Saturday, January 17, 2009

Israel accused of war crimes over 12-hour assault on Gaza village

By Fida Qishta in Khoza’a, Gaza
THE FIRST THING you notice as you enter Khoza’a village is the smell of rotting flesh. Mutilated and bloody chicken corpses, headless with smashed wings, litter the ground as though you are entering the bizarre aftermath of some black voodoo mass. On closer inspection, you notice that each bird was actually shot – sniped by the Israeli soldiers who took over Khoza’a in the early hours of last Tuesday morning. Hundreds of spent rounds lie around the streets, around the chicken’s bodies.

The carnage extends to the buildings and farmland. Olive and lemon trees lie scattered and broken around the houses, ripped from the ground by militarised D9 bulldozers. The smell of mangled lemons mixes with smell of the decomposing chickens. Fields of wheat and vegetable plots have been razed by tank treads. Buildings are still smouldering. Entire gables of family homes have been ripped out by bulldozers – the contents of various home lives spill out onto the rubble, lace curtains, tablecloths, beds and toys. Through the gaping holes there are Marie-Celeste like scenes of tables set for dinner.

The massacre didn’t stop with the chickens. Fourteen villagers were killed when the Israeli army stormed and attacked the village for twelve hours last week. One of the youngest victims was sixteen-year-old schoolgirl, Ala’a Khalid. The girl was taken to hospital with shrapnel wounds to the face, apparently one of the injured who’d got off lightly.

As she lay in her hospital bed, Ala’a cried when she heard her grandfather, Khalel Al- Najar, 75, had been killed when an Apache helicopter dropped a bomb on their home. She asked her family: ‘Why did they kill him? Why are they killing us and nobody moves? If we were cats in Europe and America they would have cared for us.’ As the ER struggled to cope with Khoza’a’s wounded, Ala’a died from undetected internal injuries.

UNLIKE THE JABALIA refugee camp in Gaza ’s north, a Hamas stronghold, Khoza’a is not a village with a history of militancy. In fact, the townspeople of this agricultural area say if they were harbouring resistance, the Israeli military would have attacked with F16 jets, afraid of exposing their men to Hamas fighters . Instead, the army staged a ground incursion.

The Israeli tanks entered the village in the middle of the night. Twelve hours of unusual cruelty were to come.

Iman al-Najar, 29, jumped out of bed when she heard the tanks outside at 3am. She and the ten members of her family looked out the windows as bulldozers started to destroy her neighbour’s homes in the Azata area. She saw terrified villagers flee from their houses as masonry collapsed around them. Villagers ran from house to house; as each house was bulldozed, the people would run for cover in the next, blinded by the haze of exploding shells.

‘By 6am the tanks and bulldozers had reached our house,’ Iman recalls.
‘We went on the roofs and tried to show them that we are civilians with white flags, children, women, men. Every one was carrying a white flag. We told them we are civilians don’t have any weapons, we are not fighters.’ It was a waste of time. ‘The soldiers started to destroy the houses even if the people were in them’.

Iman and her family ran from their house as it the bulldozers ripped it apart. She encouraged the neighbours, mostly women and children, women at the head of the group, to flee with her. They all carried white flags. They were ordered by Israeli soldiers to move to the centre of the town. They were told to leave by a particular street. As they turned into the next road, Israeli special forces who had occupied a building, opened fire.

At the front of the group was fifty-year-old housewife, Rowhiya Al-Najar. She approached the Israeli military, waving her white flag, shouting, begging for safe passage for the group. She was shot by a sniper. As the other women ran to help her, the soldiers fired again, injuring 24-year-old Yessmin al-Najar in the hand and leg. Rowhiya Al-Najar lay wailing and bleeding in the street. The women cried but they could not help her as the soldiers kept firing. Nor were paramedics allowed near the injured woman. .

According to Marwan Abu Raeda, 40, a paramedic working in Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis: ‘At 8am we received a phone call from the people in Khoza`a, they told us about the injured woman in Azata street . I went to Khoza`a immediately in my ambulance. I was 60 or 70 metres away from the injured woman when the Israeli special forces started to shoot at me’. As he drove into another street, he came under fire again. ‘It was like my ambulance was a tank,’ he said.

It was twelve hours before paramedics were allowed to reach Al Najar. By then she was dead. ‘She was still clutching the white flag’, says Abu Raeda, who took her body to the morgue.

