Tag Archives: Israeli Occupation

Mahmoud Sarsak – Palestinian International Footballer

_MG_0737Mahmoud Sarsak standing amongst the ruins of Palestine Football Stadium in Gaza City, used by the National Team.  This was his first visit there since it was bombed by the Israelis on the 19th November 2012.  It was hit with 12 bombs destroying much of the stadium during Operation Pillar of Cloud.

On Wednesday 23rd of January I with other members of our group had the pleasure and honour to meet Mahmoud Sarsak in our appartment. He is a slight, quietly spoken young man, with a gentle manner and his good humour and patience with our questioning betray none of the pain he has suffered over the last 3 and a half years. When he begins to speak about his experience of imprisonment he tells his story with a matter of fact, quiet sincerity that is striking and makes the horror of his experience all the more shocking.

Mahmoud was 21 years old, at the start of a playing career which had already seen him being recognised as one of the best young prospects in Palestine, already a regular for the Palestinian National side. He had an invitation to play for a football team in Nablus in the West Bank. This meant that he had to ask for permission from the Israelis to cross from Gaza through Erez crossing into Israel in order to travel on to the West Bank. This did not worry him as it was a trip he had already done twice before and when he recieved his permission he went to the crossing looking forward to the opportunity of playing in Nablus. However when he got to Erez at 9am on the 22nd July 2009 his whole world changed, instead of being allowed to cross he was arrested and taken to a Police Station, from here his family were called and informed that he was being taken to Ashkelon Jail.

He was made to take off his clothes and change into overalls, an ‘under investigation uniform’. He describes how for the first 18 days he was tied to a chair with his eyes covered, the only times he was untied was when he was given food and they untied his hands or when he was allowed to go to the toilet when his legs were untied. He explains that during this time he was kept awake, not fed properly and questioned daily, every 4 days he was taken to a court where a judge gave permission for him to be held for a further 4 days. This treatment he says ‘wasn’t so bad’ in comparison with what was to come although I think that most people would call it torture.

At the end of that 18 days he was taken to a Military Jail in the South where he was kept for 6 days and his treatment became much worse. He was beaten regularly and was put in what he described as a fridge, he also had very hot and very cold water put under his feet. During all of this time in both places he was questioned, his interrogators were wanting him to say that he had been involved in ‘activities against Israel’. He didn’t understand what they meant by this, he was a footballer, he had not been involved in anything else and so refused to make things up to make his interrogators happy. He had no idea why he had been arrested.

At the end of these 6 days he was taken back to a civilian jail for another 11 days where suddenly things got much better. He was fed and allowed to sleep properly, his captors became very friendly offering him his freedom, a new house, a salary, a car, access to proper training facilities to help his playing career and foreign travel. All he had to do was become a collaborator. He refused, which angered his Israeli Interrogators and they began to threaten him again. They told him that they would burn his family home down, attack his family and kill his brothers. Despite the pressures upon him and his ordeal so far, he continued to refuse to collaborate.

Except for short visits to court when his lawyer was present, during this initial 35 days of incarceration he had absolutely no contact with anyone but his jailors and interrogators. His lawyer told him that he was going to be all right, the court had said he was going to be released. Instead he was told by a Military Officer that he was now being held under ‘The Law of An Illegal Fighter’ and that they no longer needed to go to court to ask permission to keep him. He was then taken to Kitseot Jail near Bersheva where at least he could see other prisoners and his time of interrogation was over. He asked the other prisoners what this ‘Law of an Illegal Fighter’ meant but none of them had ever heard of it. When he was finally allowed access to his lawyer and was able to ask him he was told that it was a law that the Israeli authorities use when they have nothing against you but they want to hold onto you. He then asked his lawyer what rights he had under this law and was told that he had none, he could now be held in jail for as long as the Israeli Military wanted to keep him.

Mahmoud was the first Palestinian who had been held under this law, the only other people he knows of who had previously been held under it were 2 Hizbollah members from Lebanon who were arrested in 1982. He thinks that because he had no rights he was put in a cell which was 2m x 1m for his time in Kitseot, this cell had only a matress and toilet in it and he developed chest, skin and back problems while there. He was not taken to a hospital while there, and was only seen briefly by a prison doctor for these problems. He was allowed out of his cell for 1 hour a day for exercise with his fellow prisoners when he played football with them.

