Monday, July 31, 2006

Meanwhile, in Gaza...

The Israeli army invaded Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip on Monday, July 17, 2006. Later that week journalist Rory McCarthy wrote a report from Nahariya, Israel, published in The Guardian (UK), entitled, "Israel steps up military attacks in 'forgotten war' with Palestinians." In the article Journalist McCarthy described the attack as follows:

Earlier this week Israel mounted a two-day operation in Beit Hanoun, where heavy fighting left at least six Palestinians, mostly gunmen, dead. Using tanks and bulldozers, troops damaged several houses and farmland as well as three empty UN schools. The mayor estimated the damage at around $7m (?3.8m). Israel also bombed the Palestinian foreign ministry, which partially collapsed. Several homes nearby were also damaged."

Good journalism, I'm sure: concise, with all the pertinent facts. But, as good journalism must needs be, I guess, it is cold and impersonal, speaking of "houses," "farmland," "schools" damaged, as well as the cost of the same.

What is missing, of course, is the human equation.

Below is an account of the same Israeli incursion, July 17 2006, but told from that missing human perspective.

From Marisa Ali

I am a Canadian, from Calgary, Alberta, and have lived in Ramallah, Jerusalem and Gaza for over 15 years. I married my husband, Qassem Ali, in 1999.

Qassem is the CEO of Ramattan News Agency, the Palestinian media outlet that services the international Western and Arab media (including CNN, BBC, NBC, and CBC) with breaking news, footage and live coverage. broadcasting via satellite to living rooms around the world.

For many years, I was employed with the United Nations in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Recently, Israel refused to allow me, and thousands of foreign nationals like me, married to Palestinians or working with them in the West Bank and Gaza, to remain with our homes and families. I have since been living in Cairo with my small son, while my husband shuttles back and forth between Gaza and Cairo to attend to his work. To this day, only a handful of carefully selected diplomats, journalists and employees of international organizations are permitted access to Gaza, leaving this besieged population effectively isolated.

The following is an account of what happened to my family in the village of Beit Hanoun in the north of the Gaza Strip on Monday, July 17th, 2006.

When the phone rang at 7h30, I answered knowing it couldn't be good news. My sister-in-law Azza's voice, normally the epitome of calm and control, was terrified. "The wall is being bulldozed on top of us!" she yelled, "Do something, anything!" From Cairo, there was nothing much we could do, but try to reassure her that the Israeli Army must know that there are people inside the house.

Minutes later, a tank was parked in the middle of our living room and a gaping hole in the wall revealed the uprooted garden and corpses turned up from the neighboring cemetery by Israeli tanks and bulldozers.

The Israeli Army moved quickly upstairs from the main floor of our building, which contained Qassem's office and a reception area, to the third floor, the home of Azza and her four children May (18), Qosai (15), Hazem (14) and Reem (12).

They took the boys, Qosai and Hazem hostage, handcuffed and blindfolded, sitting with their heads down on the floor in a small room, and proceeded to rip up the floor tiles and break every dish, glass and item of furniture in sight. Hazem and Qosai tell us that from under their blindfolds, they saw the soldiers fill bags with the sand taken from under the tiles and put them in the windows.

They then smashed holes in the walls, through which they shot machine gun fire at anyone who happened to be in the street. Meanwhile, Israeli tanks fired from the ripped-up street, punching holes in the home of Qassem's older sister Fairuz and other homes nearby.

Other soldiers then moved up into our own fourth-floor apartment and bunkered-down in our bedroom, where they destroyed everything they could, ripping out the windows, shattering the walls and shooting indiscriminately outside. Pictures fed to us via satellite by the Ramattan crew that filmed the aftermath of that grim day revealed my 2-year old son's toys shattered and strewn about the room mixed with broken window frames, blood and hundreds of spent cartridges.

Azza and her devastated entourage of five women and eleven young children took refuge in a neighbor's shack, after they were thrown out into the crossfire. Amid the ear-shattering explosions from Israeli artillery and Palestinian counter-fire, Azza, the director of a women's rights NGO working with USAID, tried to reassure the terrified women and children of our family that they were going to be all right. She heroically did this while her own two sons, Hazem and Qosai were being used by the Israeli soldiers as human shields against the defensive fire from the resistance in our neighborhood.

One member of my husband's news crew, staying in our Beit Hanoun home, was also taken by the soldiers, as well as three of Qassem's cousins in the neighboring house and his elderly aunt. The soldiers screamed at their hostages that they were members of Hamas, at which point Qassem's Aunt Aicha showed them the liquor cabinet in her son's house, proving that soldiers' accusations were nonsense. No Hamas member would have alcoholic beverages anywhere near his home.

Although the soldiers stopped ranting about Hamas, they still took the men and boys away.

One of the first things the soldiers had done as they entered my husband's home was to take all the mobile phones of the besieged family and crew. A journalist from the Ramattan headquarters, later trying to reach Azza on her phone, instead was answered by an Israeli soldier. The journalist asked about the whereabouts of the men and children who had been taken, and was told by the soldier that they would not be hurt. Although this was weak reassurance indeed, it gave us hope that they were still alive up to that point.

In fact, while the kids eventually did come back physically unhurt, the Israeli soldiers viciously beat the older hostages before releasing most of them. Qassem's oldest cousin Emad, a businessman known for his unflinching courage, was taken away by the Israeli military when they withdrew. We still have no information about his whereabouts or safety.

As the tanks and the machine guns relentlessly rained death and destruction on our neighborhood, the Palestinian resistance was faced with a difficult dilemma: how to defend the neighborhood against an Israeli military machine that had taken root in the house of one of the village leaders? To shoot meant to damage his home and, possibly, unwittingly hurt the boys. But not to shoot meant to accept the presence of a vicious snipers' nest in the midst of the village, shooting and killing the residents of Beit Hanoun.

The resistance shot back, and the families, huddling for protection in the neighboring houses, endured the trauma of a full day of rocket, grenade, and heavy machine gun fire. At one point my 73 year-old mother-in-law and pregnant sister-in-law Heba braved a break in the fire to drag an injured man out of the street and into a nearby clinic. He died before he reached the clinic, one of the more than 100 Palestinians killed in what the Israelis call this murderous operation, "Summer Rain", most of them civilians, 18 of them children. More than 400 Palestinians have been wounded, including 108 children, according to the UN.

That day, the Israeli Army withdrew at about 20h00 under pressure from the dogged resistance, possibly assisted by the frenzied calls to the numerous contacts of my husband and his cousin Ayman. Ayman, stranded in Cairo after the border closed while he was on a business trip in Paris, had been on the verge of a nervous breakdown with his wife Faten and six children stuck with Azza in the thick of the invasion.

We are under no illusions. They will be back, to kill and destroy and commit their war crimes against a captive population. Because, with no one able or willing to stop them, they can.

No comments:

Post a Comment