Friday, January 30, 2009

Israeli army fires on civilians and Human Rights Workers in Beit Hannoun

Posted on the ISM webpage: January 30, 2009

Israeli armed forces opened fire on a group of Human Rights Workers (HRWs) and civilians in the Beit Hannoun area of the Gaza Strip on Thursday 29th January. International HRWs were accompanying residents of Beit Hannoun, in the far north of the Gaza Strip, to their homes, in order to salvage belongings from the rubble, after the homes were bulldozed by Israeli forces during the Israeli war on Gaza.

One Palestinian family, the Tarrabin family, were anxious to try to retrieve important items, such as identity cards; cash; and clothes, that Israeli soldiers prevented them from taking with them when they were evicted moments before their home was destroyed. Residents had been further prevented from returning to their homes, which lie in close proximity to the Green Line, by Israeli military firing upon them whenever they attempted to enter the area. Families were advised by soldiers, upon being evicted from their homes, that the area had been declared a “Closed Military Zone”.

The group, joined by a Malaysian film crew, was able to successfully enter the prohibited area, and salvage a number of personal items and documents – however the vast majority of possessions were buried beneath mounds of rubble and dirt. “We would need to bring in a bulldozer to find anything else”, remarked one resident.

As the group prepared to leave the destroyed house, however, Israeli soldiers, who had been patrolling behind the Green Line throughout the endeavour, opened fire, shooting a number of rounds. Fortunately, none were injured, though HRWs report hearing the bullets whistle past their heads.

Despite the obvious attempt at intimidation, Manwar Tarrabin was relieved to have the opportunity to return to her house and collect the belongings that were found, as she and her five family members were evicted from their home with just the clothes on their backs – soldiers refusing to allow them to take any belongings with them. She and her 22 year old daughter were forced to stand by, watching helplessly, as two Israeli military bulldozers demolished her home and everything in it, on 17th January – just one day before Israel declared its supposed ceasefire.

HRWs then continued on to another house nearby, with the Abu Jereme family, whose corrugated iron house was not demolished, but from which they were evicted on 27th December, the first day of Israel’s offensive on Gaza, when Israeli “Special Forces” occupied their home. Freije Abu Jeremi pointed out what had been their barn-house, containing 20 sheep; as well as chickens and rabbits. “The soldiers shot all the sheep in the legs”, she recalled, “before they demolished the shed”. This intentional killing of livestock, took place throughout the Gaza Strip during the Israeli Operation “Cast Lead”. Whilst dismissed by many Palestinian residents as the actions of deranged individuals, the emerging pattern is one of economic oppression – of the intentional destruction of Palestinian livelihoods.

Approximately 80 houses were demolished in the “buffer zone” area to the north and east of Beit Hannoun – in the lands that abut the Green Line – rendering at least 400 residents homeless. 20 homes were demolished in Sikka street alone, which leads up to the Erez border crossing.

Whilst before Israel’s war on Gaza, the Israeli-enforced “buffer-zone” on the Palestinian side of the Green Line extended 300m from the electrified fence. Now it is extremely dangerous to enter lands that are 1.5 kilometres from the Green Line.

This situation not only affects residents in the north, but is played out in all border areas of the Gaza Strip. In every region that borders the Green Line, residents are reporting similar incidents – that, despite the public declaration of a cease-fire, Israeli forces continue to fire on Palestinians on a daily basis, with two farmers killed since the ceasefire supposedly came into effect. Such violations not only make a mockery of any notion of a ceasefire, but also work to effectively annex Palestinian land, by rendering it uninhabitable. Indeed, combined with the demolition of houses in these areas, such actions are indications of a clear policy of ethnic cleansing.

Where is the ceasefire?

Posted on the ISM webpage on: January 30, 2009

27 January 2009

A young farm-worker, Arwan al Ibrim was murdered by Israeli military forces at approximately 9:45 am on Tuesday 27th January, in the village of Al Farahin, east of Khan Younis.

