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To the sound of F16s

Sharon Lock | Tales to Tell

Medic Hassan with his amazing stove & son Fawzi

Medic Hassan with his amazing stove & son Fawzi

I’m told the bursts of noise that are currently shaking the net cafe a little are probably F16 sonic booms and not rockets, so that’s nice! Last night’s attacks involved seven rockets on the tunnel/border area of Rafah and a strike on an empty police station in Gaza city.

The military said Sunday’s attacks were the beginning of a new wave of raids over Gaza, but did not elaborate… Ehud Olmert, Israel’s out-going prime minister, said that the military would respond to attacks in a “severe and disproportionate” fashion after at least 10 rockets and mortar shells hit southern Israel on Sunday… The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of the Fatah faction led by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, told Al Jazeera that it carried out the attacks.” Al Jazeera

Israel of course bills their attacks as a “response” to rockets. (Note it’s not Hamas rockets this time; the armed resistance in Gaza is cross political, Hamas does not actually control it all.) There are several issues with Israel’s line, which I know many of my readers have already figured out.

  1. collective punishment is illegal under international law. Nobody – certainly not a whole civilian population – should be punished for something they didn’t personally do.
  2. as I’m sure you know, Gaza rocket firers could just as easily say their current attacks on Israel (Hamas qassam rockets have resulted in 28 Israeli deaths total between 2001 and Jan 9 2009, according to Wikipedia) are a response to Israeli attacks on Gaza. There have been almost daily attacks from Israel since their Jan 18 “ceasefire”, and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights put the Palestinian death toll just from the Dec/Jan attacks at 1,285, saying women and children were more than 43% of this.
  3. if we must look for a “first” violence, I personally believe it is the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel. The Occupation in all its forms, including – in the West Bank: checkpoints (where people die while waiting to get to hospital) land theft by the building of illegal settlements (settlers routinely shoot at Palestinians) and the “land grab” Wall – and in Gaza, the crushing seige – kills as surely as any other kind of violence. Violence such as the regular Israeli military incursions into both areas of Palestine, whether officially defined as war, or not.

I have just come from Al Shifa hospital, where we were helping with the paperwork of four children with attack injuries such as internal bleeding, or kidney transplant requirements, who we hope are going to be sent out to France for treatment. Amira (who I told you about before) who lost all her family, is one of them, she has both internal injuries and similar bolts in her crushed leg as Basher in the Nadeem family. She can still find a smile except when dealing with the pain of injections. Two women with injured babies, one with phosphorous burns over half his body and I think the other also with burns, share her room, and Amira’s aunt and the other women visitors have formed the usual atmosphere of community, with shared food and support for each other.

Hassan and Halil: two of the 30 injured medics; 21 were killed

Hassan and Halil: two of the 30 injured medics; 21 were killed

A few days ago EJ and I went to visit Hassan in Khan Younis, you’ll remember he was the one who E and A filmed being shot by a sniper. You can also see a picture of him at work in Jabalia here. World Health Organisation figures are that 21 medical workers were killed in the recent attacks and 30 were wounded. Deliberate targeting by Israel of medical workers, and their refusal to allow the wounded to be collected, are both breaches of the Geneva Convention. After Hassan met us, we stopped off to visit the Khan Younis Red Crescent base – I’d not been there before – and of course had to stop for tea and a chat. The Khan Younis Red Crescent hosted British Journalist James Miller for ten days, the year he was shot by Israel. We met Halil Al Subba, who had his own war wounds from going on a call to Khoza’a during a white phosphorous strike there. This in itself was extremely courageous as Israel had declared it a closed military zone and was giving no permission for the wounded to be collected or anyone to be evacuated.

All he remembers is getting out of the driving seat into thick smoke; he passed out instantly as the masks the medics had were no use at all on the phosphorous. His colleagues got him back to the hospital. He was unconscious for 3 hours, but appeared recovered enough to be sent home after some basic treatment. However when he found he had pain that felt like a knife in his chest, he went back to the hospital where chest xrays showed severe internal burns to his lungs.

A Greek medical delegation said they have never seen anything like his injuries, and other medical people have speculated the phosphorous is mixed with other unidentified chemicals also. One of the current problems is doctors can’t clearly know how to treat injuries when they don’t clearly know the causes. Halil has had antibiotics. But no-one knows what long term effects he may expect. When he found out I work with ISM, he told me that he was one of the medics who brought in Rachel Corrie after she was run over by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003.

We were fed a wonderful lunch at Hassan’s family home, meeting his lovely wife, children Fawzi, Annan (his little girl who is named after Kofi Annan) and baby Ali, and his extended family. We also got to see the stove Hassan invented, which he was self-deprecatingly telling us about on the Jabalia ambulance shift when I first met him. Not that I really understand, but it involves a old fridge fuel tank in which he can compress the air using a bike pump, turning the fuel from a liquid into a gas, which then burns much more efficiently for cooking use. Me and EJ were extremely impressed. We don’t have any cooking gas at home either, but we just complain about it!

ISM folks have been asked down to Al Faraheen tomorrow, to help a farmer with his harvest. Farmers in this border area are shot at regularly by Israel and one was killed the other day. So we will press release our international presence and hope to give them a slightly safer day. On Wednesday I want to go visit Wadi Salqa, where villagers face constant shooting from Israel and half of them are too frightened to sleep in their homes at night.