Eyewitnesses in the “War” on Gaza

I have only been as far as the Erez checkpoint, but I have four eyes in Gaza.

On December 9, 2008, I was introduced to Sam Habeeb, a twenty-something photo journalist and humanitarian worker in Gaza.

Yesterday, Sam received three death threats against him and his family because of his reports from Gaza.

I spoke with Sam today. His life is in danger from death threats and also the bombs that are very close to his home.

Sam wrote:

I have got more calls from anonymous persons stop blogging or I would be killed. Yet, I would keep on this track. Some of you do wonder how I send news in such conditions. I really suffer a lot to send you this update due to lack of power. I go around 4 kilo meters a day in this cruel war where I charge my laptop battery to be able to send this work! This is very risky since shells rain down and drones hover over me! I will keep this up…[There is] No water, No beans, No fruits, No chicken, No rice, No bread, No Markets, No shops, No Medicines, No medical Machines, No enough Doctors, No enough ambulances, No fuel, No gas, no beans, no candlelight, No power…

Have a look at my photos of Gaza Children!

Vittorio Arrigoni in Gaza reported on January 9, 2009:

Take some kittens, some tender little moggies in a box”, said Jamal, a surgeon at the Al Shifa, Gaza’s main hospital, while a nurse actually placed a couple of blood-stained cardboard boxes in front of us. “Seal up the box, then jump on it with all your weight and might, until you feel their little bones crunching, and you hear the last muffled little mew.” I stared at the boxes in astonishment, and the doctor continued: “Try to imagine what would happen after such images were circulated. The righteous outrage of public opinion, the complaints of the animal rights organisations…” The doctors went on in this vein, and I was unable to take my eyes off those boxes, sitting at our feet. “Israel trapped hundreds of civilians inside a school as if in a box, including many children, and then crushed them with all the might of its bombs.

What were the world’s reactions? Almost nothing. We would have been better off as animals rather than Palestinians, we would have been more protected.”

At this point the doctor leans towards one of the boxes, and takes its lid off in front of me. Inside it are the amputated limbs, legs and arms, some from the knee down, others with the entire femur attached, amputated from the injured at the Al Fakhura United Nations school in Jabalia, which resulted in more than fifty casualties. Pretending to be taking an urgent call, I took my leave of Jamal, actually rushing to the bathroom to bend over and throw up.

A little earlier I’d been involved in a conversation with Dr. Abdel, an ophthalmologist, regarding the rumours that the Israeli Army had been showering us with non-conventional weapons, forbidden by the Geneva Convention, such as cluster bombs and white phosphorous. The very same that the Tsahal Army used in the last Lebanese war, as well as the US air force in Falluja, still violating international norms. In front of Al Auda hospital we witnessed and filmed white phosphorous bombs being used about five hundred metres from where we were, too far to be absolutely certain there were any civilians underneath the Israeli Apaches, but so terribly close to us all the same.The Geneva Treaty of 1980 forbids white phosphorous being used directly as a war weapon in civilian areas, allowing it only as a smoke screen or for lighting.

There’s no doubt that using this weapon in Gaza, a strip of land concentrating the highest population rate in the world, is a crime all on its own. Doctor Abdel told me that at Al Shifa hospital they don’t have the medical and military competence to say for sure whether the wounds they examined on certain corpses were indeed provoked by white phosphorous bullets.But on his word, in twenty years on the job he had never seen casualties like those now being carried into the ward.

He told me about the traumas to the skull, with the fractures to the vomer bone, the jaw, the cheekbones, tear duct, nasal and palatine bones showed signs of the collision of an immense force against the victim’s face.

What he finds inexplicable is the total lack of eyeballs, which ought to leave a trace somewhere within the skull even in case of such a violent impact. Instead, we see Palestinian corpses coming into the hospitals without eyes at all, as if someone had removed them surgically before handing them over to the coroner.Israel has let us know that we’ve been granted a daily 3-hour truce, from 1:00 to 4:00 PM.

These statements from the Israeli military summit are considered by the people of Gaza as having the same reliability as the Hamas leaders’ declarations that they’ve just provoked a massacre of enemy soldiers. Just to be clear on this point, the soldiers of Tel Aviv’s worse enemy are the very same who fight under the Star of David. Yesterday a war ship off the coast of Gaza’s port picked out a large group of alleged guerrilla fighters from the Palestinian Resistance, moving as a united front around Jabalia. They shot their cannons at them. But as it turned out, they were their own fellow soldiers, with the shooting resulting in three being killed and about twenty injured. No one here believes in the truces that Israel declares, and as it happens, today at 2:00 PM Rafah was under attack by the Israeli helicopters.