27 year old Arwan was working picking parsley and spinach in the village agricultural lands, approximately 700 m from the Green Line, when Israeli jeeps opened fire with machine guns from behind the Green Line - shooting more than 30 bullets in quick succession, eyewitnesses report. Many of the seven farmers working in the area scattered, taking shelter from the shower of bullets. Arwan, however, was shot in the neck, dying instantly.

Arwan had only recently returned to his job as an agricultural worker, after 6 months, as the area was considered to be too dangerous following the large-scale Israeli army invasion that took place there on 1st May 2008, and then the recent Israeli war on Gaza. Even though the area is still considered extremely dangerous, Arwan decided to return to work there in order to help buy medicine for his elderly, paralysed father. He was being paid just 20 shekels (approximately $6) a day to work there.

His mother laments that she and his father had begged him to stay home for breakfast, but Arwan refused, saying there was a lot of work to do, and that he wanted to get started before the Israeli army arrived and started shooting. Just two hours later, the family found out from the television that Arwan had been killed.

Later on the same day, in the city of Khan Younis itself, a young man riding a motorcycle was critically injured when he was fired upon from an Israeli drone. Hayan As Ser was taken to Nasser hospital where his condition reportedly remains critical.

These attacks came after one Israeli soldier was killed and three more injured when their jeep drove across a buried explosive near the Green Line, reportedly planted by Palestinian resistance fighters. However, despite claiming to have implemented a ceasefire from 2am on Sunday 18th January, Israeli forces have continued to shoot at civilians in villages close to the Green Line, including Al Farahin, on a daily basis.

In the nearby village of Khaza’a, Maher Abu Arjila, a 22 year old farmer was killed by Israeli soldiers shooting from behind the Green Line on 18th January, just hours after the ceasefire was supposed to come into effect. Another resident, Nabil an Najar, was injured when rubble fell on top of him as a result of soldiers shooting the building he was standing under.

On the evening of Sunday 25th January, Subhe Kdah, was also injured as Israeli soldiers shot into the village; and on Monday 26th January, residents report soldiers firing in the area of the United Nations school.

On the other side of the Gaza strip, Palestinian fishermen are also reportedly coming under fire on a daily basis, with one fishing boat captain, Ala al Habil, hospitalized with a gunshot wound to his lower leg, when he was shot at by an Israeli navy boat on the evening of Monday 26th. Another fishing-boat captain, Iyad al Hissi, was shot at repeatedly whilst in the wheel-house of a fishing boat that was less than one nautical mile from Gaza shore on Tuesday 27th. Witnesses say he managed to escape from the wheel-house without injury. In both cases, fishermen report that the Israeli navy boats were shooting to kill the captains.

While gunfire on Palestinian fishing boats was a daily occurance throughout the last so-called Israeli ceasefire, human rights workers who were accompanying fishermen during that period suggest that the situation now is even worse. “During the last ceasefire, the fishermen were getting shot at every day, but now it’s happening much closer to shore - within 1 or 2 miles of the shore”, remarked one international human rights worker.

These recent violations come in addition to the shelling of Gaza’s port area that continued for five days after the announcement of the ceasefire - which resulted in a number of casualties; as well as the shooting of 7 year old Ahmed Hassanian in the head; and the bombing of Amal area, east of Beit Hannoun,- killing one, wounding another - making a mockery of any claims to an Israeli cessation of fire.

“Where is the ceasefire?” Arwan’s elderly mother demanded angrily. “They said there was a ceasefire, but there is nothing!”

Thursday, January 29, 2009

More Palestinians killed and injured in border areas

This is an extract from PCHR weekly report No. 04/2009 22- 28 January 2009

Friday, 23 January

Also at approximately 01:00, IOF troops positioned at the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel opened fire at Palestinian civilians who were checking the destruction of their houses in Khuza'a village, east of Khan Yunis. As a result, Nabeel Ibrahim al-Najjar, 40, was wounded by shrapnel from a gunshot to the left hand.