On the 22nd of February 2010 Mahmoud was taken to Tel Aviv for a court hearing to extend his imprisonment and then to another court hearing for the decision in Jerusalem two weeks later. The journey to court and between jails is in what the prisoners call a ‘post bus’ which is metal bus with steel compartments in which you are jostled and hit off the steel walls. He knew before he was taken to the second hearing that he was going to be held for another six months. After this hearing he was also barred from playing football with his fellow prisoners for that precious hour in the mornings and was told that this was due to his back being too bad. At this time they also started to move him between prisons every 2 months and he was still taken to court every 6 months in order to have his stay in prison extended.

On the 23rd of August 2011 he was told that he was going to be released, he was happy and said goodbye to the other prisoners. He was taken by ‘post bus’ to Erez, his hands and legs were not tied as they usually were, the window was open and when he got there they opened the door of the prison van and the guards moved away talking among themselves. He stayed where he was as he didn’t know what was happening and he didn’t want to be shot if they thought he was trying to escape. He called to the guards to ask what was happening and they told him they were taking him back to jail, he wasn’t being released. He was taken to a different jail for 2 weeks with only the clothes he had on when they took him to Erez. He said that he was later told about another prisoner who had been taken to Erez and left in an open ‘post bus’ with his legs untied in the same way. He had gone to the door to look out and been instantly shot in the leg and accused of trying to escape. After this 2 week period he was taken back to the jail he had originally been in when first imprisoned, here his other clothes and small number of belongings were finally brought to him.

When he was taken to this jail he was given another 6 months but his lawyer was promised that he would be released when this time ended on the 23rd of February 2012. The 23rd of February came and went, 10 days after this he was taken back to court, he had decided that this time if he wasn’t released he would go on hunger strike and stay on hunger strike until they promised in writing that he would be released. So when he was told that he was going to be imprisoned for another 6 months he prepared himself for 10 days, eating less each day and gradually reducing his physical activity. On the 15th of March 2012 he started his hunger strike. He only took water and sometimes a little salt in order to prevent his stomach from beginning to rot.

7 days after he started they began to move him from jail to jail before putting him in Nafha Jail which meant he was put in with the Israeli criminal population. Then he was put into isolation for a spell followed by hospital in Bersheva for 2 days tied to his bed then back to Nafha. From here he was sent to Eshel jail where he was put in isolation again and became very sick. This time they wouldn’t take him to hospital but would only allow him to see the Doctor in Eshel. After 35 days of this the Doctor in Eshel refused to continue to be responsible for him and he was taken to the Prison hospital in Ramle jail where he was with another 5 Palestinian prisoners who were also on hunger strike. He refused treatment here and was put back into isolation, this time his isolation cell had no windows so he was in darkness. After 47 days on hunger strike he bagan to have serious problems with his stomach, he couldn’t even drink water without vomiting. First white then black then brown vomit. They took him back to Ramle Prison hospital then and gave him antibiotics.

Along with the other hunger strikers he was asked regularly to break his hunger strike, on the 15th of May he was told that if he would break his hunger strike he would be released on the 23rd of August and the other hunger strikers were also told that they would have their demands met if they broke theirs. 3 of them accepted but along with 1 of the others Akram Al Rihawy he refused, he had heard promises of release before and he insisted that he have the promise in writing signed by a senior Judge and a Minister from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior. He was also told that he would not be allowed to return to Gaza, he had to choose between Germany, France or Norway which he also refused to accept. At this time he finally began to get International Committee of the Red Cross visits twice a week and he was asked daily to break his hunger strike, he continued to refuse until he got it in writing that he would be released back to Gaza and that he would be properly monitored by a committee of doctors when he started eating again.

Eventually on the 18th of June 2012 on the 96th day of his hunger strike a Minister from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior came to see him with the signed paper that he had been asking for stating in writing that he would be released on the 20th of July 2012. The Minister asked him if he would now please give up his hunger strike and he agreed. The Minister asked him to drink a glass of milk in front of him so that he could confirm and report that he had indeed broken his hunger strike which he did alathough he immediately vomited this back up. His stomach couldn’t cope even with milk after such a long time with no more than water going into it. He said that even though his stomach rejected this cup of milk his whole body felt as though it had drunk and felt relieved.