There was also yet another massacre of children in Jabalia: three little sisters aged 2, 4 and 6 from the Abed Rabbu family were slaughtered. Just half an hour earlier in Jabalia, once again the Red Crescent hospital’s ambulances were under attack. Eva and Alberto, my ISM colleagues were on board that ambulance and managed to film everything, passing those videos and photos on to all the major media.Hassan was kneecapped, fresh from mourning the death of his friend Araf, a paramedic who was killed two days ago as he came in aid of the injured in Gaza City. They had stopped to pick up the body of a man languishing in agony in the middle of the road, when they were under fire by about ten shots from an Israeli sniper. One bullet hit Hassan in the knee and the ambulance was filled with holes.

We’re now at a death toll of 688, in addition to 3,070 injured, 158 dead children and countless missing. Only yesterday, we counted 83 dead, 80 of which were civilians. Thankfully, the death toll on the Israeli side is still only at 4.Travelling towards Al Quds hospital, where I’ll be working all night on the ambulances, as I raced along on board one of the very few fearless taxis left, zig-zagging to avoid the bombs, on the corner of one street I saw a group of dirty street urchins with tattered clothes, looking exactly like the “sciuscià” kids of the Italian afterwar period. They threw stones towards the sky with slingshots, at far away and unapproachable enemy who was toying with their lives.

This is a crazy metaphor, which could serve as a snapshot of the absurdity of this time and place.

Stay human Vittorio Arrigoni.

Eileen Fleming is the author of Keep Hope Alive and Memoirs of a Nice Irish American Girl's' Life in Occupied Territory and the producer of 30 Minutes With Vanunu. Email her at ecumei@gmail.com. Read other articles by Eileen, or visit Eileen's website.

10 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Ron Horn said on January 10th, 2009 at 2:23pm #

    Thank you, Eileen, for getting this report out.

  2. Don Hawkins said on January 10th, 2009 at 3:24pm #

    Communities tend to be guided less than individuals by conscience and a sense of responsibility. How much misery does this fact cause mankind! It is the source of wars and every kind of oppression, which fill the earth with pain, sighs and bitterness.

    A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Albert Einstein

    This optical delusion of consciousness is a consciousness that can best describe these so called elite’s and a few of those elite’s who make the rules the policy do they experience themselves, there thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest? We all have big problems to face and they can be solved citizens talking to citizens kind of like no middleman.

  3. bozh said on January 10th, 2009 at 3:36pm #

    some people have noted that all a person can know is what s/he feels; ie, one’s sensations. i personally agree with this observance. but the sensations are influenced by other people, events, etc.
    eventually leading to a conclusion, at least valid for me, that we are interdependent and not independent or a dependancy on others.
    unfortunately, ruling classes, having grabbed the hold of (mis) education teach a fierce independence and its concommitant fierce competition.
    that’s why we have sports. to me, competition is bad; i do poorly wheni compete.
    i like chess. but i play only against computer. it beats living daylights out of me but i come back for more.

  4. Suthiano said on January 10th, 2009 at 3:50pm #

    The U.S. unemployment rate reached 7.2% at the end of 2008, meaning a 2.6% shift in one year, and the biggest shift since the great depression.

    U.S. will have 30,000,000 unemployed by the end of this year. Progressives should start planning how to organize these people/organizing these people.

    The stage has been set for massive riots/protests and the resulting police and military crack down to maintain order.

    Things will develop rapidly… so don’t sleep on it for too long.

  5. mebosa ritchie said on January 10th, 2009 at 4:21pm #

    700 palestinians dead in gaza==holocaust,massacre,atrocity

    1200 fatah palestinians killed by hamas palestinians june 2007 is ok muslims killing muslims

    30,000 palestinians killed by jordan 1970 is ok muslims killing muslims

    20,000 killed by assad in syria is ok muslims killing muslims

    400,ooo dead in darfur is ok muslims killing muslims

    2,000,000 dead in iran-iraq war is ok muslims killing muslims

  6. thanif said on January 10th, 2009 at 4:45pm #

    Re: Mebosa Ritchie,

    Where did any one justify any of those killings? Please Keep in mind that the fight between fatah and Hamas was orchestrated by the US.

    Please Read https://new.dissidentvoice.org/2009/01/the-sources-of-arabs’-shame-egypt-jordan-and-saudi-arabia/ so see what is thought of Jordan.

    Regarding Syria, again Killing of the innocent is not justified same goes for Darfur.

    As for Iraq, 2 million dead just from muslim suicide bombers? I think the US occupation might also have a hand in that as well. Please do not try to trivialize what Isreal is doing by pointing out other killings in the world. It is very unbecoming of you.