Sunday, 25 January

At approximately 16:00, IOF troops positioned at the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel opened fire at houses and streets in Khuza'a village, east of Khan Yunis. As a result, Subhi Tafesh Qudaih, 55, was wounded by a gunshot to the back.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

At approximately 10:00, IOF troops positioned at the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, east of Khan Yunis, opened fire at a number of Palestinian farmers who were farming agricultural land belonging to the Abu Daqqa clan, nearly 600 meters away from the border. The farmers lay down to avoid being shot. When the shooting stopped, the farmer stood up to leave the area, but IOF troops opened fire at them. One of them, 26-year-old Anwar Zayed al-Buraim, was killed by a gunshot to the neck.

At approximately 15:00, IOF heavy military vehicles moved nearly 500 meters into the east of Deir al-Balah town in the central Gaza Strip. They razed areas of Palestinian agricultural land. At approximately 19:00, IOF troops opened fire at houses in the areas. As a result, Mohammed Salama al-Ma'ni, 21, was wounded by a gunshot to the left thigh. IOF military vehicles moved 200 meters back, but continued to patrol the area.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It’s a ceasefire…just not on the beach, not in your home

Posted on the ISM webpage: January 27, 2009

Eva Bartlett | In Gaza

On the 5th morning after Israel declared a ‘ceasefire’, Israeli gunboats began shelling, as they had on several mornings since halting the 22 day air and land bombardment of Gaza. The shelling, which began just after 7:30 am off Gaza city’s coast, injured at least 6, including one boy with shrapnel in his head.

Yasser Abed, 15, came out from his home in Gaza’s Beach camp, on the coast, to see where the shelling was occurring. A shard of shrapnel lodged in his forehead.

Nisreen al Quqa, 11, was out earlier, before the navy began to fire towards Palestinian fishermen. She and her brother were walking on the beach when the firing started. A piece of shrapnel lodged in her right calf muscle.

Other injuries included a 14 year old male who was hit in the thigh by one of the shrapnel fragments, a 35 year old male also with a shrapnel injury, and a 4 year old girl with a head wound from flying shrapnel.

To the east of Gaza city, in the Sheyjaiee district close to the eastern border, also on the same day, 7 year old Ahmed Hassanian was outside his house with friends around 9:45 am. He lies now in critical condition in Shifa hospital’s ICU, a bullet still lodged in his brain and with such brain hemorrhaging and damage that he is expected to die shortly.

Mu’awiyah Hassanain, the director of Ambulance and Emergency Services, reports shelling in the northwestern coastal area of As Sudaniya on the same morning, saying five fishermen were injured in the attacks.

Israeli warplanes, on the first day of the ceasefire, flew extremely low and loudly over areas of Gaza, leaving residents expecting the worst. Drones capable of photographing and of dropping lethal, targeted missiles, continued to circle in Gaza’s skies for the first 3 days after the tanks retreated and the air-bombing ceased. At 8:30 am, one of these drones dropped 2 missiles in the Amal area east of Beit Hanoun, wounding a woman and an 11 year old child, who later died of her injuries.

At 10:40, Israeli troops killed Maher abu Rjaila, 23, shooting him in the chest as he walked on his land east of Khan Younis city.

Two days later, at 1:00pm, Israeli soldiers fired on residents of Al Qarara, near Khan Younis, shooting Waleed al-Astal, 42, in his right foot.

Israel’s assault on Gaza has killed at least 1,330, with as many as 200 more bodies expected to be recovered from under the rubble of the over 5,000 destroyed houses and 20,000 buildings.

Dr. Fawzi Nablusi, director of Shifa’s ICU, said that of the cases in Shifa’s ICU, 90% were civilian, of these 50% were women and children. One of those civilians injured the day before Israel’s ceasefire was Mohammed Jarboua. Also from the Beach camp, the 21 year old is clinically brain dead, surviving only on mechanical life-support, after being shot in the head by Israeli naval forces.

