This morning is the second that I woke to quietness; no shelling from the sea. E and I went today to see our Jabalia friends, F’s family. They are back in their house, one of the few standing in their neighbourhood of Azbet Abed Rabbo. This is only the case because their fears were realised – it was again occupied by the army during the land incursion. However by this time they had left and gone to relatives elsewhere. Israeli soldiers don’t clean up after themselves so the family has been cleaning for a week solid – without running water.
It was so good to be able to sit in the sun with them and drink tea and watch the children playing in the garden. I’d not seen the children in a state other than fear, nor in a location other than the basement. Abu Nasser (the husband of Sara who was killed in the first attack as she was out looking for bread) came through the whole thing ok despite refusing to leave the neighbourhood when the rest of the family did. He has been ill, not surprisingly, and was feeling chilly despite the sun. He described immediately coming back to the house as soon as he thought it was possible, and watching the Israeli soldiers dancing as they left. He always reminds me of a wiry old fisherman, with a white beard, bright eyes, and a woolly hat on. He says, and apparently other Palestinians in their 80s agree, that these attacks have been worse than anything they ever saw before. This is the fourth attack on the Jabalia area in three years.
On the way there we dropped into the Jabalia Red Crescent centre that we had to evacuate on the first night of the ground incursion; one room is burnt out, it has a lot of holes in, and the windows are all broken, but it could be worse. All the RC guys were there working hard to clear up. Even Hassan was there, limping and sound a bit shell-shocked still.
H took us around a part of the Azbet area I didn’t see the other day, and we recorded some more stories. We begin with Ayman Torban’s house, where he and his brother’s family lived, a total of 17 people. I was immediately intrigued because under the rubble was a paper on midwifery in Palestine (I have a degree place for this in Sept 09) and I spotted more crumpled midwifery books. It turned out this was an extensive medical and science library put together by his sister Amel, who did her midwifery masters in London, and taught here in Gaza, but now lives in Dubai.
We sat in the flimsy shelter Ayman has constructed beside his house and heard what happened. He told us this house was first shelled on January 4, when only the women and children were there. (In many cases the men feel their families are safer without them because of the Israeli army’s tendency to treat all men as militants.) It was attacked with 2 apache rockets and 5 tank shells.
Two days later the relatives realised everyone in the basement was still alive, and one of the women went to tell them it might be ok to come out. First she brought out the children, and three tanks came to confront them. But she went back, waited with the women inside for 2 hours, and then they all came out and reached safety.
Two days later the army went into the house and laid mines which collapsed it completely. This was the pattern for most Jabalia houses, which appears to be why the devestation is so complete. A young man sitting with us said “before these attacks I wanted to travel. But now I want to stay in our land. Who will protect it if we all leave?”
Next to the Turban house are the Badwan and Ayoub houses. Maher Badwan (who had taken most of the family to his cousin’s house), told us that Mousba Ayoub fled his own house and went to the Badwan house, where he hid with Maher’s mother in the kitchen while the house was hit with tanks shells and phosphorous. Both died, Maher’s mother survived a short time but no ambulance was able to reach her. The army then planted mines in the house (black crosses on the pillars to mark the best place for them are still visible) and collapsed it with the bodies still inside.
Mahoud Abed Rabbu lived in a 3 floor, six apartment building. On January 6 it came under shell attack from 10.30. At 2pm during the 1-4pm “ceasefire”, the army dynamited a wall open and told Mahoud and his family “leave here, go into the town, we’ll kill you if you return.” Everybody walked towards Jabalia centre, until they reached a mosque, when other soldiers took all the men – about 60 of them – and put them in an animal shelter. Women and children were allowed to leave.
They took the ID of the men, made them strip, and then used them as human shields as they continued to dynamite houses open and enter them. Finally the army released the men about 10pm (again saying not to come back or the army would kill them) except for 10 who they arrested and who are believed to still be held in the Israeli Naqab prison.
His neighbour Khalid Abed Rabbu told us that on the same day, three tanks surrounded his house and the soldiers shouted at him to get out. He went outside with his wife, children, and mother, carrying a white flag. He remembers noticing that two of the soldiers in the tanks were eating chocolate. A third solider got out of the tank, and opened fire on the family with an M16. Khalid tried to take his family back into the house, but his daughters, Soad aged 7 and Armir aged 2, were killed. His mother received bullets in her arm and stomach. His 4 year old daughter Samir was hit with 3 bullets and was evacuated to an intensive care in Belgium; if she survives she will be paralysed.
tA few minutes away, his ambulance driver neighbour Samir Hassheikh heard his call for help and tried to bring the ambulance to them, but tanks stopped him. The army later destroyed the ambulance along with Samir’s house. After two hours Khalid managed to bring his injured mother and daughter to a point another ambulance could reach. E remembers bringing in Khalid’s mother while she was on duty with the Jabalia Red Crescent. The sadness on Khalid’s face as he told us his story, sitting beside the rubble of his home, has stayed with me. I couldn’t bring myself to ask to take his photo.
As we were walking the Azbet neighbourhood, I got a text from V: “Israel radio says right now that they are ready to attack again today. Take care.” Wordlessly, I showed it to E. It took a while before we could face asking H if he knew anything. He said there had been something on the radio but everyone hoped it was just a rumour.
More Jabalia houses…