Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Life under Israeli air strikes: stories from two young Palestinians in Gaza

By ANA THORNE AND E. VAN R - December 03, 2012
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Gaza] [Israeli army]

(AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

22 year-old Malaka Mohammed has lived her whole life in Gaza and has grown up in Sheja’eya, east of Gaza City. She is quite active and has her own blog that was regularly updated during the latest military assault on Gaza. Throughout her life she has witnessed attacks and destruction of people’s homes, people being killed and violations of human rights.

“I have seen phosphorus bombs with my own eyes,” Malaka says. “I have seen my mum suffering in the 2008/2009 war after she was seriously injured in the face as a result of a phosphorous bomb. What I witnessed and experienced is indescribable!”

Malaka explains how the recent Israeli military offensive on the Gaza strip last month, code-named operation Pillar of Defense by Israeli officials, hit very close to her house. The operation claimed the lives of over 170 Palestinians in 8 days, most of them civilians, including over 40 children.

Malaka experienced eight sleepless nights during the attacks, and lost the ability to focus and study. Since her house is situated in the eastern part of Gaza close to the border with Israel, she constantly feared that it would be the first target if the situation escalated and a ground invasion became a reality.

Mohammed Suliman is 23 years old and lives in northern Gaza in al Karama neighborhood. Mohammed is a human rights activist and a freelance journalist. He and his family had to flee from their home because the Israeli army heavily attacked a part of their neighborhood.

His family took refuge at his grandmother’s place in the middle of Gaza, while Mohammed went to his friend’s house, but had to move every time the electricity was cut off. Since he was steadfastly reporting on the Israeli military offensive through social media, Mohammed needed electricity on a constant basis.

“Because I was involved in activism, I lived out every minute, every detail, and I was out in the streets putting myself into danger,” he recounted.

Out in the streets, Mohammed knew he could lose his life any moment, he needed to rush, hide and be as careful as possible. If there was a bombing nearby, the whole neighborhood would shake.

“More than two bombs [hit] places by my house,” Malaka detailed. “One [fell]two meters from our sitting room. Twice, the shrapnel from the missiles hit the door and I was about to be injured but God saved us all in the house.”

To her, the seventh night of the attack was the hardest.

“We witnessed new kinds of bombs being used […] after a week of carpet bombing, [the November 21th night] was the worst ever. The Israeli Blitzkrieg has already claimed so many lives, many of them very young and already more than a thousand have been injured, many of them maimed.”

Malaka believes that Israeli F16 warplanes are testing unfamiliar, possibly new kinds of massive cluster bombs.

“These are designed to maximize indiscriminate deaths and injuries,” she explained. “Their shrapnel spreads widely and densely. They have a strange sound, very different from the other F16 bombs. They shoot these missiles near densely populated areas. Children got used to the carpet bombing and developed resilience and were able to sleep through the massive bombing but were woken up by the indescribable and horrific noise of the new weapons. These bombs cause whole buildings to shake for longer than during an earthquake.”

These cluster bombs  are designed to maximize indiscriminate deaths and injuries

Mohammed relayed how when he went out of a house with friends, they would not walk in a group, as the Israeli army would have attacked a group of people in the empty streets. Their strategy was to spread out; one would walk ahead, another one would lag behind, a third would walk on the other side of the street, etc. They tried to avoid big streets and take narrow streets as they were normally safer to walk in.

One of Malaka’s recent blog posts is about an experience she had on the first day of the offensive, on November 14th. An Israeli attack killed two people, and she describes the gruesome scene: blood in the street, people crowding and running everywhere, ambulances and press people, total chaos.

Malaka was with a friend when this happened and the friend became completely speechless and was not able to walk. Malaka tried to calm her down with the only words that came to her mind: “This is our fate; we should be as steadfast as we can. Palestine needs sacrifice to be free.”

It took them a long time to get to the friend’s house because every few minutes they would hear new bombs, which terrified her friend , who would start to scream in the street. Malaka remembers the distressing experience. “The way she is standing speechless, how her body is shaking led me to cry from the inside. I pray on my every step that we can reach home and she can speak again.”

Mohammed remembers Operation Cast Lead (another invasion by the Israeli army that began December 27th 2008 and lasted for 22 days), and drew comparisons between it and the codenamed Operation Pillar of Defense.

“Cast Lead lasted for a longer time, it was a harder experience and left a more painful memory,” he says simply.

During the time he spent at home during Cast Lead, it was harder to obtain food and gas and there were power cuts for almost the entire day. The difference this time around was that there was an indiscriminate targeting of civilians.

In Cast Lead there were huge bombings but the targets were more defined. In Pillar of Defense, no one was in the streets after 5 pm, and every moving object in the street became a target. No one from Mohammed’s family or relatives got injured and their house was one of the only ones that was not damaged in the neighborhood. However his best friend’s brother, a cameraman, got killed by the Israeli army while driving a car.

No one from Malaka’s family or relatives were injured either, but her little sister is suffering from major trauma. Malaka explains that during the assault her sister was screaming a lot and it had been very difficult for the family to calm her down. The windows of their house are either partially or completely broken.

Malaka thinks the ceasef-ire will last for a long time because it has been made on the terms and conditions of the resistance, not on Israeli terms.

“But one day they will properly break the deal as usual,” she concedes. According to her, the people of Gaza do believe in the cease-fire as they are marching in the streets and waving Palestinian flags following the announcement: “I can see happiness in every Gazan face though the great loss.”

Mohammed is more pessimistic about the cease-fire agreement. He doesn’t think it will hold for long because similar agreements have been violated in the past. In his opinion, the only way to reach a long term solution to the conflict is to address its root issue: the siege on Gaza.

The blockade needs to be lifted completely. “Only then will we be able to prevent the cycle of violence from erupting again,” Mohammed concludes.

In the meantime, life seems back to normal in the enclave. The streets are full of people, shops are open and children are playing in the streets. It will take months or years, however, for the people of Gaza to recover from the traumatic experiences of being bombed indiscriminately over and over again by one of the strongest military armies in the world, the same one that has occupied their lives for over 64 years.

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