Seven weeks into Israel's offensive on Gaza finds the civilian population desperate, isolated, and defenceless before Israeli massacres, Erica Silverman reports
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A Palestinian boy holds a candle as he looks at a portrait of Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah during a demonstration in Ramallah on Saturday in support of Lebanon in its war with Israel
"There was no resistance, only open fields, and we were told via loud speaker to evacuate our home," said Salan Jibara, a 35-year-old farmer from As-Shoka now living in a makeshift tent along his family of seven with no access to food or water. The Red Cross was trying to make its way into Rafah Saturday with emergency supplies for refugees.
Across the board, the misery index is rising as thousands from the Rafah district were forced to flee their homes under Israeli fire, taking refuge in UNRWA schools and tents, while the residents who remain are without water and electricity in sweltering summer heat. The economy has come to a grinding halt. The only sound in the street is the drumming of Israeli drones and funeral processions. Rafah is under siege.
Israeli tanks plowed into Rafah Thursday, beginning an incursion that claimed the lives of 17 Palestinians, including five children (one, a three-day-old baby) and wounding 50, half of them children. The operation first swept through Gaza's defunct airport, then on to the As-Shoka district and along the outskirts of Rafah, all strategically located areas west of Kerem Shalom crossing -- the point from which Israeli forces enter Gaza.
Israel is trying to avoid a redeployment of troops along the Philadelphi corridor between Gaza and Egypt, fearing that it will be perceived as a re-occupation of Gaza. Israeli forces easily swept As- Shoka, an open area comprised mostly of farmland. Infantry soldiers conducted house-to-house raids throughout Rafah, scores of residents taken for interrogation.
On Saturday, Israeli missiles killed seven Palestinians in As-Shoka, five of them civilians, including a 16-year-old girl, Kifah Natour, and her brother Amar, 15. Sunday morning Israeli forces again fired a missile at a civilian home in As-Shoka killing 13-year-old Ibrahim Ermeilat and wounding four others. Israeli forces withdrew from As-Shoka later that day, prompting residents -- mostly farmers -- to return to their property, only to find bulldozed homes, razed crops and crushed infrastructure.
An-Najar Hospital in Rafah is a gruesome sight as staff -- short on basic supplies like X-ray film and antibiotics -- are trying to cope with an unprecedented number of amputees amongst the steady stream of victims of Israeli state terrorism. "Whole parts of the body are cut: legs, heads, even entire bodies cut in half," said Samir Judah, emergency room manager since the start of the second Intifada. "Israel is using a new kind of weaponry that burns the bodies, cuts like a knife. It enters the body and rips organs apart," continues Samir, holding large jagged pieces of burnt shrapnel removed from one victim's body.
Samir and hospital staff visited the scene of an Israeli attack Thursday night. Israeli forces targeted a vehicle they allegedly believed to be carrying militants, but the missile exploded before impact and everyone within 300 meters was ripped apart by shrapnel, explained Samir. Larger pieces (some over a foot long) tore clear through those who were near, while smaller pieces embedded inside civilian victims.
Shelling, rather than gunfire, killed all victims, reported hospital director Dr Ali Mousa. For two nights the hospital itself came under Israeli fire. "Victims commonly suffer massive aerial burns and tissue damage, and amputations resulting in infections and complications," said Mousa. When admitted, the clothes of the injured or dead are burned to their bodies. Mousa states that as hospital director since 2000 he has never seen such a large number rendered handicapped as a result of Israeli aggression.
Dr Juma Al-Saqqa, head of public relations at Al-Shiffa Hospital, the main medical centre in Gaza City, also asserts that a more powerful type of weaponry has been employed by Israel against Palestinians during "Operation Summer Rain". A walk through the recovery unit is proof enough. At 20 years old, Hysan Gelease has lost both his legs and his left hand to Israeli shelling while standing in the doorway to his home in Beit Hanoun. Thick bandages hold his chest together, ripped apart by burning shrapnel. Hysan's bed is the first in a row of young amputees; their skin covered in back craters where white-hot iron penetrated their bodies.
Al-Shiffa's pharmacy is missing 30 basic medications while hospital staff resort to scavenging local chemists in search of basic supplies. Funds from the EU Temporary International Aid Mechanism were supposed to begin flowing to healthcare facilities at the beginning of August, yet Al-Shiffa and Al-Najar are still in crisis. Gaza's UNRWA director, John Ging, said a team of UN officials is investigating. "Health risks from the amount of solid waste strewn about Gaza are mounting," reports Ging. There are still massive fuel shortages in Gaza, leaving garbage trucks non-operational. Diseases in small children are increasing due to their contact with street waste, coupled with a lack of clean water, according to UNICEF special representative Dan Rohrmann.
Meanwhile, Israeli tanks have taken position along the border of Beit Hanoun in north Gaza for over two weeks, conducting frequent incursions. Thousands have been forced to evacuate their homes, most fleeing to Jabalyia camp where four UNRWA schools have been converted into shelters, housing 1,753 refugees and counting. Miriam, a 23- year-old mother of three, is hurrying across a deserted street, seeking shelter after Israeli forces gave her 15 minutes to evacuate her home. She and her children escaped with only the clothes they were wearing, while her brother and sister-in-law fell victim to Israeli shelling.
Nearby Mohamed Abu Oda is attending his 24-year-old son Mahmoud's funeral. He and his family refuse to evacuate. An Israeli sniper killed Mahmoud, a father of two, while trying to restore electricity to their home from the rooftop. "This government, Hamas, is suffering the same assaults as our previous government. Nothing has changed. The occupation is still the only problem," says Mohamed. The following day Israeli forces leveled his home.
The past week of violence is the latest onslaught in a seven-week long Israeli incursion into Gaza, purportedly aimed at halting the launching of Qassam rockets into Israel and to recover a soldier captured by Hamas resistance fighters. Yet Israel's offensive on Gaza has been overshadowed in the media by its offensive on Lebanon, leaving Gaza's population even more isolated and vulnerable to Israeli massacres. So far, Israeli forces have destroyed three major bridges, along with roads, crops, and infrastructural piping crushed by Israeli tanks.
Gaza's main power station was destroyed on 28 June leaving households, businesses and hospitals across the Strip without electricity and water, while sanitation systems have collapsed. "People's whole existence has been pushed to a new low of basic survival," says Ging. During this period Israeli forces have killed 190 Palestinians, including 56 children, leaving over 800 injured, including 300 children, according to the office of President Mahmoud Abbas.
"The Israeli aggression is relentless, and Israel benefits from Lebanon, in that the world is not paying attention to Gaza," said Interior Minister Said Syiam in Gaza City. "I appeal to the world to pay attention."