'It is far from quiet here'
Nablus resident Anne Gwynne*
describes the nights of terror and destruction that were Israel's gift to the West Bank town's residents this year's Eid Al-Adha
As the BBC and other major media organisations patronisingly "congratulate" Abu Mazen on deploying 3,000 lightly-armed Palestinian troops to protect the "security" of illegal Jewish colonists in Gaza, they report that "it is quiet on the ground" in Palestine. In doing so, they are regurgitating the Israeli propaganda without any reference to Palestinian information sources or to the truth.
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Horror scenes of death and destruction inflicted by the Israelis on hapless Palestinians photos: Anne Gwynne
It is far from "quiet" here. While the Palestinian Resistance has not retaliated, the overwhelming military might of the illegal occupation forces, the world's fourth ranking, continues to wreak havoc in the suffering, historic city of Nablus, where their nocturnal terrorism against its peaceful inhabitants never ceases.
Over the five nights of the precious festival of Eid Al-Adha up to 800 Israeli "soldiers" at a time have attacked families and neighbourhoods with particular ferocity, annihilating one area each night with imploding, "negative energy" bombs and explosives, missiles from ground and air, and saturation gun-fire -- all from the very latest weaponry that the USA can supply.
The reason for all this? "Why", people ask -- "there must be a reason?" There isn't one: there is no "why"? The pretext is "security" -- Israel's of course.
There is no security in the night for the unarmed, civilian populace of Nablus without defence against the hordes of Israeli "defence" forces: safe in their armoured vehicles and under cover of darkness, they sweep into any area they want and, at gunpoint, order terrified children and their families, in their nightclothes, outside into the torrential, freezing darkness for eight or nine hours. Then they bomb and destroy any neighbourhood they choose, "arrest" any persons they wish -- children, women, men, the blind and the disabled -- and steal and loot money and valuables upon which their eyes alight.
These marauding terrorists arrive each night at about 9pm. On Tuesday evening at Raffidiya Hospital, I was going through the records of some of the hundreds of children murdered here by the Israelis, when the hospital was surrounded by troops (as were Al-Ittihad and Al-Wattani hospitals, the residential area of Al-Makhfiyeh, and the Old City including Al- Yasmina , Qariyoun , and Ras Al-Ayn).
It was five hours before I could return to my surrounded home, an inconvenience but no problem! We spent a delightful evening in Samir Abu Zaghour's office with the hospital director who offered me a bed for the night, Bassam from Tulkarem whose home I will visit next week, Ghannamen from Tammoun, a young officer of the Palestinian Police sent to "protect" us, an erudite neighbour of advanced years who would put most of our politicians to shame in parliamentary debate, and a stream of nurses and technicians.
As we talked and laughed at the Israeli stupidities, I discovered that all of these good people -- professional people -- have been arrested, assaulted and imprisoned, some many times, that most have family members who are shuhadaa (martyrs) and three have now several brothers incarcerated in Israeli jails.
That night, these 800 "soldiers" completely sealed off the area of the Old City and the headmost section of the residential suburb of Raffidiya, between Raffidiya and Jaffa streets, around the Najah Al-Qadima street: an area of large family houses wherein live the extended families which are the backbone of this great city -- as many as 30 persons to each 20-30 room building.
At 9pm "soldiers" ordered some of the residents out of their homes at gunpoint -- without coats or shoes and many in their pyjamas -- into the torrential rain. They were handcuffed and blindfolded, then pushed and shoved with guns to the old An- Najah University building. The men were separated from the women and the children from them all. Some were locked into a nearby hair-salon. Without food or drink, warmth or access to a lavatory, they were penned like sheep for the next nine hours: listening to the screams of one 10-year-old boy who was taken and tortured and beaten for several hours; and rocked by four massive bombs with all the terror and trauma which that brings. They were, however, the lucky ones: many others were alone in their homes unaware of what was going to happen to them. The officer in charge of the prisoners gleefully reiterated that "we will destroy not only this one but four buildings".