Before the woman had reached Azata Street , Iman’s brother, fourteen- year-old Mohammed had disappeared in the chaos. ‘We didn’t know if he was dead or alive,’ says Iman. He’d been taken captive in the street by a group of Israeli soldiers who put guns to his face and forced him to accompany him to their building. He was tied. Mohammed says he was with the Israeli soldiers as they fired at his family, killing Rowhiya Al-Najar. On his release, thirteen-hours later, a traumatised Mohammed told Iman: ‘When they were shooting at you, the soldiers were dancing and singing. They asked me to sing and dance with them. I refused. They said, “Then we will kill you”. So I sang with them as they shot at you’.

After Rowhiya’s shooting, Iman and her group fled to her uncle’s house, one of the few buildings still standing. There, they took shelter from the hail of gunfire. They were joined by other villagers, mostly farmers, who’d lost their homes, all running for the safety of the last house. By now there were around two hundred unarmed civilians in the group, most carrying white flags.

Before long, the tanks and bulldozers caught up with them and began to destroy that house too. The terrified crowd scattered. A blind boy, Sameer, 16 got separated from his mother. He stood in the street calling, ‘Where should I go? Where are you? What direction should I take?’ as bullets flew around him.

The last house crumbled under the bulldozers’ blades and there was nowhere left to shelter – every other house had been destroyed. The villagers ran for cover amid the mountains of rubble.

Around a hundred metres from Iman’s uncle’s house, the people cowered in a deep hole in the debris of demolished houses, a sort of passage that had been formed from the broken concrete of the surrounding houses. 200 people, men, women and children, crawled inside for protection from the shooting.

Inside the claustrophobic tunnel, the children cried, the adults prayed. Some of the villagers used their mobiles to make desperate rescue calls to the Red Crescent, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, local radio stations. ‘Please co-ordinate with the Israelis,’ they begged, ‘so they will let us leave in safety’. The Israeli army refused – the village, it declared, was a closed military zone. Anyone coming close risked being shot.

Inside the cave-like passage, the villagers heard the rumble of military machinery approaching. Eight bulldozers and four tanks surrounded the villagers, on either side of the narrow, unstable passage. As they closed in, the bulldozer drivers began to push the rubble from each side, squeezing the people, throwing rocks and bricks on their heads. ‘They wanted to bury us alive,’ says Iman. ‘I will never forget it, it was the hardest day in our lives. When the bulldozers got closer they started to move the wreckage of the demolished houses on top of us, we felt that we are in a tiny cave, and they started to make it smaller and smaller until the children started to fall down because the wreckage was pushing their legs.’

Four-year-old Nessma became hysterical, shouting at her dad: ‘I don’t want to die’. Another girl, Shymaa, 12, kept repeating: ‘This is the last day of our lives.’

The villagers began to shout at the soldiers, begging them to stop. Yessmin, the woman who’d been injured while trying to rescue her friend, Rowhia, was bleeding profusely from her hand and foot. Her friends had bound her wounds with some of the white flags. She stayed calm, trying to comfort her mother, Faeza, 52, who kept screaming: ‘They’re coming closer, we’re going to die’.

As the rubble came closer to suffocating them, the villagers made a desperate dash for safety. On their hands and knees, they crawled some 150m out of the tunnel and ran to the town centre, seeking refuge in the UN school. One of the men lost his mind. Yussef, 52, ran in front of the tanks shouting: ‘Kill me now’. He was pulled away by friends. It was particularly hard for the young and the elderly. Abu Fadi, 50, a paralysed man, was carried by neighbours who’d wrenched him from his wheelchair as bulldozers started to demolish his house around him.

‘By some miracle, we made it,’ says Iman. They were not safe for long.
‘After an hour they started to fire around the school,’ said Iman. 'The children were scared and the people decide to take their children and leave the school before there is another massacre in a UN school.’

Hungry, thirsty, tired and dazed, at around two thirty, the group left the school and walked for more than two and a half kilometres. By four o’clock they’d reached an area outside the fighting. ‘We phoned our relatives to come and take us. In any vehicle – cars, motorbikes, trucks. Just get us away from this hell’.

There are grim testimonies of attacks from all over Khoza’a. ‘At nine o’clock, the tanks came to our area in Abu Raeda’, said Mohammed al Najar, 20. (No relation to Iman Al-Najar or her brother). The Israelis started to fire gas missiles. The chicken farm next door was burnt to the ground. The gas shells fell all around. Our house was full of smoke and gas. My mothers and sisters couldn’t breath, they started to vomit. We fled to another house.’