For 14 days he had to build up to eating again with first intravenous vitamins and nutrition, followed by nutritional drinks, before finally eating his first bit of bread after this 14 day period, which he still vomited back up. During the time of his hunger strike he was only allowed 2 visits from his lawyer, on the 40th day and on the last day. I asked if he was allowed any visits from his family during his time in jail. He replied that because he was given no rights under the ‘Law of An Illegal fighter’ he was not only denied visits from family but was not even allowed the 6 monthly letters delivered to his fellow prisoners by the Red Cross. He wasn’t able to write to them either, not even one short note.

At no time during Mahmoud’s entire incarceration was he actually accused of anything other than being asked to admit to the vague term ‘activities against Israel’ and he was never charged with anything. He was very clear that he had no idea why he was arrested. He was a footballer. The court appearances he attended were simply formalities under Military Law which say that every 6 months any detention order must be renewed.

All Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza who are arrested by Israel are dealt with under Military Law not Israeli Criminal Law and therefore it is not necessary for Israel to ever bring charges against them. Many who are prosecuted are those who have signed false confessions under torture and are not able to retract them afterwards. Mahmoud’s case was slightly worse than normal Military law, under which there are a few rights which at least give some protection in prison. Mahmoud had none of these rights under this so called ‘Law of an Illegal Fighter’ by which he was held.

I asked Mahmoud if he was back in training for football and if he thought that it would be possible for him to return to his playing career. He said that finally he had managed to attend 3 training sessions and was hoping to be able to return to the team at some point in the future once he was back to full fitness. I sincerely wish him luck with this and hope that he will reach that stage very soon.

This has to be one of the clearest examples of why the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) campaign should be supported by everyone and why Israel should be barred from participating in International Sporting events. Currently the 2013 UEFA U-21 Championship is scheduled to be played in Israel. How can this be allowed when they can treat a Palestinian International Player like this? Not to mention that they bombed the only 2 football pitches in Gaza during Operation Pillar of Cloud as well as destroying many local playing areas in the West Bank over the years. I saw several during my visit there in 2004 including one in Ramallah which had been bulldozed.

Mahmoud told us that the other prisoner who had stayed on hunger strike with him, Akram Al Rihawy, had spent his whole sentence in hospital due to his medical problems. His reason for being on hunger strike was not for release but for proper medical treatment. He stopped his hunger strike after being told that he was going to be released on Wednesday the 23rd of January 2013. Yesterday, on the 25th of January 2013 we were told that he was not released as promised and that he is now back on hunger strike.

To join the campaign against Israel hosting the 2013 UEFA U-21 Championship go to the following link and get involved: http://redcardapartheid.weebly.com/

For the Scottish readers of this article, I showed the film Trish from maryhill made of the protest at the Womens international to Mahmoud. His comment was ‘beautiful’ with a wide grin of appreciation and amazement.

By Theresa in Gaza

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A Night in Khoza’a

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Khoza’a is the place where we did some farming accompanyment. It’s very close to the border and most of the farm land is next to or in the buffer zone so it’s been out of reach to the farmers for many years now. Since the cease fire the farmers are supposed to be able to go to 100 m from the fence. We helped them plant the wheat crop during December they managed to get 20-30 dunams planted before the Israelis began to fire on the farmers and they had to stop. Just over a week ago the Israelis spent 3 days with tanks and bulldozers destroying much of what had been done, ploughing up the land again for a distance of 8km along the fence. We went to see the damage early last week. It’s very depressing to see but the farmers are going to try to re plant.

We were asked to go and spend the night there in order to see what it’s like on a normal night. When we arrived we were welcomed first at the offices of one of the smaller political parties in Khan Younis the nearest big town. The Palestinian Popular Struggle Party is around the 6th party in Gaza, it is a party which supports people who are farmers and in unions and is committed to non violent means of resistance by way of continuing to live and work despite pressure to stop by the Israeli’s, ie carry on farming even although the Israeli’s try to intimidate you out of the fields. They gave us tea and cake and thanked us for our help, then some local musicians and dancers arrived and did and impromptu performance for us in a really informal way which was really nice. Everyone was incredibly friendly and it was a really nice welcome.