  7. Don Hawkins said on January 10th, 2009 at 4:58pm #

    Hal open the pod bay door Hal. I am sorry I can’t do that. Did you see that movie Bozh. I too play chess with the computer. I am learning.

  8. eileen fleming said on January 10th, 2009 at 5:19pm #

    Just in:

    Vittorio Arrigoni on the ground in Gaza, January 9, 2009

    My toothpaste, toothbrush, shavers and shaving foam. The clothes I’m wearing, the cough medicine I’m using to get rid of a persistent cough, the cigarettes I bought for Ahmed, and some tobacco for my arghile. My cell phone, the laptop onto which I compulsively type my eye-witness accounts from the hell surrounding me. All that’s needed for a modest, yet dignified existence in Gaza comes from Egypt, and arrives on the shops’ shelves through the tunnels. These are the very same tunnels that the Israeli F16s hasn’t stopped heavily bombing in the last 12 hours, destroying along with them thousands of Rafah houses near the border.

    A few months ago I had three teeth dodgy fixed, and at the end of the operation I asked my Palestinian dentist where he’d gotten all of his dental equipment from – the anesthetic, the syringes, ceramic inlays and all the other tools. With a sly look on his face, he’d made a certain gesture with his hands: from under ground. There’s no doubt that through the tunnels underneath Rafah, explosives and weapons were also smuggled, the very same that the resistance is using today to try and contain the terrifying advance of the armour-plated Israeli death-machines. But it’s next to nothing compared with the tons of consumer goods flowing into famished Gaza under this criminal siege.

    It’s easy enough on the internet to find photos documenting how even livestock comes in from Egypt through the tunnels. Sedated, strapped-up goats and cows are lowered into an Egyptian well, re-emerging on this side to provide milk, cheese and meat. Even the main hospitals in the Strip stocked up surreptitiously at the border. The tunnels were the only resource allowing the Palestinians to survive the siege, a siege which long before the current bombings, was the cause of a 60% unemployment rate and forced 80% of families to live off humanitarian handouts.

    Our colleagues at the ISM in Rafah describe the umpteenth siege that they witnessed. Caravans of desperate refugees leaving their homes facing Egypt, on mule-drawn carts or hodgepodge vehicles. A déjà-vu scenario – in previous days, leaflets were raining down from the planes intimidating the Palestinians into evacuating. Since Israel always keeps its threatened promises, bombs are raining down from the planes now. Today’s new homeless will spend the night with their relatives, friends and acquaintances in Gaza. No one dares crowd the United Nations schools anymore, after yesterday’s massacre in Jabalia. But a considerable number haven’t gone anywhere, as they have nowhere safe to go. They shall be spending the night praying to God that they’ll be spared, since no one on earth seems to take any interest in their existence.

    The death toll at present is at 768 Palestinians, with 3,129 wounded, and 219 children killed. The count of civilian victims on the Israeli side is thankfully still only at 4. At Zaytoun, an Eastern neighbourhood of Gaza City, the Red Cross ambulances could only rush to the scene of a massacre after several hours, under the coordination of the Israeli military summit. When they finally got there, they picked up 17 corpses and 10 injured, all belonging to the Al Samouni family. A perfect execution: in the tiny bodies of the children it was possible to notice bullet holes rather than wounds caused by shrapnel.

    The last two nights in the Gaza City hospitals were quieter than usual, as we assisted a number of injured in the tens rather than the hundreds. Obviously after the massacre at the Al Fakhura school, the Israeli Army surpassed the daily budget of civilian casualties as an offering to its blood-thirsty government in view of the imminent elections. We have an inkling that tonight the morgues will once again be filled to bursting point.

    With our sirens screaming, we continue to rush pregnant women into hospital as they give birth prematurely. It’s as if nature and the conservation instinct were inducing these brave mothers to predate the arrival of these new lives to make up for the growing number of dead. These newborns’ first cry, when they survive, can for a moment cover the rumbling of the bombs.

    Leila, a colleague at the ISM, asked our neighbours’ children to write some of their impressions on the atrocious tragedy we’re enduring. Here are some extracts of their words, the horrors of war seen through the pure and innocent gaze of Gaza’s children:

    Suzanne, aged 15: “The life in Gaza is very difficult. Actually we can’t describe everything. We can’t sleep, we can’t go to school and study. We feel a lot of feelings, sometimes we feel afraid and worry because the planes and the ships, they hit 24 hours. Sometimes we feel bored because there is no electricity during the day, and in the night, it is coming just four hours and when it comes we are watching the news on TV. And we see kids and women who are injured and dead. So we live in the siege and war.”