Mohammed and his family survived. His uncle, Mahmoud al-Najar, 55 wasn’t so lucky. ‘He got a call from his neighbours asking for help to move their children to a safe place. He was shot in the side by an Israeli sniper and died immediately.’

Nabel al-Najar, 40, and his family were lucky to escape with their lives. They spent the night in the basement, afraid to come out. They could hear the upper stories of their house being destroyed. Suddenly they realised the basement itself was being destroyed. They narrowly missed being crushed to death by escaping through a small hole in the debris.

Elsewhere, a group of men and youths was killed by a single strike. According to their relatives, Gassan Abu Zaer 22, Nedal Abu Raeda, 25 and Mamdoh Qdah, 19 and Alaa Al- Najar 16 years old, all neighbours from the Azata area, took advantage of a lull in the fighting after 3pm to go to the local shop to buy food for their families. They went in a group as it made them feel safer. The men were killed by a missile fired from an Israeli drone plane.

A fourteen-year-old boy, Mohammed Qdah, was hit in the head by shrapnel as he ran from the street into his home. He died later on the operating table of the Al Nasser hospital, his brain torn and destroyed. A twenty-five year-old man, Ahmeed Al- Najar, ran to his fiancée’s house to see if she was safe – he was killed and the fiancée injured when the house came under missile and shell attack.

Fifty wounded villagers were taken to the Al Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis. Four would die there.

‘There was one twenty-year-old girl,’ says Dr Ahmed Almi. ‘A third of her face had been blown away. The teeth, jawbone, cheekbone, all missing on one side.’ Her abdomen had been ripped open by shrapnel – her pelvic bones were visible. ‘We couldn’t save her,’ says Almi.

Doctors described serious chemical burns and victims being covered in a white powder that continued to burn them. Many people were also suffering from serious breathing difficulties. ‘There are two types of injuries,’ said Dr Almi, ‘injuries from weapons and injuries from chemical burns from white phosphorous. Some patients had white powder on their skin – the exposed areas are burnt first, then an hour later the powder penetrates the clothing burning the skin. Some patients were burnt from head to toe.’

The shrapnel injuries are particularly horrific. ‘I don’t know the nature of these weapons causing these wounds,’ said Almi. ‘The entry wounds are tiny, the exit wounds huge. One man came in with a 2cm entry wound in his abdomen and an enormous 40cm exit wound at the back. His intestines had fallen out. He died.’

Villagers from Khouza’a are still dying in the Intensive Care Unit. The latest victim was Madhad Abu Rock, 20. He died Friday (today) from shrapnel injuries to his chest. Other patients are still fighting for their lives.

Khoza’a’s ordeal may not be over yet. On Friday, Iman al Najar told the Observer the F16s and the drones are flying over the village again.