The Director of Shifa hospital, Dr. Hassan Khalaf, and Mu’awiyah Hassanain confirmed that since the ceasefire began on January 18, three more Palestinians have been killed, and 15 more injured, 10 of those injured on January 22nd.

These ceasefire violations are not a new precedent, as during the 6 month ceasefire which began on June 19th, Israeli forces routinely targeted and fired upon fishermen and farmers along Gaza’s eastern and northern borders, injuring 62, according to Palestinian sources. During this period, 22 Palestinians were also killed, many of them members of resistance groups, and 38 fishermen and farmers were abducted. The truce period saw border crossings mainly closed, completely sealed them from November 4, 2008 with only the briefest of openings.

As the dust settles and noxious chemical fires continue to smolder, Gazans focus on their immediate needs: housing, food, and in many cases locating lost family members still under the rubble.

The root of the problem continues: the nearly 2 year old siege on Gaza, not relaxed under the 6 month ceasefire as agreed, and which had already decimated Gaza’s health and sanitation infrastructures, and had shattered the economy. From the ruins of Gaza, any signs of an end to the siege are far beyond the broken horizon.

Amid destruction, school resumes

Posted on the ISM webpage: January 27, 2009

“We have no bathroom, how can we wash ourselves? How can we go to school looking like this?”, implored 13 year-old Shaima al Samouni. It’s a pertinent question, given that schools reopened two days ago for the first time since the Israeli attacks on Gaza started.

With 29 family members killed during the attacks on the Zaytoun neighbourhood in Gaza city, however, it seems a strange concern. But life marches on, and the other children have gone back to school. Tugging at the clothes they were wearing, the children explain that, now, three weeks after their homes were destroyed, what they’re wearing is all they have. And, it seems, they’re not going to school wearing that.

They take us across the dirt, to a half-bombed house. On the way, we walk over the foundations of what used to be the house of Majid al Samouni and his family. The children stop to show us a drum of olives (zaytoun) that was destroyed. We pass by the carcass of a large sheep. Shot by the Israeli army. They show us their two pretty donkeys. “Donkeys quais”, I say in broken Arabic, relieved that they’re not taking us to more animal corpses. There used to be nine donkeys, they explain. But the Israeli soldiers shot seven of them. Then my colleague points out the gaping hole in the shoulder of the brown donkey - also shot by the Israeli army. Donkey mish quais.

One of the young girls, who is nine years old, is desperate for me to understand the extent to which their lives were destroyed. Not in terms of life lost, but livelihood. “Bas al shugul - al ard. Bas” (The land is the only work we have), and the land is totally destroyed. The children catalogue the types of fruit trees they had - lemon, guava, orange, mandarin, and the ubiquitous olive. They don’t talk about the battery-chicken shed that is crushed, chickens still in cages. When i finally ask just how many chickens there were, I find it difficult to believe the answer - two thousand chickens.

Her older cousin goes to great lengths to tell me repeatedly, at every opportunity, that they were just farmers, not Hamas. I know, I reply.

Inside the half-destroyed house, there is a clamour to show all of the atrocities crowded into one small space. Some of the children explain that their mother had given birth during the bombing, how they had to burn a knife over a candle to cut the umbilical cord. And about how their two-year-old sister was wounded on her face - lacerations from her eye across and down her cheek. Others point to where shells entered the house, some still stuck in the walls. They tell us how the soldiers had occupied the house, after the family had evacuated it. How they came back to find everything on the ground, including the Qu’ran. Then, worse, how one Qu’ran had been defecated on. Haram, was all I could say. I took photos somewhat helplessly, of everything they showed me. I’m well-practiced at documenting damage Israeli soldiers have done to Palestinian homes. And the families always seem to feel better if you take photos of everything. But the ridiculousness of what I was doing - taking photos of small holes in walls when half of the house was missing - hit, and I put the camera down.

