25 August 2011 | International Solidarity Movement, Gaza
At about 1:30 A.M. on August 25, 2011 Israeli warplanes bombed the Salama Sports Club in Beit Lahia. The building was empty at the time. The sports club, however, is in the middle of a residential area. Two people from a neighboring house were killed in the bombing, Salama Abdul Rahman al-Masri, 18, the son of the house’s owner, who died immediately; and Alaa ‘Adnan Mohammed al-Jakhbeer, 22, from Jabalya. Twenty five other people were injured in the bombing, including eleven children and seven women. The bombing also caused heavy damage to the Dar Al Huda School and several surrounding buildings.
Salama was sitting with seven friends of his in the back yard of his family’s house. After evening prayers they often sat there. This evening, Salama had went shopping for gifts for Eid before joining his friends. Fourteen people lived in Salama’s house, his parents, three of his brothers, five of his sisters, and the wife and baby of one of his brothers. Salama was a hardworking young man. He wanted to help his family have a better life. He worked two jobs, one in a store that sold chickens, and another in at a falafel stand. He did this while he studied to retake the Tawjihi, the exam to enter university. Ambulances arrived quickly, only ten minutes after the bombing, but it was too late for Salama, he was killed instantly when a piece of shrapnel from the bombing struck the back of his head. His brother wants the international community “stop pretending that giving aid is enough, the people who were killed here were civilians, we are treated unfairly, we had to support us in our quest for our rights, not just provide food. Our problem isn’t food, it is that we are refugees expelled from our land and denied our rights.”
His friend Alaa was not so lucky. He died from his wounds two hours later. He and Salama had met through Salama’s older brother, they had become close friends. Despite the fact that Alaa wasn’t from Beit Lahia he often came to Beit Lahia to spend time with Salama. He had recently finished his degree in Islamic Law from a center run by the Waqf in Beit Lahia.
The Salama Sport Club is a large building. Three floors, the top floor was used as area to play sports, basketball, volleyball, football, the middle floor was used for practicing karate and other sports, the lower floor was devoted to weight lifting. The entire building is now destroyed. The bomb penetrated the top floor and exploded in the middle floor. The roof has collapsed onto the lower levels. Equipment lies scattered around the rubble. Thankfully the Israeli’s did not choose to bomb the club a day earlier, it was full of people having a celebration. The club opened in 2005 and served hundreds of local residents, providing much needed recreational possibilities in an area that lacks many choices. Employees don’t understand why the club was bombed, it was a public club, it was not affiliated with any political party, it was only a place for local young people to exercise and play games.
Next to the Salama Sport Club is the Dar Al Huda School. Unlike the Salama Sport Club the school wasn’t empty when the bomb struck. Workers were inside painting it, getting it ready for the new school year which starts soon. Two of them were injured. One of them is in the hospital now, in critical condition.
The Dar Al Huda School serves about three hundred and twenty students. Two hundred students in a kindergarten and 120 students through the sixth grade. When we arrived children were collecting books from the rubble, piling them up, trying to salvage what they could. The building is heavily damaged, the wall on the side facing the sport club is totally destroyed. Rubble fills the classrooms. The walls are still adorned with murals of cartoon characters, Bambi and Snow Whit seem to be the most popular. Dar Al Huda is a private school. It attracted students from all over North Gaza, families of refugees, from Haifa, from Lod, from Ashdod, from Beersheba. They came for the art programs, for the small classes. Now, the children’s paints lie scattered in the rubble, their art projects hang from the ceiling covered in dust. The walls of the kindergarten are still covered in posters of fruits and animals, but no students will be studying there any time soon. The front of the school is covered in plaques thanking donors who helped to build the school. The Canadian International Development Agency has wasted its money, they built a school, but Israel has destroyed it. No more students will be learning to paint in their building. We walk around the school with its director, he asks us why Israel would destroy a kinder garden, did the children learning to paint threaten them? Did the children learning to read threaten it? In truth, the existence of the children is a threat to Israel, they are living reminder of the Nakba, of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. If only the children would disappear Israel might be able to convince the world that its crimes are all in the past, that they are somehow less real. The children exist though, now they live in Gaza, not in their homes in Ashdod, Beersheba, and Lod.