White flags ignored and houses bulldozed with families inside, claim residents
Israel stands accused of perpetrating a series of war crimes during a sustained 12-hour assault on a village in southern Gaza last week in which 14 people died.
In testimony collected from residents of the village of Khuza'a by the Observer, it is claimed that Israeli soldiers entering the village:
• attempted to bulldoze houses with civilians inside;
• killed civilians trying to escape under the protection of white flags;
• opened fire on an ambulance attempting to reach the wounded;
• used indiscriminate force in a civilian area and fired white phosphorus shells.
If the allegations are upheld, all the incidents would constitute breaches of the Geneva conventions.
The denunciations over what happened in Khuza'a follow repeated claims of possible human rights violations from the Red Cross, the UN and human rights organisations.
The Israeli army announced yesterday that it was investigating "at the highest level" five other attacks against civilians in Gaza, involving two UN facilities and a hospital. It added that in all cases initial investigations suggested soldiers were responding to fire. "These claims of war crimes are not supported by the slightest piece of evidence," said Yigal Palmor, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman.
Concern over what occurred in the village of Khuza'a in the early hours of Tuesday was first raised by the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem. Although an Israeli military spokesman said he had "no information that this alleged incident took place", witness statements collected by the Observer are consistent and match testimony gathered by B'Tselem.
There is also strong visible evidence that Khuza'a came under a sustained attack from tanks and bulldozers that smashed some buildings to pieces.
Pictures taken by photographer Bruno Stevens in the aftermath show heavy damage - and still burning phosphorus. "What I can tell you is that many, many houses were shelled and that they used white phosphorus," said Stevens yesterday, one of the first western journalists to get into Gaza. "It appears to have been indiscriminate." Stevens added that homes near the village that had not been hit by shell fire had been set on fire.
The village of Khuza'a is around 500 metres from the border with Israel. According to B'Tselem, its field researcher in Gaza was contacted last Tuesday by resident Munir Shafik al-Najar, who said that Israeli bulldozers had begun destroying homes at 2.30am.
When Rawhiya al-Najar, aged 50, stepped out of her house waving a white flag, so that the rest of the family could leave the house, she was allegedly shot by Israeli soldiers nearby.
The second alleged incident was on Tuesday afternoon, when Israeli troops ordered 30 residents to leave their homes and walk to a school in the village centre. After travelling 20 metres, troops fired on the group, allegedly killing three.
Further detailed accounts of what occurred were supplied in interviews given to a Palestinian researcher who has been working for the Observer, following the decision by Israel to ban foreign media from the Gaza Strip. Iman al-Najar, 29, said she watched as bulldozers started to destroy neighbours' homes and saw terrified villagers flee from their houses as masonry collapsed.
"By 6am the tanks and bulldozers had reached our house," Iman recalled. "We went on the roofs and tried to show we were civilians with white flags. Everyone was carrying a white flag. We told them we are civilians. We don't have any weapons. The soldiers started to destroy the houses even if the people were in them." Describing the death of Rawhiya, Iman says they were ordered by Israeli soldiers to move to the centre of the town. As they did, Israeli troops opened fire. Rawhiya was at the front of the group, says Iman.
Marwan Abu Raeda, 40, a paramedic working for the Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, said: "At 8am we received a phone call from Khuza'a. They told us about the injured woman. I went immediately. I was 60 or 70 metres away from the injured woman when the Israeli forces started to shoot at me." As he drove into another street, he came under fire again. Twelve hours later, when Rawhiya was finally reached, she was dead.
Iman said she ended up in an area of rubble where a large group of people had sought cover in a deep hole among the debris of demolished houses. It is then, she says, that bulldozers began to push the rubble from each side. "They wanted to bury us alive," she said.

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.

A translation of the leaflet dropped in Rafah

At midday today I saw from my window clouds of leaflets being dropped over Rafah. Local kids chased the leaflets being carried through my neighbourhood on the breeze and brought me one copy. Below is a translation of the leaflet dropped today:
Leaflet dropped on 11th January 2009
Citizens of Rafah
Due to Hamas using your houses to smuggle and store ammunition, the Israeli Defence Force will attack terrorists, tunnels and buildings which have smuggling tunnels beneath them in the area between Sea Street and the Egyptian border.

For all citizens in these neighbourhoods: Al Shaoot camp, Yibna camp, Block O, Al Brazil camp, Al Shara area, Qishta area, Hi Salam neighbourhood.

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. For your safety follow this announcement.
The leadership of the Israeli Defence Force
Residents reported mass leaflet drops in Rafah neighbourhoods by Israeli 'planes yesterday announcing an imminent escalation of their attacks. Below is a translation of the leaflet dropped yesterday:
Leaflet dropped on 10th January 2009
To the citizens of the Gaza Strip

The Israeli Defence Force distributed leaflets in Rafah a few days ago, warning citizens of an imminent operation and telling them to evacuate their houses immediately for their own safety.

Following the Israeli Defence Force directions and instructions has prevented hurting citizens who are not part of the fighting.

During the upcoming period, the Israeli Defence Forces will escalate their direct operations against the tunnels, the weapons and ammunition stores and the terrorists in all parts of the Gaza Strip.

For your safety and your family's safety, you are asked not to be near the terrorists and the stores of weapons and the places of fighting and other places used by them.

The Israeli Defence Force asks to continue in this way by following the instructions which are communicated to you by all means.

