Sunday, January 11, 2009

A night in Rafah

Spending the night in Rafah is a difficult experience. Tuesday night didn’t appear calm at all, the F16 fighter jets were all around and everyone in my family expected something to happen. Shortly before midnight missiles began raining down on Rafah in one of the heaviest Israeli air strikes since the current atrocities began. My father was anxious and when the first missile struck, I wanted to look from the window to see where had been hit, though I expected it to be the border area. My father didn’t even let me look from the window. He thinks that when the spy 'plane observes the light they will target the house. I felt agitated but remembered how many houses had been targeted in the same way so I went back to write my diary. The explosions were so loud and the floor shook with every strike, they felt so close. Later I struggled to sleep despite the ever-present F16's attacking so powerfully. From time to time one or another of my sisters would appear, unable to sleep. Continuous sorties pounded the city for over twelve hours. Hundreds of homes were destroyed or severely damaged, especially in the neighbourhoods along the border with Egypt .

In the morning I phoned Hassan, a paramedic at the Abu Yusef Al-Najar Hospital in Rafah and asked about the situation there. He asked me and my colleagues from the International Solidarity Movement to visit the hospital, a small local facility. There, he explained that people were trying to find safe places to go and were leaving his neighbourhood, the Al Brazil refugee camp on the border. He updated us about recent cases in the hospital. A group of workers from the Rafah crossing had called them in the early hours of the morning saying that five of them were injured and needing help. An ambulance crew from the hospital answered the call. They searched for the victims but couldn't find them in the dark and had to return to the hospital. After daybreak, the Red Crescent informed them that they'd managed to evacuate the casualties and they were safe. They were suffering from burns caused by the phosphorous missiles now being used illegally by the Israeli military in Gaza . One man's face was completely burned.

We visited Dr. Juma Yunis, one of the hospital managers to discuss the general situation and also ask for his feedback on our ambulance accompaniment work. He felt we might be particularly useful if Israeli ground forces advanced further in the area and severed access between Rafah and Khan Younis. Under such circumstances, ambulances would have difficulties transferring serious cases to the larger European Gaza Hospital near Khan Younis. We went downstairs to be with the ambulance crew and saw a body being brought out of the hospital. They told us that this man had been a nurse. When the attack started, he and his family had left their home. As they were leaving the area, he realised he hadn’t taken his important documents. He went back to get them and was attacked by an Israeli drone. These unmanned light aircraft are constantly overhead, primarily spying, but some models carry a couple of small missiles.

We were still at the hospital when Hassan's brother came to see him. He had come directly from Al Brazil and described the situation there. He had just witnessed their neighbour's house being attacked by an F16. People still couldn’t believe that their homes had been attacked and destroyed. Later we heard there would be a brief respite for three hours so all of us - Hassan, his brother, my ISM colleagues and I, all went to the neighbourhood together. Residents saw this as the last possible opportunity to salvage some of their belongings despite F16's remaining in the skies over Rafah during this time. It's difficult to describe the situation there. There were scenes of people picking through the rubble, children carrying bundles, donkey carts piled with bedding and trucks loaded with furniture. People were trying to take whatever they could without even knowing where they would go or where they would store their things. A woman told me she and her family were given just five minutes to leave their home before it was attacked.

The devastation in the street resembled an earthquake site. People were running, trying to evacuate before the attacks resumed, helping each other to rescue belongings. When we reached Hassan's house, the only thing he took was his passport and some documents. He gave a handful of British coins to one of my colleagues from England . He had visited the UK in the past but told her he would not be needing them again. When we left Hassan's house, I felt an overwhelming urge to visit my old neighbourhood close by and see my relatives there. I took an instant decision to see the situation there and film it in order to express something of the reality we experience to people who don’t know about it. It was a gut reaction and I just ran. I met my old neighbour, Abu Jamil. His house was destroyed by Israeli military bulldozers a few years ago, along with mine. During this incursion many homes on our street were demolished, including the house I grew up in. We were homeless for three years until we managed to build our new house in the Hi Alijnina neighbourhood further from the border. ‘Fida, they bulldozed our homes in January 2004, now in January 2009 they are doing the same thing!’ he said.

Just as he was showing me the ruins of a newly destroyed house, we heard the F16s in the air again. There were a few tense moments when reason dictated that we should leave. Then I saw my uncles’ houses - two had been destroyed. One of my uncles was desperately trying to empty his house. I asked him why he returned back to the street as it was still dangerous. I wanted to help him but I was also thinking of my message to the outside world. This felt important too. So I told my uncle to send any of his things to our house until the situation improved and that our house was open for any of his family who wanted to stay. I was looking at the houses, unable to imagine why they had done all of that. The Israeli Ministry of Defence said they would attack all the tunnels, but I don’t know why they attack the houses. My uncles don’t have tunnels. I live here, where an entire population has been living under siege and the tunnels helped people to survive.

