Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

This is what an occupation looks like

By Gideon Levy, Ha’aretz’s other great voice of conscience …This is painful to read but important. 

Twilight Zone / Deadly diaries By Gideon Levy | Haaretz | 31.8.06

Shifa Hospital in Gaza, the fourth floor. Two brothers. Their parents and siblings were all killed while they were sleeping. Only the brothers were saved from the inferno caused by two missiles dropped by a plane on their house in the middle of the night. Awad, 19, is seriously injured; Mohammed, 20, uninjured, tends him. Their parents and all seven of their younger siblings, including a disabled sister, were killed. Just try to imagine.

The signs of shock and grief are obvious on the two orphaned brothers. They stare at the floor, speak very softly; their faces are pale and lifeless, even six weeks after that bloody night. On the wall of the hospital room they`ve taped a picture of their father, taken with Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

Dr. Nabil Abu Salmiya was a lecturer in mathematics at the Islamic University in Gaza and a Hamas activist. The wanted man Mohammed Deif visited the family’s home in the middle of the night – and the air force bombed it. Deif was wounded, but survived. A family was almost entirely wiped out. This was on the day that the war broke out in Lebanon; no one paid any attention to the killing in the south.

The wounded and the dead continue to arrive at Shifa. This week, ambulance after ambulance pulled up, carrying the victims of Israel Defense Forces’ actions – this time in the Sajiyeh quarter of Gaza City – followed by distraught family members. The atmosphere was bleak and threatening, with dozens of armed Hamas soldiers in their blue camouflage uniforms securing the place, Kalashnikovs cocked, on the surrounding roofs, in the hospital yard and corridors. Relatives of the injured lay on the floors of the rooms. The only hospital in Gaza is full to bursting.

A stench permeates the city streets. The garbage hasn’t been collected for many days, due to a strike by municipal employees who haven’t received their wages for months. The smell filters into the hospital. The electricity only works for a few hours a day, since the air force bombed the only power station in the Gaza Strip; the heat is oppressive. The elevator is either stuck or barely moves.

Awad Abu Salmiya lies with both legs in bandages in a bed by the window. A faint breeze from the sea offers the only bit of relief.

Not far away, in Beit Lahia, Ahmed al-Attar, 17, sits in a wheelchair. His father pleads with Israel and the world for someone to see that his son gets prosthetic legs. Ahmed was injured when the air force fired a missile that hit the mule-drawn wagon in which he was riding with his mother and nephew. They were on the way to pick figs from the family plot near the sea. His mother and the other boy were killed outright; Ahmed lost both legs.

This also happened in the course of Operation Summer Rains, whose end appears to be nowhere in sight; no one in Israel seems very interested in it. Meanwhile, the IDF goes on killing – nine members of the Abu Salmiya family, two members of the Al-Attar family. Together, they’re 11 out of 212 people who were killed, including 50 children and teenagers, between the abduction of Gilad Shalit at the end of June, and the end of August.

An empty lot in the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood. A two-story house used to stand here. Unlike other places, all the rubble here has already been cleared away. The back part of the house was completely destroyed; the front was left tilting on its side. Two missiles. Mohammed and Awad were sleeping in the front of the house, which faced the street. The rest of the family was asleep in the back and was killed. Perhaps only the father was still awake, together with Deif. No one knows. No one will say. It was 3 A.M. Neighbor Ibrahim Samur had gone with Dr. Abu Salmiya to the mosque that evening to pray, and afterward they`d chatted a little in front of the house. They parted at nine. No one saw Deif, of course. In the middle of the night the neighbors were awakened by a tremendous explosion, followed immediately by another one. They say the blast shook them out of their beds. The houses are that close to one another.

In a rented office on the ground floor of the house next door, which serves as a public court for settling conflicts in the neighbourhood, a picture of Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi hangs on the wall; a water cooler with Israeli-brand Eden spring water sits below it. Here, Abdullah Samur, an 18-year-old, describes what happened that night at the neighbors` house. The children crowding about outside are all wearing T-shirts from the Hamas summer camp. One wears a shirt bearing the likeness of the late Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

Abdullah went to sleep at midnight that night and woke up at 3 A.M. to the noise of a plane overhead. He lives on the third floor. It was July 12, a few hours before the outbreak of the war in Lebanon. The boom jolted him out of his bed. The windows shattered and the doors came off their hinges. Smoke filled his house from the fire that broke out next door, and his parents yelled for the children to flee.

Outside, Abdullah saw the destroyed house next door and the smoke coming from it. He knew the neighbors well. Nabil and his wife Salwa and all the kids he grew up with – Nasser, 6, Aya, 7, Uda, 8, Iman, 11, Yihyeh, 13, and Basma, 15.

And there was Sumiya, too, a disabled 12-year-old, who used to get picked up by a special car that took her to school. She was also killed. Abdullah had been with Awad and Mohammed that afternoon – the only ones who survived. That night Abdullah helped his father extricate the bodies. They found Awad rolled up inside a carpet. And Mohammed Deif? `I don’t know him at all,` the neighbour says.