The leadership of the Israeli Defence Force

'We love the sun. So we sat outside to see the F16s bombing Rafah'

My dairy in Gaza

Monday 5 January

Every night, the Israeli air strikes continue to hit Rafah. The air is full of smoke. At home, we are trying to have a normal life, but it's not possible. We are scared to death. My dad is terrified, so my sisters and I are trying to be normal, to make him feel better. We talk about stories from the old days, to make him laugh. One of the funniest things we used to ask my father when we were children, when we watched cartoons on the TV, was: "Dad, can we get into the TV?" He'd say: "No, silly, you can't." Then we'd ask: "How did these other people get into the TV?"
We didn't sleep for more than an hour, so many explosions shook our house so strongly. Every 30 or 40 minutes the house is shaken. I feel like everyone is going to die, but I'm trying not to be scared.
Tuesday 6 January

I woke up at nine and knew there was still a war going on. No electricity, the phones down, bombing and shooting.
In my family, we love the sun. We decided to sit outside and watch the F16s bombing Rafah. We see a missile strike the orphans' school. I don't know why they attack the schools, the mosques, the universities. The Israelis have attacked three schools - the al-Salah school for orphans in Jabalia, the American school in Gaza and the al-Fadela school in Rafah - 11 mosques and the Islamic University. I don't think this is a war against Hamas leaders.
One of the stories that makes make me feel most sad is about five children and their mother who were living on the border, in the buffer zone. Their mum decided to take them to a safer place. But just before they left, they were hit by an Israeli missile and all of them were killed.
Worse was to come. When I got home, the electricity was on. A chance to see the news. I couldn't believe what I saw - a UN school in Jabalia hit by Israeli shells. The school was full of refugees. Men, women and children, families who wanted somewhere safe to stay, all killed. Forty-two dead, they say. More than 100 injured.

Wednesday 7 January
The Israelis have dropped leaflets telling people who live by the border to leave. If the Israeli soldiers observe anybody moving in the area, he or she will be killed.
This is what the leaflets say: "Citizens of Rafah: because Hamas is 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, Qishta area. You must evacuate your homes beyond Sea Street from the time you receive this leaflet/paper until 7am the following morning. For your and your children's safety, follow this leaflet. The leadership of the Israeli Defence Force."
My relatives, who live near the border, were terrified. We asked them to come to our house, two of my uncles with their families and my cousin with her children. That meant there were 32 people staying in my home. So many children. We slept on the floor. Another friend phoned and asked if we have space, we said, "Sure." They didn't have anywhere else to go.
My sisters and brother were laughing at the children and said in Arabic, "Jaish Atfal" - the children's army.
Among the kids were my two little cousins, Mohammed, six, and Hada, eight. Since the attacks began, Mohammed won't take his fingers out of his ears. He's terrified a bomb will hit him. When an explosion went off on the border, he and his sister sat in a corner holding each other, rocking.
I am grateful I have no children, so I don't have to worry that an Israeli tank or air strike could kill them.
My worst nightmare is that our house would be targeted and our whole family killed apart from one survivor. Better for us all to die. When the bombing stopped, I went with my friend Hassan, a paramedic whose house had been attacked. Then I saw my uncles' houses - two had been destroyed. One of my cousins was running and screaming, asking everyone, "Have you seen my daughter?" She didn't find her for hours; the girl was scared and hiding.
I went to the ambulance station - 12 ambulances have been targeted by the Israeli army and three paramedics died yesterday. I volunteered to accompany the ambulance crew when they go out, me and two international friends from Europe, from the International Solidarity Movement. Human shields. Maybe it will stop the Israeli army hitting the ambulances. We can try.
In Rafah, they tried to rescue some injured people near the border with Egypt - a rocket nearly hit the ambulance. They feel afraid. When I returned home, the city looked like a ghost town - most of the shops were closed. I saw a market open, a great chance to get more vegetables for a week. A few people run out, pick what they need, then run home. We are all running short of food now.

F16s in the sky. No one in Rafah can sleep. The attacks shake our house again. We can see the smoke from the window again. Big attacks on the border. A scary sound. My sisters decided to sleep early to try to get some sleep before things got worse.
I watched the TV with my friend - news of the UN Security Council meeting. I told myself: "They will take a decision after the attack on the UN school. This must end now." I was shocked when they delayed the decision. When will the UN decide? After the Israeli army has finished?

Friday 9 January
I woke at 7am, to a phone call from one of my friends in Nuserat. Last night, she and her family spent the night downstairs, sleeping on the floor, afraid to be in their bedrooms. Even though they live in the centre of the city and nowhere near the border. I asked her why - she said it's because the Israeli army warned her neighbours to evacuate the area. That means their house could also be attacked. She told me her daughters are scared all the time.
I tried to make her feel better. I told her I'd heard news that the UN Security Council had called for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. Then, down the phone, I could hear explosions happening around her. "They are still bombing buildings and shooting here," she said.