We then went to the houses of a couple of the PPSP members who were hosting us for the night where we met their families, chatted and had dinner. On cue at around 10pm we heard the Israeli tanks arrive on the other side of the fence and some random gunfire from them. Flares were fired into the air every so often as we carried on blethering and drinking tea, this apparently is normal every day stuff for the people of Khoza’a. One of the strange things about being in Gaza is how quickly you accept as normal that you can sit around having an extremely pleasant evening with tanks and random gunfire as background noise.

The family of one of our hosts has just been swollen in numbers by the arrival of family from Syria who had to flee the fighting there. They had been living in the Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus which was attacked, some got out, others are still inside trying to escape. How hard must that be?

We then slept and when we got up the next day we again heard gunfire from the Israeli’s, we had a look from the roof while we were being fed breakfast, beautiful homemade bread with zater and eggs. There was a tank and some jeeps over the border which were firing into the buffer zone every so often. We were then taken on a tour of the town, visiting a couple of houses where we were given tea and shown round the gardens which were full of a huge range of citrus, apple, pear and olive trees as well as herbs, veg as well as a few chickens. Again our pleasant, relaxed chat was accompanied by random gunfire from the Israeli’s on the other side of the fence.

We then drove for a bit around the fields closest to the town where we were fed randomly from the fields with peas, saber (cactus fruit), citrus etc by our hosts. Amazing the range of crops in this rich farmland. And back to our hosts house for a beautiful meal of fish cooked by Sabrina his wife before going back to the roof to check on the tanks. When we left there was a tank and around 12 jeeps on the other side of the fence, when I checked my film afterwords I noticed that there was also a jeep in the fields very close to the town, all on it’s own, which just radomly appeared heading back towards the fence. Very strange. At no time that day did we see anyone in the fields anywhere close to the buffer zone so the firing form the Israelis appeared to have no purpose except to try to intimidate. The number of Israeli vehicals was ridiculous and again didn’t seem to have any purpose in being there other than intimidation.

In spite of the Israeli Military activity we had such a relaxing and enjoyable time there, Khoza’a is such a beautiful place. I would love to see it without the fence and constant Israeli activity. The town suffered a horrific attack during Cast Lead when many people were killed and many of the houses were bulldozed. They are under constant pressure from the Israelis because it is so close to the border, the edge of the town is around 1 – 1.5 km, from the fence and yet the people there are so friendly and open. Many of the farmers actually hold papers proving their leagal ownership of land for several miles on the other side of the fence which is now part of Israel and farmed by Israelis. They are re building many homes at the moment and making them so beautiful. The people there are not only farmers but many of them are also highly qualified, for instance the farmer who coordinates much of our work there is also a qualified micro biologist. They are just wanting to live their lives like people anywhere else, peacefully and with dignity. They certainly manage dignity and generosity with friendly openness. I will take home with me very good memories of Khoza’a and I hope so much that the town will be left in peace by the Israelis although I fear very much that they will have to continue to endure continuing harassment.

I have to wonder why the Cease Fire doesn’t stop this type of intimidation. I must be very stupid but I thought that Cease Fire meant stop firing. Whenever we have been anywhere near the border we have seen the Israeli’s shooting through the fence.

Still I came away from Khoza’a feeling like I had had a fantastic relaxing time.

By Theresa in Gaza

 

 

Mustafa Abd Al Hakeem Abu Jarad

Some of you may have read my earlier report on Mustafah’s death, it was written immediately after speaking to his family while they were still at Shifa Hospital hoping for a miracle after his surgery. Later we were told the full story of what happened by his friends who were with him and I have corrected the information in this account.

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Today 20 year old Mustafa Abd Al Hakeem Abu Jarad, was hunting birds with a small group of his friends North of Beit Lahia in the North of the Gaza Strip. He made the fatal mistake of thinking that as he was 1km from the border and, he thought, out of sight of it he would be safe to take his air rifle instead of using a small net as is more normal in Gaza. He was shot through the head by a single sniper shot fired from or near the Israeli watchtower on the border. He survived for long enough to be taken to Al Shifa hospital where he was operated on but there was no chance that he would survive, the bullet had entered through his forehead and exited through the back of his head causing severe brain injury.

We spoke to his family as they waited for news at the ICU and they told us that as the family did not have their own farm Mustafa worked as a farm labourer while he finished his schooling. They thought that he was working on a farm that day with his friends as he usually was when he was shot. He had been around 1 km away from the border fence when Israeli soldiers had started to fire towards them.