The Israeli papers reported that the wounded Deif was pulled from the wreckage and rushed to Shifa. According to the reports, the rescue vehicle was also hit by a missile from the air.

Abdullah’s uncle, Ibrahim Samur, also says he’s never seen Deif and has no idea what he looks like. Ibrahim lives on the second floor. His 3-year-old son, Mutaz, was lightly wounded by shrapnel, and so was his wife. He rushed them to Shifa while his neighbors` house continued to burn. Since then, all the children have been sleeping in their parents` room. Mutaz cries when he hears a plane.

‘He was a good person,` Ibrahim says about his neighbor, Abu Salmiya. ‘He was active in Hamas, but not in its military wing. He was a teacher who helped his poor neighbours.’ ‘Ibrahim recalls that in their last conversation, on the way back from the mosque, they didn’t talk about politics, Abu Salmiya didn’t mention any meeting he was supposed to have during the night.

The IDF Spokesman’s comment: ‘In a joint operation of the IDF and the Shin Bet security service, an attack on a house in the northern Gaza Strip was carried out in the early hours of July 12. The house served as a hideout for senior activists in the military wing of Hamas, who planned and carried out acts of terror and the firing of Qassam rockets. At the time of the strike on the house, those present were involved in planning the continued military activity of Hamas. One of those present was Mohammed Deif, who sustained wounds of unknown severity.’

The unpaved street is now named for Nabil Abu Salmiya. Before we say good-bye to head over to the hospital and see the two surviving brothers, Ibrahim mentions a name: Nissim Mizrahi. Nissim Mizrahi from the bankrupt Rosh Indiani clothing business, who left Ibrahim – who ran a sewing workshop that has since closed down – with a debt of NIS 130,000.

Ahmed al-Attar sits in a wheelchair. The stumps of his legs are still bandaged. The pain bothers him and he presses on them to find some relief. On July 24, Ahmed and his mother and nephew set out, as they did every day, to the family plot near the sea, to pick some figs. It was around 3 P.M.; they proceeded slowly in their mule-drawn wagon.

‘Suddenly we got hit by a missile,’ he recalls. ‘After that I didn’t see anything. I woke up in the hospital and they told me that my mother and Nadi were killed and that my legs were amputated.’

After three days in Shifa, he was transferred to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, but they couldn’t save his legs there either. He also suffered burns on his head and other parts of his body, and these wounds are still bandaged. Ahmed is a 12th-grader who, two months before the tragedy, married a 16-year-old named Zeina. His mother, Hiriya, was 58; his nephew, Nadi – his mother`s grandson – was 12. Ahmed heard that Nadi was thrown dozens of meters from the wagon, and that his mother`s body was torn to pieces as a result of the direct hit.

The IDF Spokesman: ‘On the morning of July 24, two Qassam rocket launchings were identified as originating next to the Agricultural College in Beit Hanun. The two rockets were fired at Sderot, and one landed next to a school in the city. Later that same day, IDF forces identified two terrorists, who arrived at that location and loaded the launchers on a mule-drawn wagon. The IDF fired accurately at the point where the terrorists were and at the wagon with the launchers, and verified a hit. At the time of the firing, an older woman and her grandson were not seen in the wagon. In the event that they were riding in the same wagon, then it was the terror organizations that are the ones who took no pity on their lives, and engaged in terror activity directed at Israeli civilians under the cover of noncombatants, exploiting them as a human shield.`

Hiriya left nine children and some 50 grandchildren. She was a peddler in the Jabalya market, where she sold figs, grapes and strawberries, and cheese that she made herself. On the wall in the Beit Lahia home hangs a picture of a cousin, Mohammed, 23, who was killed by an IDF bullet while standing at the window of his home, exactly three weeks before the grandmother and grandson were killed.

In the memorial picture of Nadi that hangs in the street, one sees the boy’s face and that of the killed leader of the Popular Front, Abu Ali Mustafa, in the background. Why the Popular Front? ‘Because they supplied the family with food during the four days of mourning,’ Ahmed`s father, also named Nadi, explains. Instead of a picture of Hiriya, there is a poster with a drawing of a red rose. Here, pictures of women are not displayed, even after their death. They won’t show us a picture of Ahmed from his wedding either, so that we won’t see his young bride.

Nadi heard about the tragedy on the radio, when he was in the city. This morning he went back to fishing for the first time, but since 5 A.M. he hadn’t caught anything. Someone brings a picture from the scene of the tragedy: a dead mule. The photo is on the cover of the weekly report, No. 29, of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza, 2006. In the background an ambulance is visible. The mule lies on the sand, at the foot of the wrecked wagon. A direct hit.

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Timely Reminders

"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes perceptibly worse than what it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself."
-- Aldous Huxley

"The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All others are subsumed by it."
-- Diane DiPrima, "Rant", from Pieces of a Song.

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there"
-- William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"