A couple of the children - the ones who had been telling me that they were all farmers, and just farmers - led me around the corner to a house they said belonged to Arafat al Samouni. The house was leveled, just a small tarp erected in the middle of the debris. “Sleep here” one of the children informed. 10 people killed in that house. Just one left, seemingly. Haram.

I wanted to ask the children about their parents. I know at least some of them have surviving parents, saw them with their mother. Heard them talk about her. But I’m too scared to ask. I don’t want to hear a small child have to tell me that its parent or parents are dead. There’s so much I can’t bring myself to ask. I’ve taken a lot of reports in Palestine. I know how it goes. What you need to ask. What information is vital. I know it so well I don’t even need to think about it. I can ask with sympathy about how Israeli soldiers invaded a family home; beat people; abducted their children. But this is something else entirely. Here and now, such questions seem vile. I just want to hang out with the children. Let them show me what they want to show me. Listen to them talk.

While we’re hanging out with these kids, our friends encounter one of their cousins who watched both of her parents die when Israeli soldiers bombed a house that they had told everyone from neighbouring houses to shelter in. Later, watching the video they took, we’re all shocked by the confident way Mona talks about the night when so many from her extended family were killed. About how she watched her parents die, before the rest of the family ran from the house, in all directions, whilst they were being fired upon by the soldiers. How composed she is as she recalls how they ran to her school, which she had previously believed was a long way from here house. How she couldn’t believe she had walked all that way. How it didn’t seem like a long distance. And about how here grandparents told her that it was because they were scared and running that she didn’t notice the distance.

We’re not the only foreigners visiting this area - the al Samouni family have become famous for the tragedy they’ve endured. Teams of international journalists traipse around the dirt mounds and debris, making it seem like a macabre tourist attraction. “This is why the children don’t seem sad”, a local friend suggests later, while we watch Mona’s video. “When all the journalists leave, then they will feel sad”.

Driving back down the road towards Gaza city, we pass building after building bearing signs of shelling and bombing. Metre-wide holes punched through walls - some covered in plastic; a few already bricked in; most still open wounds in the masonry. It looks to me as though tanks drove down the street we now drive on, pausing to shell every apartment block and house they passed. As though for fun. It’s an idea I can’t get out of my mind. The possibility, that a large proportion of what the al Samounis and other families in Gaza have endured over the past month was done for kicks, haunts me.

Tara Jensen is an Australian Human Rights Volunteer in Gaza.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

More dead and injured Palestinians in the border areas despite the ceasefire

Extract from the PCHR weekly report No. 03/2009 15- 21 January 2009

Sunday, 18 January 2009

At approximately 10:40, IOF troops positioned at the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel opened fire at Palestinian civilians who were checking their homes and agricultural land following the declaration of the ceasefire. As a result, Maher 'Abdul 'Azim Abu Rjaila, 23, was killed by a gunshot to the chest and shrapnel to the limbs.

At approximately 08:30, an IOF drone fired two missiles at a number of Palestinian civilians in al-Amal quarter in the east of Beit Hanoun. As a result, a woman and a child were seriously wounded. The child, 11-year-old Angham Ra'fat al-Masri, died of her wound later. The woman's leg was amputated.
Tuesday, 20 January 2009
· At approximately 13:00, IOF troops positioned at the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, east of Khan Yunis, opened fired at Palestinian houses in al-Qarara village. As a result, Waleed 'Abdul Rahim al-Astal, 42, was wounded by a gunshot to the right foot.
· At approximately 14:25, Adam Mahmoud al-Najjar, 7, was admitted into Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis. He was wounded by shrapnel throughout the body from a suspicious object left by IOF that had moved into al-Najjar area in Khuza'a village, east of Khan Yunis, on 13 January 2009.