His friends who were with him and were still in a state of shock about what had happened, corrected us later and told us that they had been hunting birds. They also told us that there had been one heavy, sustained burst of gunfire and when it finished and they stood up they discovered that Mustafa was still on the ground with a severe head wound, shot through the center of his forehead with a huge exit wound at the back of his head. They did confirm that they were 1km from the border and that they thought they were out of sight of the border watch tower and would therefore be safe.

Mustafa was taken straight to Kamal Adwan Hospital from where he was transferred to Shifa Hospital when they realized the seriousness of his injury. At Shifa he was operated on in order to stop the bleeding and remove bone fragments from what was left of his brain but the doctors already knew that his injuries were to severe and that he was unlikely to survive for long. He died at around 7.30 this evening. We were taken into the ICU to see him and speak to the doctor who had treated him so can confirm his injury.

2 and a half months ago Mustafa’s older brother Loay was also killed, he was in his late twenties. Loay was in the resistance when he was killed but Mustafa was not involved in any way with the resistance, this everyone was adamant about, he wanted to finish his schooling and go on to study more. He was simply out with his friends taking advantage of a day when there was no farm work to be done to indulge in some bird hunting not anywhere close to the border fence.

By Theresa in Gaza

Photo courtesy of http://desde-palestina.blogspot.co.uk/

 

Anouar Al Mamluk

This account of Anouar’s death has been updated after visiting his family and speaking with his parents and brother.

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On 12th of January we visited the funeral of Anouar Al Mamluk aged 19 who was shot dead in the Buffer Zone on the 11th of January just East of Jabalya. He was on his own standing around 40 m from the border fence when he was shot in the abdomen, he was taken to hospital but was dead on arrival. He was a member of Fatah but not active with them, he wanted to be a lawyer and was in his 2nd year at University doing a law degree. His mother Faiza said that he wanted to get married and they had decided to allow him to marry in the summer, Anouar had asked his brother to organize his wedding party for him. Faiza told us that on Fridays after Mosque Anouar usually went straight out with his friends to play football which was one thing he loved to do, on this particular Friday he had come home first in order to eat with his family. His father had wanted him to stay in and study as he had an exam the following day but he and his friends had planned to go and find a field suitable for football on some of the land which they thought was now accessable due to the cease fire so he went out. They knew the area close to the cemetry so went there to find their football pitch. Why he strayed off closer to the fence than the rest of his friends nobody knows but while they stayed at the 100 m line he went another 60 m further on and was standing still looking towards the fence when he was shot in the abdomen. He was alive when they took him in the ambulance to hopital but had died by the time he reached the hospital.

Faiza is the third wife of Mohammed, Anouar’s father so for most of the time she and Anouar were the only ones who lived in her house, his brothers had all married and already left home. His two favourite things were playing football and eating the sweets she made so she had mad a big batch of sweets for him to eat with his friends when he came home after football the day he died. She said that the house was so empty now, Anouar had been so lively, always chatting to her and joking. His friends all used to come round to sit in their living room to laugh with him and have fun. They had brought her a big picture of him to put in the living room and the previous day during the power cut she saw it and for a moment had thought that he had come back.

This is not the first time that members of their family had been shot. His brother told us that in 2004 the resistance had bombed a tank near by killing 4 soldiers. The Israeli’s had gone crazy, killing 25 people that day, bombing everything and destroying houses and land. Anouars brother had been shot that day but survived although one of his friends had been killed. When his father who is now in his 80’s was only 8 years old, he and his friends had been playing near to the railway tracks during the British Mandate Occupation when he had been shot by British who had shot at them for being too near to the railway. This was very uncomfortable for the British members of our group to hear, myself included, we could only mumble the appologies we always have to make when we hear stories of those dark days.

Omar Ismail Awadi

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We also visited the house of Omar Ismail Awadi who is 21 years old and was injured in both legs by shrapnel from an exploding bullet when they went to try to help Anouar. He told us the whole story of what happened. Omar is not a member of any political or resistance faction.

