'I expected an ambulance, but a donkey cart carried the injured'
The shock of the first day of attacks, launched within minutes of one another, and killing over 230 people in 24 hours, has had no chance to sink in. Me and my friend Mohammad travelled up to Beit Lahiya today, in the north of the Gaza Strip, to spend the night with the family of a local human rights activist.
Israeli missile fire jarred the journey; we leapt out and filmed at a burning paint factory in Jabaliya; no one was injured.
As we drove away, another missile hit, this time a steelworks behind us; again we went to film.
“Fi shaheed, fi shaheed,” people were shouting, “There is a martyr,” but we saw no one. We were the only car on the road. Our driver told us, “The streets are full of fear, nobody wants to go out.”
In Beit Lahiya our friend showed us leaflets the Israelis had dropped from planes. In plain black script on white A5, it began: “The IDF [Israel Defence Forces] are working against perpetrators of terrorist operations ... we are trying our best not to attack or cause any injuries to civilians ...”
Our friend took us to his roof and pointed out all the possible targets for Israeli strikes. Here, a mosque founded by Hamas, here the local police station, here a place once frequented by Hamas’ military wing. Our night was peppered with the sound of tanks creaking along the border, Apache strikes on Jabaliya, Israeli naval ships bombing the port and the F16 strike on the Islamic University. I got a call from a medical volunteer friend in Jabaliya: “They just bombed the Aiman Ajin mosque—we have dug out five little girls. Five girls have just been martyred.”
We went to Jabaliya. Multiple strikes had levelled the mosque and taken the neighbouring house down with it. A grieving tent had been erected outside. The father of the girls was inconsolable. He cursed the idle Arab leaders of the world and America: “They were sleeping, they were sleeping and the Israelis bombed the house. The world has died, the world has died.”
Yesterday the Islamic University, where students of all faiths, political affiliation and nationalities came to study, was bombed. I went to see the damage and was shocked. I had delivered a lecture on journalism there a week ago. Now, the science, engineering and technology department is rubble, with torn textbooks, a dangling computer keyboard, slumped concrete floors, a buried laptop bag ...
We awoke to survey the latest damage. The home of the al-Naim family had had its roof, walls, furniture and floors smashed by exploding debris. One piece which broke through into a bedroom was a metre long and more than 30cm wide.
While talking to the family and filming the destruction we heard shattering bangs to our east. We made out way to Beit Hanoun hospital. People were agitated, crowds were gathering; I expected to see an ambulance hurtling round the corner and saw instead a donkey-drawn cart pulling three children and two male relatives.
Twelve-year-old Haya was dead, her singed body quickly covered by a white sheet. Four-year-old Lamma died in front of us. Ismaeel, nine, came in breathing. “We think he’ll be ok, we need to X-ray his legs,” doctors said. [He died on Thursday morning.] The children died of internal injuries consistent with having been thrown in the air and bounced about 10 metres off the ground. They had gone to throw the rubbish out.
Later, I went to the offices of Ramattan News—Palestine’s answer to al-Jazeera—to write. I stayed all night. Ramattan’s frontline reporters are all local, they don’t have flak jackets or helmets but get some of the best pictures and footage going. Gaza branch’s director told me they feared being targeted. Rumours of an Israeli strike had all journalists emptying their offices, lugging computers and cameras and hard drives out to a safe house.
Most of the windows have been taken out in case they shatter—a cold wind whines through Ramattan’s offices, and journalists wear hats and scarves and drink sweet tea to keep warm.
Ramattan have had a shipment of tapes, spare parts, satellite equipment, and mixing desks held at the borders for nearly three months. The means to witness and communicate the reality of Israel’s attacks here is being denied.
We heard that two paramedics had been hit by missiles yesterday while trying to evacuate some fighters in Jabaliya. Mohammad Abu Hasira (24) died on the spot. I visited 35-year-old Ihab al-Madhoun at the Kamal Adwan hospital. He had suffered multiple shrapnel injuries. His eyes were open, wide and horrified; he was restless, and kept moving his bandaged head, brain fluid soaking the pillow behind him. He died soon after.
Myself and Ali, a human rights worker, travelled to try to see the scene of the attack, but couldn’t get close. Ali took me to his home in Baiyer al-Debough, on the outskirts of Jabaliya. It has no windows and his extended family, 12 people in total, all sleep together in one room. His three-year-old son Salah is undaunted, “If they come with missiles, I’ll just throw them straight back,” he says.
Back in Beit Hanoun, missiles smash into a street in the Hay Amel area, injuring 16 including 10 children.
Beit Hanoun hospital was full of terrified, bloodied children. One boy, too stunned to speak, was being taken away by two male relatives. I wished him well and one relative said: “See how they learn about missiles, as soon as he’s older he’ll hit them right back at them.”
At the hospital, all the talk is about a possible invasion.
A week after the first strikes, surveillance planes are ever-present above us. Every night, most of Gaza is in total darkness. Gas is unavailable; people cook on home-made mud and clay stoves using wood and kerosene. Food, particularly bread, is scarce.
Travelling around this place, sitting with families in the dark, under blankets, with candles and a wood stove for light and heat, I feel like I am in a tent with refugees. - guardian.co.uk