The PMRS ambulance, driven by Jarrere Kanadilo, arrived before 10pm with Ghassan Hamdan and a team of volunteers: it was, as usual, fired upon, refused access and pinned down by snipers arranged on nearby steps. At least they had their clothes -- two passing taxi drivers were not so fortunate: they were stopped, dragged onto the street, stripped of every stitch of clothing and kept there, naked, for eight hours . Israeli troops occupied several houses and positioned snipers on every rooftop. The next six hours were spent in laying explosive charges in the Shakhshiir building -- a full block square, housing 10 shops with living accommodation over. At 4am came the first of a series of explosions, detonated by remote control -- the shock of the blasts was felt and heard in the surrounding villages.
At 6am the last of the "Israeli" snipers left: but most of the city streets were under several inches of water, and the rain so ferocious and unrelenting that it was 36 hours, on the first day of the Eid, before we could really appreciate the extent of the destruction on An- Najah Al-Qadima street , or hear the stories of the full horror and suffering -- 36 hours, during which the traumatised families were cold, wet, homeless and alone.
OVERWHELMING DESTRUCTION: Owned by the Shaqqa' family, and the object of the attack, the four-storey Shakhshiir block, with its shops and homes, has gone -- imploded into a dense, four metres high heap of rubble by the negative-energy explosives which the Israelis have used three times before in Nablus -- (the Aqqoub and Al-Masri buildings and another whose name escapes me).
The Israeli occupation forces occupied and positioned snipers on the roof of the Abu Zant building to the east: plastic sheeting now flaps forlornly from its 40 empty windows and doors. Eight family livelihoods are lost with the loss of the lock-up shops -- their frontage and contents sucked up to the top of the ruins of the Shakhshiir building together with a BMW from its garage opposite, folded in the middle like a sheet of plastic by the power of the explosives.
It is not the owners of these buildings who will suffer directly, but the families who live in the rented apartments and in the surrounding homes and apartments along with the small shopkeepers and workshop owners whose income ended when the bombs went off.
As I walked by, four generations of the family in a four- storey home behind the Shakhshiir were loading their belongings, in bags and suitcases, onto a small truck and preparing to leave their life behind. Their large old house will have to be demolished because, like all the surrounding buildings, it has been structurally damaged beyond repair. However, they do not wallow in victimhood and, with the usual Arab courtesy, intact in the face of terror, bring qahwah (Arabic coffee) in exquisite tiny cups and we sip it together as, standing in the shattered salon, they describe the terror of the night.
An apartment block behind the Abu Zant is already empty, the roof sucked off by the vacuum, the people gone, the door boarded up. In between, there is a set-back block, less damaged but with all the windows and doors blown or sucked out. Here I find some friends whom I had not yet visited -- an ophthalmologist and his family, world-travelled and speaking several languages, who tell me that this is the fourth time they have lost cars, offices and homes: it is their BMW on top of the rubble! Again, cola and tin cups of qahwah, with a cake-stand of delicious maamoul, home- made of course. Their daughter came home for the Eid just the day before.
Fourteen cars are thrown hither and thither, some barely recognisable, re-shaped into grotesque sculptures, the steel melted by the fierce heat of the explosives. Nobody pays. You just lose your car and nobody pays -- this is the only place where the criminals make the law -- indeed the criminal is the law as several Israeli Captains have told me! Crimes are punishable everywhere else except in Palestine.
Close to the Shakhshiir is an ancient cottage, where I found two maiden sisters -- cottage and women shattered by the destructive force. Heddija and Haiya Asnoun had no warning to leave and were in bed when the glass from their windows rained down upon them in sharp shards which left their hair caked with blood. They have no water to wash it off. Their trauma is deep, and painful to witness: the elder sister weeps without pause and their story pours from the lips of the younger in a torrent of agony. They have no one: their family killed by Jewish militias in the murderous cataclysm of 1948. Last night they slept in the rubble and will do so again tonight. Without windows, doors, water or power, with no means of making coffee, they insisted that I eat a banana with them!