Omar told us that he and a friend had gone to the cemetry on Friday to visit some graves when they saw some of his other friends nearby about 100m from the fence and they had gone to chat with them. They could see Anouar on his own around 60m closer to the fence. 4 Israeli Army jeeps drew up on the other side of the fence, around 12 soldiers got out and started firing tear gas and bullets. He and his friends had started to run away but when Anouar was shot they went to try to help him, it was then that a bullet hit the ground in front of him and exploded, spraying his legs with shrapnel. His friends managed to carry both him and Anouar back to where a doctor could get to them and they were both taken to hospital, Anouar was discovered to be dead on arrival, Omar was treated for shrapnel wounds to both ankles and above the left knee, he has to return in one week in order to be seen by an Osteologist as he has a small piece of shrapnel embeded in the bone of his ankle.

The Israeli’s claim they suspected that they were going to damage the fence as they were at the fence, when we asked Omar about this he insisted that they were around 100m away from it when the Israeli’s started to fire and from his reaction to the suggestion that they were closer I believe him. He said that they had only gone closer when they went to pick up Anouar after he had already been shot but they were still 40 m away, not near enough to do damage.

Omar said that he is very scared after this incident, he couldn’t sleep last night because of thinking about what happened and he wishes that Israel would stop these crimes. His father Ismail is very worried and does not want him to go back to the cemetary or anywhere near the fence.

5 years ago, before cast Lead, Omar’s younger brother Mohammed was injured during an Israeli attack on Jabalya Camp, he was 13 at the time and was so badly injured that he had to be sent to Egypt for treatment, he was there for 4 months before being able to return. Mohammed has now recovered but his left hand was badly damaged, he is very artistic and part of his therapy was to encourage his drawing, there are examples of his drawing and other artwork in their house. There are 3 sons and 6 daughters in the Awadi family, 2 of the sons have now been injured by Israeli aggression even though no one in the family are involved with the resistance.

Ismail is a civil servant in the Ministry of the Interior, he is not politicaly active, he has a desk job. He says that he had hoped that the Israelis would honour the cease fire agreement even though he didn’t really believe they would, he says “we do not have peace”.

By Theresa in Gaza

 

Visits to Families

 

Before I start to tell these accounts I need to say something about the current weather conditions here. It is very cold, there have been continuous very strong winds and heavy rain with absolutely torrential bursts. The ground is saturated and very muddy, many places are flooded. In our comparitively luxurious appartment which has continuous power because it is the building that Save the Children use and therefore has a generator to provide power when the power cuts happen, we are huddled round a heater wearing coats all day because we are so cold. What it’s like for families living in desperate conditions with no genrator so having power cuts for much of the day, 8 hours a day, sometimes more due to power rationing, I can’t imagine.

The Abu Said Family, Johr El Dyk near Gaza City

This is a beautiful farming area just outside Gaza City, the fields are fertile and the farms all look quite prosperous. Naser Abu Said the father of the family told us their story. He said that 3 years ago in spite of the fact that their house was only 300 m from the Israeli security fence on the border their life was good, they felt fairly secure as they had not been attacked in Operation Cast Lead so assumed that the Israelis knew that they were just a farming family living there with no connections to political parties. They were used to bombing all around their area but didn’t think that they were going to be targeted. On the 13th of July 2010 this changed, they were all sitting round drinking tea when the Israelis mounted an incursion, the army arrived with tanks and soldiers. At first the tanks shelled around their house injuring his younger sister, as they changed to using the heavy caliber machine guns his wife realized that one of their children was still outside and went to bring him inside to safety. While she was outside they again shelled around the house using flechette shells killing his wife and injuring his father, their child managed to run to safety inside the house. For 3 hours they were stuck inside the house unable to reach their injured family members before the Israelis eventually allowed them to go out to attend to the injured and bury his wife.

From then until 28th April 2011 they continued to live in their damaged home, but on that day the Israelis came back, everyone was inside the house when they opened fire on the house hitting it directly, injuring 3 of his children and destroying the house. It took an hour this time, calling frantically to the Red Cross and other people before the Israelis allowed them to leave and take the injured children to hospital.

