that hit the back of her house where her mom was anxiously waiting for her sister to return home. "Actually my mother got hurt when they bombed the car on the opposite side of my house. And so my mom was on the balcony waiting for my sister to arrive at our home, when they bombed. And her hand got injured."

The Palestinian teenager said she and most young people she knows in Gaza are deeply troubled and shaken by the constant threat of war. And when the bombs start to fall, their worst fears and nightmares are realized. Baker is prepared to die. "You know, I feel always unhappy, and unsafe, and I, you know; I have not been thinking about my future because I might die any moment. So, you know, life is awful in Gaza. But we have to fight for our land against the people who want to occupy it." 

Baker says if she survives the wars, she would like to travel abroad and study law.

"Actually, if there was no siege, I would have traveled to many, many countries. You know, last summer, I was about to travel to Egypt, but the border got closed ahead of me, and I could not travel.  . . . Yes, I [would like] go to school and go to college. I will study law. I decided to study law after this war because I decided to focus on the Palestinian situation. I want to bring back most of our rights which have been stolen from us by Israel, since 1948. And I will try to defy all associations which claim that they care about human rights, but they don't because they are shutting up, while they are seeing people dying."

Asked if she had the opportunity to give a tour to young people coming from the United States, where would you take them in Gaza? What would you want them to see? What would you tell them and the president if he were on the tour as well?

"This is a massacre against all civilians. This should not happen. This is a criminal war. The world must not shut up. I know that many people support us, but our world leaders are shutting up, and doing nothing.  . . . I want them [to] stop this war and they should not keep supporting Israel. You know, I just want them to live in my house just one night, and I bet you they would go and run away.

When I asked Mohammed Alqattawi, trapped in his apartment in Northern Gaza what message he had for Americans, the struggling young dad said he just wanted Americans to know that Palestinians are not monsters, but just regular people trying to live their lives with some dignity and raise their families.

"All I can say in a few words: We're just like you; we are normal people. We are not freaks with the one eye in the middle of our forehead. We have a right to defend ourselves, and what we are doing right now is defending ourselves from the barbaric, killing machine.  . . . My parents live outside of Gaza," said the young father, "and they cannot even come here to hug their first grandson. My sisters [are] stuck outside, and they cannot come to Gaza to complete their higher education. Medical cases cannot go outside to get their treatment. A lot of things we cannot get because they are outside the border; it is still closed and totally controlled by Israel.  . . . Actually they [control] Gaza from the sea, from the land and from the air. This is annexation, not an occupation, which is totally prohibited by the international law."

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Dennis J Bernstein

Dennis J. Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom.  You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net. You can get in touch with the author at dbernstein@igc.org.


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