Friday, January 16, 2009

“It was the hardest day of our lives”

Posted on the ISM webpage: January 16, 2009

Wednesday 14th January, 2009

In an escalation of the ground offensive in the south of Gaza, Israeli forces terrorised the population of Khoza’a, a small rural community east of Khan Younis. They entered the area at about 3.00am on the morning of Tuesday 13th January in an incursion lasting until Tuesday evening. This follows heavy missile strikes on Khoza’a in recent days, notably on Saturday 10th January.

According to a local municipality official, approximately 50 homes were bulldozed along with farmland, olive and citrus groves. The scent of lemons could faintly be determined whilst navigating the wreckage, emanating from so many mangled trees. A family explained how their home was demolished with them inside it. They sheltered in the basement as the upper storeys were destroyed. Later they realized the basement itself was being attacked and narrowly missed being crushed to death by escaping through a small hole in the debris.

Iman Al-Najar was with her family in their home when military D-9 bulldozers began to demolish it. They managed to escape and Iman then encouraged some of her neighbours to try to leave the vicinity. The group of women were instructed by Israeli soldiers to leave by a particular street. They had children with them and carried white flags, yet when they reached the street Israeli special forces concealed in a building opened fire on them and shot 50 year-old Rowhiya Al-Najar. The other women desperately tried to rescue her but the gunfire was too heavy and they had to flee for their lives. An ambulance was also prevented from reaching her and she bled to death in the street.

Meanwhile Iman and about 200 other residents whose homes had been destroyed had gathered near her uncle’s house which was protecting them to some degree from the shooting. However, this area in turn was also attacked. Iman described how the bulldozers began piling debris up around them, effectively creating a giant hole that they were standing in. They were literally about to be buried alive. By some miracle they managed to also escape from this situation by crawling on their hands and knees for about 150 metres. It was extremely difficult for them to move, especially with the injured and the elderly.

The terrified residents then sought sanctuary at a local UNRWA school. But when they got there missiles were being fired around it and they had to retreat. Finally they managed to leave the area entirely and walked several kilometres to where friends were able to pick them up. Iman’s 14 year-old brother Mohammed was missing for 12 hours and she feared he was dead. He had been detained by soldiers in a house along with a neighbour who had begged to be let out to find her children but was not allowed to do so. When the soldiers had shot Rowhiya Al-Najar, Mohammed said they had been singing and dancing and forced him to do the same. When he refused, they threatened to shoot him too.

“It was the hardest day of our lives,” repeated Iman over and over again. She had nothing left in the world but the clothes she was standing up in, but under the circumstances she was lucky to escape with her life. As in so many other parts of the Gaza Strip, the atrocities committed against civilians in Khoza’a amount to war crimes.

Missiles believed to contain white phosphor were deployed by the Israeli military during this attack. ISM volunteers photographed a fist-sized lump of flaming material found on the ground next to a burnt-out home. It was still burning from the previous day. The only way to extinguish it was to bury it, but it would instantly re-ignite if uncovered. It was giving off a thick grey smoke with a foul stench. Doctors at the Al Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, which received 50 casualties that day from Khoza’a, described serious chemical burns and victims being covered in a white powder which continued to burn them. Many people were also suffering from serious breathing difficulties after inhaling smoke emitted by this weapon.

Dr. Ahmed Almi, a member of the delegation of Egyptian doctors who finally gained entry to the strip to support Gazan hospitals during the crisis, outlined some of the most serious cases. Four of them died in the hospital after doctors battled to save them. He commented that some of the injuries were so horrific they must have been inflicted by abnormal munitions. He gave the example of a man who had been shot and sustained a small entry wound but massive exit wound, 40-50 cm wide. 13 people were killed overall during this incursion according to medical sources.

Before the Israeli war on Gaza began, the ISM team here had been working with the farming community in Khoza’a, accompanying local farmers as they succeeded to access their land to plant winter wheat. The IOF had prevented them from reaching their fields, in some cases for over five years. Israeli soldiers shot at them, even during the ceasefire. The same ceasefire which Israel claims was broken by Palestinians.