Now the house is partly repaired with a couple of rooms usable but his children are too afraid to return to it so his parents and sister are living there in very difficult conditions. He is building a new house around 500m further away from the fence. This has been started but he does not have enough money to carry on the work so he, his new wife and 6 children are all living in 3 small tents with electricity for half of the day brought by wires from the town and the few posessions they salvaged inside the tents. This is incredibly hard in the summer but just now during the Winter it must be almost impossible, this last month there has been extremely heavy rain and gale force winds, it’s extremely cold. All around the house and tents there is water and the ground has been turned to mud, the tents do not keep out all of the rain so it’s very hard to keep dry and warm and using the electricity is dangerous

The Tafesh Family and their Neighbours, Al Zaytoun, Gaza City

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The Al Zaytoun area of Gaza City is part of the old city, the area these families live in a very poor residential part of this area. The houses are only one storey high with small rooms and covered with corrugated iron. The narrow lanes going through them have turned to thick mud with the heavy rain and it is a 2 km walk for the children to get to school from here each day.

On the 15th of November 2012 at around 11am an F16 dropped 3 bombs onto waste ground near their houses. Although the houses themselves weren’t hit by these bombs the force of the explosion caused the corrugated iron roofs to fall in and some of the walls to collapse. When they ran from the building to try to get help a rocket was fired from a drone at them, luckily this didn’t explode or many more injuries would have occured. 10 month old Haneen Tafesh was asleep on a matress in one of the rooms and was killed when the roof fell on her, Houda her 21 year old aunt sustained a back injury for which she was initially told she needed surgery but this was cancelled and she was told to take medication for 12 months after which her back will be reassessed to see if she needs the surgery after all. The medication she has been told she needs costs 80 shekels every 6 days which is a crippling amount for this poor family to pay, before Operation Pillar of Cloud Khaled, Haneens father, was working as a baker but now his job has gone so there is now no one in the family working.

More of the Tafesh extended family live next door, like their cousins and many of their nieghbours some of the walls of their house and their roof collapsed. By sheer luck the members of the family who were inside only recieved minor injuries.

So far like their other nieghbours neither of these families have received any help to repair their homes. Khaled went to the Ministry of Works after the attack in order to ask them for help and was told that someone would be out to see what they needed, so far no one has come. They have patched the houses up to the best of their ability with damaged corrugated iron and stretched whatever plastic sheets they could get their hands on over the broken walls but both homes are totally unsuitable for living in with many gaping holes in both the roofs and walls. Now with the terrible winter weather, water is puring through the roofs and the wind is making it extremely cold, it’s impossible to keep anything dry and both families have had to try to pick the room with least water for sleeping in. Whole families are trying to sleep in one room and they’re using gas cookers or open fires to try to keep warm but filling their houses with smoke and fumes. Although they have electricity for part of the day, the amount of water getting into their houses makes it very dangerous to use so for most of the time they are in darkness, relying on battery powered torches and lights.

One of the strange anomolies of Gaza is that the main refugee agency UNWRA is only mandated to help families who were first displaced in 1948. The many internally displaced families from years of occupation, house demolitions and repeated attack since 1948 have to fend for themselves. They receive little or no help and rely on the rest of their extended families for what help they can give. For the poor this is disasterous.

As we huddle round our heater in our appartment, which is undamaged, just not designed for cold weather, I wonder how they manage to survive at all.

The Abu Zour Family, Al Zaytoun, Gaza Cty

Nearby to where the Abu Zour Family lived in Zaytoun there used to be the Israeli settlement of Netserim. Hannad, the Grandmother, tells us of how their area suffered from many attacks from the settlers and there was a watchtower at the end of the road from which there was often gunfire into the street. At one time they were confined to their home for 4 days, during which time they were unable to leave, even to get food or water and they ran out of both. During Operation Cast Lead they witnessed a huge amount of destruction in the area around their home but were fortunate that time, their home was not hit.

However during Operation Pillar of Cloud, on the 19th of November, 26 members of the Abu Zour Family were inside their home sleeping when at approximately 2am the building next door to theirs was targeted and destroyed by an F16, their building was hit by 2 missiles from a drone. Within minutes of this attack while the family was trying to eacape from the building through the dense smoke they said they couldn’t see anything even though they used any lights they could find, their home was destroyed by another bomb from an F16. 3 members of the family were killed, Eyads wife Nisma Helmi Abu Zour aged 21, his son Mohammed Eyad Abu Zour aged 4 born during Cast Lead killed during Pillar of Cloud and his cousin Sahar Fadi Abu Zour aged 20. 4 children were severely injured and had to go to Egypt for treatment afterwards. Fouad aged 5 suffered severe head injuries and goes to hospital daily for treatment. Mahmoud a cousin aged 5, severe head injuries and was eventually sent to Tunis for 28 days for treatment, he still has to have the hole in his head checked and dressed every 2 days in hospital. Hadil Eyads daughter also had a head injury. Hannand a cousin aged 13 had injuries all over her body and was in a critical condition, she had to have 2 major surgeries in Egypt, thankfully she seems to be recovering well now. Fatima aged 14, Mahmouds sister sustained 2 bad fractures to her left leg, the only one who was able to be treated in Gaza but she still suffers pain and limps badly. Isra, the 19 year old wife of Eyads brother Mohammed recieved fractures to her spine and now can’t walk. Aahed Hamdi Al Qatati aged 34, from another family living in the same building was also killed in the same attack.