Next door lives an elderly couple: the wife has returned only three days ago from seven months' treatment in Amman for terminal stomach cancer. She and her husband were also not warned to leave. Both of these cottages are too badly damaged to be saved.
Every window in the street is without glass, as well as those a long way behind the street. Most are covered with plastic sheeting -- not a warm substitute in some of the coldest, wettest days we have had this winter. And I notice that the roof- tiles of my friend's house down the street have also been vacuumed off. The Qaddoumi family are replacing the 37 windows and doors of their family house next door -- sadly with aluminum, not the shattered 200-year-old hardwood which they are carting by hand on a small truck to the nearby dump.
Across the main street from the Shakhshiir building -- the gymnasium, the Qasr Nabulsi, the Qasr Abdul-Hadi (home to 30 persons), the Sadder home, the new workshops and living centre for 12 blind women from the villages with their helpers, the whole block of the Zannada's home -- all will be demolished because their structure is so seriously damaged that they are unsafe or dangerous. Walls are cracked from ground to roof; walls bulge away from the floors, all have gaping holes -- large stone blocks lie on the carpets, between the beds, in the kitchen sink, in the bath tubs and on the sofas.
I found Zeynab Sadder, an elderly great-aunt of Sami Sadder, clearing the rubble from her stone stairs. She was washing her hands when the glass from her bathroom window was sucked in, lacerating the back of her head. She has lost her personal possessions for the third time; now she has lost her home. The 60kg front door was sucked off its fixings and thrown across the room in this 200-year-old house. In the Qasr Nabulsi it's the same story. Everything is damaged or destroyed. And 30 people without a home.
I will come to the Rayan building later, but first the greatest tragedy in this crime -- that of the Zannaada family.
THE ZANNAADA TRAGEDY: Twenty-five persons of this family had rented a large house opposite the Shakhshiir building. They are refugees from the 1948 lands, and the grandparents arrived here from Jaffa in the Exodus of 1948. The rent is very cheap because they have been tenants for a long time. They will not find anywhere for many times this rent. Four families live together -- three married sons, their wives and a total of nine children between one year and nine; and their parents with three unmarried sons and three unmarried daughters, one divorced with a daughter.
The Zannaadas are a poor family who live a simple, loving life. Their walls are covered with beautiful photographs of smiling babies, not only of the family but cut out of newspapers and magazines, too. They keep pigeons and decorative song birds, as well as chickens on the roof. Many of the birds were killed when the oxygen was sucked away. Their water tanks and their solar panels expanded with the vacuum and split and shattered and are totally destroyed too.
Inside the home the Zannaadas have lost virtually everything from their coffee cups to their beds. They also had no warning and huge blocks of stone fell between the beds, including the children's beds in several bedrooms, leaving holes in the outside walls. Ilhamdulillah (thanks to God) for the miracle that no one was killed or injured. Again, in the midst of all this, coffee, tea and welcome. I cannot imagine it anywhere else.
The Zannaadas are too many for anyone to house together and they cannot be separated. Their paternal grandfather, a refugee, has only a small rented place; the maternal family is from the village of Kafr Kaddoum where there is no work. So they have no place to go.
When I passed late on the first night the men were warming their hands around a brazier and they did not know where their women and children were. I ask anyone who can help this family with money to do so -- please e-mail me and I will tell you how we can receive it here. They are not the victims of a natural, unforeseen disaster, but of the brutality of a sophisticated, modern army, whose every action here is a crime under international law.
I almost forgot to mention the so-called objective of all this terrorism which is so overwhelming that it is as though the terror is the objective -- which, indeed, I guess it is. The IOF say they were looking for a man whom their spy said was in the Shakhshiir -- but everyone knows that he has not been seen in Nablus for 10 years.
In any case, the Israelis went through the building first, cleared everyone out and knew it was empty. They became angry when they did not find who they were looking for, and they used so much explosive that they destroyed the whole neighbourhood.
Even suppose they had found the guy -- they could have arrested him. Where else on earth do 800 soldiers, tanks, Apaches come to arrest one man? And where else is a whole area demolished in an illegal act of collective punishment -- punishment not because anyone was there but because he was not!
