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Published on August 15th, 2014 | by EJC

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Dehumanisation Of Gaza

Boštjan Videmšek, foreign correspondent for Slovenia’s biggest daily DELO, writes about what it was like to live in Gaza while he was on a reporting mission from 8th to 20th of July 2014 in both Gaza and Israel.

First, the lights were out. Israel cut off the electricity in northern part of the Gaza Strip. Then the Israeli tanks – followed by the infantry units – rolled into the shattered Palestinian enclave. The sky over Gaza was already burning. Israel Air Force has responded harshly to several Hamas more or less impotent rockets fired just minutes after the five hour humanitarian ceasefire ran out. The whole Gaza Strip was under harsh bombardment, including Gaza City, one of the most densely populated areas in the world. The Israeli ground offensive has begun.

Israeli Navy joined in with artillery fire. The sound was horrible. Explosions illuminated the sky. Hamas, rulers of Gaza fighting for their own political survival in the changed geopolitical map of post Arab Spring Middle East, was firing its rockets from the centre of the city, inviting Israeli bombers to attack civilian targets. The Israelis took this as an open invitation. And as an omnipresent alibi for killing the civilians in Gaza. More than 30 people died on that bloody Thursday night and Friday morning. All together 260.

“Why are they killing us? Why?” This is what my children ask my every single day. And this is what I’m asking myself. I don’t know the answer. Do they know it? I’m not sure. Somebody is playing a game of chess with our lives.

“In most cases humans even kill from rational reasons, don’t they?” said Dr. Ayman al Sahbani, head of the emergency unit in Shifa hospital, the largest hospital in Gaza. Mr. Sahbani, a man with probably one of the toughest jobs in Gaza, hasn’t slept for more than an hour in last twelve days. He’s tired and utterly disillusioned. One can not count on God’s help these days. Or ever. Quite opposite: all the prayers and good deeds made life much worse.

For him. For 1.7 million Palestinians from Gaza.

“We are against the war. Everybody with a bit of sanity – except the military leaders – is. Does it help? No! It’s innocent people who are dying. Children. Women. Old men. I haven’t seen many wounded soldiers in last eleven days. No. More than eighty pro cent of all victims are civilians Only yesterday I received eight dead people myself. Five of them were small children. Four were the boys who were playing football at the beach and got hit by the Israelis. Just like that. No reason. There were no military targets on the beach. The rocket landed 100 metres from the hotel which hosts international journalists. They have seen it all. But nothing will ever change,” continued deeply sad, but eagerly motivated Dr. Sahbani.

“The killing of four boys was a horrible tragedy, but nothing new for Gaza”, he said.

“I was broken. It could have been my son. Easily. Why children have to die? I scream all the time, but nobody hears,” concluded another doctor, while controlling an organised chaos in the Shifa hospital.

The doctors, each of them equipped with deep black eye bags due to lack of sleep and exhaustion, are working 24/7. They’re saving lives. It’s not their energy which is running out. The hospital is running out of basic equipment and medicines and nothing is coming in. Nothing at all. Even during the thursday’s five hour humanitarian ceasefire no foreign NGOs were seen delivering aid. Dr. Sahbani, who says that this Israeli invasion is harsher than those in 2008 and 2012, was clear: “If the attacks will go on, we will be unable to save lies in a couple of days. The number or dead will increase dramatically. This is our destiny.”

In one of the busiest hospital’s in the world women were screaming. Men were loudly talking about politics and war. Nearly nobody believed that the ceasefire would last.

They were damn right. A couple of hours later, all hell broke loose.

“I would like to go back to our house in the north of Gaza, but the men of the family don’t allow me. They say that Israelis will kill us. That the war will go on,” I was told by miss Dawlat Zindan in the UN primary school in Gaza City which is currently hosting around 1000 refugees. More than 22,000 people have taken a refugee in UN compounds in last ten days. Miss Zindan and her family – thirteen children among 23 family members – were forced to leave their home on the third day of the Israeli bombing. They found the leaflet in front of their house warning them to leave immediately.

The Zindan family was forced to run from their home for a third time since 2008.  Children, tired and obviously traumatised, were sticking to each other or hanging onto the dirty wall during my visit. It was stiffly hot in the old classroom full of people.

“These children urgently need psychosocial help. They’re suffering heavily. Most of them wet their pants during the night. They can’t sleep. They’re terrified: they also need fresh milk and drinking water. What we get here is not clean,” said one of their uncles who came to visit just couple of days before the bombing started on the 8th of July.

“As far as I know, our house is still in one piece, but all the animals, our livelihood, were killed. This is what we were told by our neighbours who briefly visited our village in the north. Also our crops were destroyed. We’re farmers. What will we do now? Maybe it will be impossible for us to return due to the Israeli ground invasion. Maybe they will return in Gaza. I’m worried …,” miss Dawlat Zindan continued.

On the football pitch in front of the school little boys played football. Girls were doing the dishes. It was one of the quietest hours of the past two weeks. Some Gazans, inshallah, optimistic as ever, even went out and started rebuilding the houses and properties destroyed in the bombing. Their resilient attitude reminded me on the women of Sarajevo in the early 90′ who walked around the city under Serbian siege with perfect make-up on their faces and in modern clothes. That was their act of resistance.

The children of the al Batch family did not have a chance to resist. They didn’t have enough time. Five of them were killed in a single Israeli strike in the eastern Gazan village of Tuffah the previous Saturday, along with 18 other members of their family. Thirty members of the family members were wounded. Some of them badly. One of them, Zakaria, a badly burned man in his thirties, was encircled by his male relatives in the Shifa hospital. He is still unable to talk. His eyes are eagerly searching for focus. But there is none. His family compound – 4 houses with common garden – were bombed just after the evening’s prayer. With five rockets. The Israeli army claims that it was a legitimate military target, because the head of the family, Taissir al Batch, is also the head of Hamas police department. But he was not killed in the attack. The children and women were. Like everywhere else on the Gaza Strip.

In this déjà vu conflict, children are the biggest and most sensitive victims. The bombs are just killing or breeding traumas and hate. Lots of hate. Where ever and when ever.

“It’s just terrible. Tragedy! Two months ago I was co-ordinating a peace project in Gaza. Children were flying kites with peace slogans on the beach. I have seen the same boys with sticks in their hands pretending to be shooting and screaming ‘You’re a Jew’ on each other. Such a blow! Especially after the killing of four boys who were just playing football … It’s a vicious circle of war and violence,” I was told by Alex, a Kiwi humanitarian worker from World Vision, they left the burning Gaza behind.

 

About the author:

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Boštjan Videmšek is award-winning journalist and a foreign correspondent of biggest Slovenian daily DELO. He’s a contributor to several American and European magazines and author of two books – 21st Century Conflicts: Remnants of War(s) and REVOLT: Arab Spring and European Fall.

Photo: United Nations

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