One of my cousins was running and screaming, asking everyone, ‘Have you seen my daughter?’ She didn’t find her for hours, the little girl was scared and hiding. We were moving down the street, with the wreckage on both sides. It was a street just a few hours previously but now it was a barren no-man's-land and dangerous to be in. I left with my colleagues and three other women, also cousins, their homes on the border. They looked distressed, miserable. It was difficult to talk about what had happened to the family and the situation they were in. It didn’t seem as though it would help to ask. They were only glad that they were still alive.

When we arrived home, as always I wanted to see the TV news - electricity allowing. The phone rang. Relatives living near the border were terrified after a mass leaflet drop in these neighbourhoods by the Israeli jets. The papers ordered them to leave their homes in the areas stretching from the borderline all the way back to Sea Street , the main street running through the heart of Rafah, parallel to the border. This area is hundreds of metres deep and the site of thousands of homes. Most of these areas are refugee camps, where residents are being made refugees yet again, some for the third or fourth time following the mass home demolitions of 2003 and 2004. This is a translation of what was written in the leaflet,

"Citizens of RafahDue to Hamas using your houses to smuggle and store ammunition, the Israeli Defence Force will attack your homes from Sea Street to the Egyptian border. To the people who live in these areas: Block O, Al Brazil camp, Al Shora area and Qishta area, all homes beyond Sea Street must be evacuated. You have from the time you receive this leaflet until 7.00am the following morning. For you and your children's safety follow what this leaflet says.The leadership of the Israeli Defence Force"

So we asked them to come to our house on the other side of the city centre, two of my uncles with their families and my cousin with her children. That meant there were thirty-two people staying in my home that night. The house was filled with excited chatter and lots of children. We slept on the floor. Another friend phoned and asked if we had space. We told her she was welcome even though our house was already full of people. They didn’t have anywhere else to go.

I asked my cousin Hiba, a 23 year-old mother of two small children who lives near the border, about her experiences. She said, 'My son Waseem, was scared most the time. We were sitting together at home when I heard the F16 and thought something would happen. Minutes later it started to attack. My son ran and sat on my lap, even our cat hid, everyone was scared. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing - my son screaming, the cat trembling. Since then it won’t eat and is always sitting close to me. We didn’t expect that the F16's would attack the houses. When they attacked our neighbour's house it felt as though our home was going to collapse on top of us.'

Where will these families go? They are afraid to seek sanctuary in local UNRWA schools following Tuesday's massacres in Jabaliya. They are being temporarily absorbed by the rest of Rafah's population - friends, neighbours, relatives. We have a friend in Yibna, directly on the border, who refuses to leave his home. We spoke to one woman in Al Brazil who has a family of twelve and simply doesn't know where to go and another woman in Block J who was literally in the street that night. Her father is in his nineties. Palestinians have a long-learned talent of making-do, but there is no escaping the deep sense of uncertainty.

Footnote - Below are translations from leaflets dropped by Israeli aircraft in Rafah yesterday and today:

Saturday 10th January
"The Israeli Defence Force distributed leaflets in Rafah a few days ago, warning citizens of an imminent operation…During the upcoming period, the Israeli Defence Forces will escalate their direct operations…"

Sunday 11th January
"…Those who have not yet evacuated their houses, all houses beyond Sea Street must be evacuated immediately from the time you receive this leaflet until an unspecified time."

Brazilian cartoonist on Gaza

The artist has given away his copyright to allow anyone to print his political cartoons and publish them anywhere. He is encouraging the world to print them on anything and publish them anywhere that can draw attention to the dire and inhumane situation perpetrated by all those who play ostrich and pretend that nothing is happening and that the Israelis are only " defending themselves" against the people they occupy.


Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff creates artworks that call on the world to condemn Israeli holocaust of Gaza
Nepos Libertas's blog

Carlos Latuff's statement:
I'd like to beg all viewers to spread this image anywhere, as a way to expose Israeli war crimes against Palestinians. Use it on t-shirts, posters, banners. Reproduce it in zines, papers, magazines, and make it visible everywhere. Here is the high-resolution version for printing purposes: [ link ] Thank you in the name of every suffering Palestinian.

1 comment:

Max said...

i'm Max ( from facebook )
Could I use the text of your diary t oput them in my book in France ?

cmaxbd [at]