A TAPESTRY OF TERROR: The Rayan building on Jaffa Street is new, comprising shops and workshops with living over. It was the target of three Israeli missiles -- one from across the valley near the Old An-Najah University and two from Shari'a Sikka on the mountain behind. Let's dispense with the pretence of a "reason", a "why"? The pretext again -- security of Israel. But this is not Israel. This is Palestine. How will destroying the homes of dozens of families here bring security to anyone? It's a new meaning for "security". The "Israelis" say anything they want and no one questions their lies. No journalist. No politician. No broadcaster. Not anyone.
A young man lived in a rented apartment in the Rayan with his wife and two small children, a boy and a girl. A quiet devout man, Kamal Ratrout, Abu Omar, lived a good, clean life, attended the mosque, read the Holy Qur'an, observed prayer and strove to be a good Muslim. That's it. That's all. But two spies said he had a beard and prayed. And his wife is the daughter of another family who have been the object of Israeli hatred and destruction for years -- Sheikh Maher Kharraz.
In the twisted, evil thinking of the powers that be in Israel, this made Kamal dangerous and, for this, he is arrested with his wife and children, using an elderly neighbour as a "human shield"' (no need, he had no gun). After they were taken the soldiers entered his family's home, looted money and gold, and sprayed every ceiling, floor and wall with hundreds of high-velocity bullets, finally tossing hand grenades around as they left.
I found shells and grenade casings in the sad rubble of toys, baby beds, immaculately folded clothes, pure white prayer coverings, and books and papers which had been deliberately pulled apart and torn up. All the lovely china was crunched underfoot in a frenzy of hatred.
They wanted to arrest a man, the Israelis said. They got him and his family -- who just came out peacefully, completely innocent of anything. But that was not enough -- they had to pulverise his life with bullets, missiles, incendiaries, hand grenades and boots.
They blew a huge hole in the roof in order to shoot from above. As before, the neighbouring homes are also damaged and lost every pane of glass.
As if this is not enough for one night, the Israeli soldiers, again using innocents as "human shields", then burst into the next apartment -- the home of the Abu Zant family -- and demanded that they produce Sameh, who was in bed with his wife and four children. They did not say why -- they just took Sameh and put his family outside in the freezing rain. Then the Israelis terrorised the family of Abu Youssef Suraji; three years ago they murdered his brother for no reason; another brother is now a partner in the furniture business of Abu Zant. That was enough to incriminate him, so they took Abu Youssef and blew up his factory in the Rayan building with explosives and with incendiaries.
So many livelihoods lost in the depths of Israeli occupation depravity in one dark night. So many lives destroyed out of the occupiers pathological hatred of the rightful owners of this beautiful city of Nablus, the indigenous people of this peaceful, lovely land of Palestine. A people, I would remind you, living in their own land and thus the essence of sovereignty.
When will this unprecedented terrorism, these war crimes on an unparalleled scale end? When will we sleep peacefully without the sounds of death and destruction disturbing our dreams? When will we greet each other in the morning without asking about what happened in the night? Until when will we feel this guilt when we sleep whilst others suffer, when we are safe while human beings are hunted down and murdered in the cold, damp darkness?
Tony Blair spent seven years of parliamentary time before he succeeded in passing a law to prevent fox-hunting! I am a farmer by family, and have no problem with foxes. But here humans are hunted every day and killed without mercy by packs of soldiers who, it seems, will never be sated with Palestinian blood until there is no more.
The despair and despondency deepens here in the midst of Al-Nakba Al-Nabulsi. That is clear, but what is palpable is the increased determination to resist this illegal occupation at whatever cost, and the Nabulsi know it will be very high, until the victory is won.
Dear reader: I have 41 photographs of the night's destruction of which I write. Please visit this link to view them:
* The writer is a 66-year-old grandmother and retired bank manager from Wales currently living in Nablus where she has worked with the Palestine Medical Relief Society.