Eayd who is still obviously very shocked by what happened to his family told us about that night. He talked about how before the bomb Mohammed had come to his bed twice during the night because he couldn’t sleep and how he had settled him, how after the 1st missile strikes he had gone to lift him because he was obviously badly injured and how he had carried him, trying to get him to safety. Eyad also recieved an injury to his shoulder while he was trying to carry Mohammed away and the F16 blast happened, what he didn’t realize was that Mohammed was already dead. It wasn’t until he woke in hospital to hear people talking about ‘the father of the Martyr’, he asked who they were talking about and was told. His wife Nisma was killed when she wasn’t quick enough getting out of the building and was caught in the F16 bomb blast along with the rest of the injured children. He talks about how the children cry every night and ask where there mother is, he has to tell them that she’s in heaven.

When the children who had been sent to Egypt to recieve hospital treatment returned to begin with they were too frightened that Fouad would go into shock if he was told the truth about Mohammed, when he asked they told him that he was still at Shifa Hospital, Fouad carefully looked after toys waiting for him to return. Fouad has several major scars on his head and has obviously suffered some brain damage, we were told he couldn’t talk when he first returned but is now beginning to speak again. Hadil, his younger sister, had a less severe head injury but now refuses to leave the house to go as far as kindergarten as she is too afraid.

When asked what she would say to the outside world the grandmother Hannand said “We did nothing for the Israelis to punish us in this way. I have never seen bombs like this before, the Israelis said that they were targeting empty areas but where are the empty areas in Gaza? When I see injured Israeli children I am very sad, children should be kept out of war but they bomb the children in the Gaza Strip. I hope for peace for all.”

By Theresa in Gaza

Some photos courtesy of http://desde-palestina.blogspot.co.uk/

Visit to Al Jazeera Sports Club

On Saturday the 1st of December 2012 I visited the Al Jazeera Sports Club in Gaza City in order to meet with the disabled athletes who took part in this years London Paralympics. I was dismayed to find that their indoor facilities had been completely destroyed by 2 bombs dropped by an Israeli F16 at approximately 1am on the 19th of November in the final days of Operation Pillar of Cloud. None of the sports and medical support equipment in their gym/training facility is salvagable and the building sustained such heavy damage that it will have to be demolished. Fortunately nobody was killed or injured in the bombing as it happened at night but it was the only facility for disabled sports people in Gaza with 120 disabled members amongst the 400 people who used the facility.

As well as the disabled Al jazeera Club catered for all sections of the community but was also the only sports facility for women and girls with it’s own womens football team amongst other activities. It catered for all ages and the 20-25 staff and trainers tried to give a sense of worth, direction and hope to the most vulnerable in Gaza society for whom life prospects can be extremely bleak. It had achieved impressive success in competative disabled sports with Moemen Al Masry winning Gold in the Javelin event at the last Asian Games and sending 2 competitors Khamis Zaqout, a wheelchair athlete, competing in Discus, Javelin and Shot Put and Mohammed Fannouna who is partially sighted competing in the Long Jump at the London Paralympics. This year no medals but Mohammed won Bronze in 2004.

The training hall was located on the first floor of a building, below it was a Bank which according to the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) made it a legitimate target as it was engaged in handeling the finances of an organization believed to be an enemy. It is extremely difficult for me to accept this logic, these banks are used to fund civil administration by the elected Hamas Government and if it were followed to it’s conclusion that would make banks such as The Bank of England, Royal Bank of Scotland and Bank of Scotland in Britain and The World Trade Centre which housed many such Banks in the USA legitimate targets for those who are at war with our contries and this I can’t accept.

By Theresa in Gaza