Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Journal: Tuesday by the sea

Posted on the ISM webpage on: December 31, 2008

By Sharon in Gaza

To view Sharon’s blog please click here

Last night was a hectic scramble to get to our Jabaliya house soon after dark; the further into the night, the greater the danger. On Sunday night, other commitments had delayed us, and then over the phone the family said any car on the road late would for sure be hit and they couldn’t bear any more loss, even new friends like us. So we arrived at about 6 yesterday evening, and F told us they hadn’t spent more than brief moments up from the basement that day, since heavy bombing had begun at 5am.

The night was manageable; an Apache helicopter seemed perched above the house for a lot of it, but that meant it was firing rockets away from us. Nearer to morning we had some hours of it being the other way round and the explosions being pretty loud. During the night, the Islamic University was bombed for a second time, and the port continued to receive attacks - as did pretty much all Gaza.

In the morning we went to document some of the attacks of the preceding 48 hours about which F had told us. Fairly soon after we’d left, we heard the “whoosh” of a rocket (gives you long enough to worry but not long enough to get away), heard the impact and saw smoke rise, from the direction of the house we’d just left. E phoned F and found it had fallen beside the one from Saturday night, everyone was alright, but upset and scared.

Continuing along the road, we saw the destroyed truck in which the father and five sons of the Samoor family were killed at 4pm Monday afternoon, as they went to pick up metal for repairs to damaged buildings. An eyewitness described how seeing this event from their nearby house had affected his children.

We continued on to the bombed out shell of a washing machine shop and a carpentry workshop, the rockets had destroyed some of the next door home furnishings shop, as well as blown holes in at least 3 neighbouring houses. The Abdul Hakim Eid and Eid Said Eid families’ children of 4 months, 4 and 6, were injured in the attack. In the Akram Al Kanwa’s family of 10 children, 7 were injured; 2 remain in hospital. An acrid aroma was in the air from the resulting chemical fire which had taken 13 hours to put out.

We were then taken to a chicken farm, which was simply a ground area underneath a building, open to the outside, with sawdust laid down, quite a nice place for chickens under normal circumstances, but that was no longer what they had. Either from shock or a physical effect of a nearby explosion 3 days ago, 11,000 were dead. The remaining 1,000 wandered about among the bodies, which the farmer was raking up and putting into bags to remove. Vegans look away - that’s 11,000 less dinners for Gaza families, not even counting the eggs.

Jameel Abdullah, with his sons Faisal and Abdullah, aged 5 and 2, showed us the huge crater in a field next to their house from a Sunday attack, which probably by design had destroyed a drinking water pipe. Other local people told us of the deaths of 12 teenagers during the day as they foraged for wood to burn. And while we were listening to this, EJ called from Beit Hanoun hospital. She, A and M had witnessed the arrival of 10 year old Ismail, Lamer aged 4, and Haya aged 12, from the Hamadan family, bombed that morning as they went to put out the rubbish. They recorded as the doctors tried, and failed, to get Haya breathing again. Lamer died later in the hospital, and Ismail survived.

(I will not put the picture that goes with this story here until later, because it will appear first on the front of a major Spanish newspaper, contributing to a Palestinian friend’s meager income.) Incidentally, they said they could only accept for publication a picture of someone dead if their eyes are closed. We talked a little about that this evening. E and I think, if a child’s parents have to see her dead without “sanitization”, then so should we all.

At Al Shifa hospital today, Dr Halid gave us a crash course in first aid, for if we are riding in ambulances or on the scene of an attack before one, and we got to stick cannulas in each other. As is traditional in such trainings, the biggest and strongest person - V - turned the faintest. Dr Halid told us they now had 29 ventilators in the ICU. Normally they have 12, but as the hospital worst-injured people are transfered to, they’ve grabbed more from other hospitals, and now there are only a handful anywhere else. So basically only about 35 patients in all of Gaza (1.5 million people, remember) can be kept alive if they arrive unconscious and need ventilators. Even if someone only needs a day for her body to regain its basic functions, if there is no ventilator free, that is a day too much.

He told us also that yesterday, someone purporting to be from the “Israeli Defence Forces” rang Al Shifa to say it must be evacuated as it would be bombed. Al Shifa refused out of principle and of necessity. There is no-where else to evacuate patients to. Sometimes these are hoaxes. Sometimes not - the same threat by phone was made in the last days to people in their homes. They left. The homes were bombed.

Today has felt quite strained. I find by the afternoon, I greatly need to download all the experiences and information I have gathered from evening, night, and morning. Otherwise there is no room in my head. But today, one cafe with net didn’t have net. And then I got to the next one and the phone didn’t stop ringing for an hour for long enough for me to even order food, let alone begin to type. And then when I got back there after hospital training, the cafe (perhaps because it is usually occupied by a handful of journalists) had its own bomb threat and we all got unceremoniously chucked out. Our other two net cafe places have given up altogether and closed.

This morning also, we heard that the Dignity - which I forgot to tell you yesterday was attempting an emergency run to Gaza for today - had been confronted by 11 Israeli gun ships in international waters at 5am today, 90 miles from Gaza and 45 miles off the coat of Israel. The gun boats told them that they had to go back to Cyprus or Israel would stop them because “they were carrying terrorists”. (You can see the passenger list at Dignity folks replied they would not be stopping, and gun boats responding by opening fire on them and ramming them.

This damaged the engine and breached the hull, causing the Dignity to start taking on water, so they put out an SOS call. Cyprus FreeGaza folks lost contact with them for a while, but later heard that they had fixed the engine to some extent and were limping towards Lebanon port, welcomed by the authorities there, and now we understand they have arrived safe. And bless them, plan to find a new boat and try again asap.

Right now, we are working in a seafront apartment, which appears to be the only place in all of Gaza tonight with both electricity and internet.

8.40pm as I type. Whistling of shell from the sea. Phone check - prime minister’s office totally destroyed.

5 minutes ago. Another whistle. I duck this time. (yeah, like that would help.)

Just now; much closer - we hear the crack of the explosion. After some thought, we move out of the front room.

Anyway, I’ll - hmm, that one shook the building.

In the interviews I’ve been doing, they keep asking me - so are you in a safe place right now? And I answer - right now, there is no such place in the whole of Gaza.