by Martin Lejeune
Gaza City, 31st July 2014
I am in the Gaza Strip since the 22nd of July and still cannot believe what is happening here. I am experiencing the worst days of my life. All people in Gaza experience the worst days of their lives. Such massive attacks on Gaza are without precedent. Behind these words hide human tragedies. The humanitarian catastrophe has reached its peak.
The war in Gaza is a war against civilians. I am not the only one saying this, but also the people in Gaza alongside all the journalists that I speak to, who have covered all the wars of the past 10 years (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, etc…). What is happening here has a new quality.
Rockets strike everywhere. In residential houses, where families are living, in mosques where people are praying. During the early evening hours of July 30th an F16 jet bombarded the residential building just across the street from our house. We were just sitting on the balcony when the rocket hit the house only 50m away. Just seconds before, I heard the donkey hysterically screaming, as if he could foresee the attacks wanting to warn us.
Debris hit the walls of our house and only missing us by inches. Suddenly we sit in a cloud of dust. The dust covers my glasses and my laptop. The dust crunches between my teeth. It takes about half a minute until the dust settles. Now I can see the father, with whom I have just talked on the street, how he hides with his children behind an excavator, to look for cover if a second strike follows. The excavator is on a parking lot in front of our house and belongs to the owner of a construction company. I run immediately to the rubble of the bombarded residential house and see the injured. I have already seen the family multiple times walking down the street. With my mobile phone, I record how the ambulances arrive and transport the injured to the hospital. On the street lie stones, shards and fallen power poles.
Since I have arrived, countless civilian targets have been bombarded in broad daylight with clear sky and in free sight. Amongst them are a primary school for girls from the United Nations in Beit Hanoun where hundreds of refugees have taken shelter, in spite of the UN having sent the GPS coordinates of the school to the general commandment of the Israeli army. I cannot even recall the exact number of deaths and don’t have internet to look it up. Moreover, a park in the refugee camp Schatti has been attacked. The eight children that played in front of it are all dead now. And 17 people died during the late afternoon of the 30th of June, when a market in the North of the Gaza strip was bombarded. A further 160 Palestinians injured, who were doing their groceries. The enumeration of the massacres on the civilian population could be continued endlessly, as since the 8thof July around 1000 civilians have been killed.
I simply cannot understand the motivation of the Israeli armed forces. Why would they intentionally aim at civilian targets and bombard large gatherings of people. Precise knowledge of the targets in the cross thread should be available through the surveillance drones, which deliver high resolution imagery. Why are the pilots in their fighter jets deliberately killing women and children. Which ethical standards do these lords of the skies follow that decide over life and death? They sit in the most modern fighter jets that have been developed to date and brace themselves with their “targeted strikes”. That soldiers have to kill soldiers in a war, is legitimized by international law, but that civilians are being intentionally targeted, just like the family in the neighbouring house, the children in the park and the UN refugee school, that is not legally covered under any type of treaty on conducting wars. The people in Gaza ask themselves, why the German and other Western European heads of States not forcefully condemn these violations of international conventions. These are war crimes that the Israeli military is committing on a daily basis.
Even hospitals, a water plant and the only power station of the Gaza strip have already been hit. In our quarter, in the centre of Gaza City, known as “Beverly Hills” because until three weeks ago possessed a functioning infrastructure, no one has running water anymore. We wash ourselves with water from plastic bottles that we buy at the shop around the corner. Since the night of the 29th of July, when the power stations was bombarded, we stopped having electricity and internet. The landline is dead too. The mobile phone is the only medium of communication that is still function, which is very expensive when used over long stretches of time. I am sending the text I am writing in the Al Deira Hotel, which owns an own generator and in which the French news agency AFP has its own Wi-Fi network.
There is no more bread in the Gaza Strip. No one can buy bread anymore. We eat the bread, which has been baked by the wife of my host Maher. She bakes it in the inner courtyard of our house in a self-made oven, fired by charcoal. We dip the bread in olive oil and Za’tar, a paste made from thyme, sesame and salt. We eat this every day. But even if there would be any purchasable bread, we have no money to pay for it. Since the beginning of the war there is no more cash in the cash machines, because the banks are closed and the Ministry of Finance was completely destroyed, so credit cards are functioning. When we purchase flour or oil in the store around the corner we note our purchases down to pay for them later. Just like everyone else at the moment.
There is no more public life in the Gaza strip. All public authorities and offices are closed. Almost all shops and restaurants are closed. The people here only go out of the house if absolutely essential. The beaches and parks are deserted. The last four children that played football on the beach have been killed by an Israeli rocket. There weren’t any fighters from Hamas nor rocket launching-sites nearby, as eye-witnesses consistently report.
I live in a two-story building around the corner of the Al Amin mosque bombed-out on the 29th of July. 10 people lived here before the war. Now it is 70 that share the two flats. My hosts have taken in 60 refugees from the North of the Gaza Strip that has been totally flattened. The men have to sleep in the entrances and the halls and the women and children take the flats. Living and sleeping in such a tight space with so many strangers is not easy and any notion of private sphere has ceased to exist. The nerves are constantly on the edge after three and a half weeks of continuous bombardment, of which I only experienced one and a half weeks. Nevertheless, all 70 inhabitants of this house behave calm and considerate. They share everything they have, a baked bread, the last cigarette, a mobile phone battery or a piece of soap for personal hygiene. Yesterday I was our quarters’ kindergarten, where 80 people are sleeping per room.
Palestinians are as smart as the Lebanese, as intelligent as Iraqis, as strong fighters as the Algerians and as hospitable as the Syrians. Perhaps it is those many positive attributes that enable the people of Gaza to deal with these difficult situations without having to give in. Despite the three and a half weeks of bombardment from air, sea and land, children are still playing on the streets, women are still singing their songs while baking bread and men are still resisting. Maher, my host explained: “Our will to live and fight, cannot be broken by rockets and grenades.”