    From Fatma, 13: “It was the hardest week in our life. In the first day we were in school, having the final exam of the first term, then the explosions started, many students were killed and injured, and the others surely lost a relative or a neighbour. There is no electricity, no food, no bread. What can we do – it’s the Israelis! All the people in the world celebrated the new year, we also celebrate but in a different way.”

    From Sara, 11: “Gaza is living in a siege, like a big jail: no water, no electric power. People feel afraid, don’t sleep at night, and every day more people are killed. Until now, more than 400 are killed and more than 2000 injured. And students had their final first term exams, so Israel hit the Ministry of Education, and a lot of ministries. Every day people are asking when will it end, and they are waiting for more ships with activist like Vittorio and Leila.”

    Darween, 8: “I am a Palestinian kid,?I won’t leave my country ?so I will have lots of advantages? because I won’t leave my country ?and I hear a sound of rockets?so I won’t leave my country.”

    Meriam is four. Her siblings asked her, “what do you feel when you hear the rockets?” And she said, “I feel afraid!”, before running to take cover behind her father’s legs.

    Gaza is sadly shrouded in obscurity in the last ten days. I can recharge my computer and phone only in the hospitals. We watch TV with the doctors and paramedics while waiting for an urgent call. We listen to the rumblings in the distance, and after a few minutes the Arab satellite networks refer exactly where the explosions take place. We often watch ourselves pull bodies out of the rubble, as if having seen it all in the flesh weren’t enough already. Last night I switched over to an Israeli channel with the remote. They were showing a traditional music festival, complete with scantily-clad showgirls and firework displays in the end. We went back to our horror, not on screen but in the ambulances. Israel has every right to laugh and sing even while they’re massacring their neighbours. Palestinians only ask to die a different kind of death – say, of old age.

    Stay human

    Vittorio Arrigoni


  9. Don Hawkins said on January 10th, 2009 at 6:59pm #

    It’s not a matter of what is true that counts but a matter of what is perceived to be true.
    ~Henry Kissinger

    I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we’re really talking about peace.
    ~George W. Bush

    Political language. . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable
    ~George Orwell

  10. mary said on January 11th, 2009 at 2:48am #

    Another attempted voyage is being made

    (Cyprus, 11 January 2009) – The Free Gaza Movement ship, “SPIRIT OF
    HUMANITY,” will leave Larnaca Port at 12:00 noon, Monday, 12 January,on an emergency mission to besieged Gaza. The ship will carry
    desperately needed doctors, journalists, human rights workers, and
    members of several European parliaments as well as medical supplies.
    This voyage marks Free Gaza’s second attempt to break through the
    blockade since Israel began attacking the Gaza Strip on 27 December.
    Between August and December 2008, the Free Gaza Movement successfully challenged the Israeli blockade five times, landing the first
    international ships in the port of Gaza since 1967.

    The Israeli military violently attacked an earlier attempt by the Free
    Gaza Movement to send an emergency boat filled with doctors and
    medical supplies to Gaza. In the early hours of Tuesday, 30 December,
    the Israeli navy deliberately, repeatedly, and without warning rammed
    the unarmed ship, the DIGNITY, causing significant structural damage
    and endangering the lives of its passengers and crew. The ship found
    safe harbor in Lebanon, and is currently awaiting repairs.

    Fouad Ahidar, a member of the Belgian Parliament sailing to Gaza
    aboard the SPIRIT OF HUMANITY, responded to concerns that Israel may attack the unarmed mercy ship by saying, “I have five children that
    are very worried about me, but I told them, you can sit on your couch
    and watch these atrocities on the television, or you can choose to
    take action to make them stop.”

    Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip have injured thousands of civilians
    and killed over 800 people, including scores of women and children.
    This ongoing Israeli massacre severely and massively violates
    international humanitarian law defined by the Geneva Conventions,
    especially the obligations of an Occupying Power and the requirements
    of the laws of war.

    The United Nations has failed to protect the Palestinian civilian
    population from Israel’s massive violations of international
    humanitarian law. Israel has closed off Gaza from the international
    community and demanded that all foreigners leave. But Huwaida Arraf,
    an organizer with the Free Gaza Movements, stated that, “We cannot
    just sit by and wait for Israel to decide to stop the killing and open
    the borders for relief workers to pick up the pieces. We are coming
    in. There is an urgent need for this mission as Palestinian civilians
    in Gaza are being terrorized and slaughtered by Israel, and access to
    humanitarian relief denied to them. When states and the international
    bodies responsible for taking action to stop such atrocities chose to
    be impotent, then we–the citizens of the world–must act. Our common
    humanity demands nothing less.”

    Israel has been notified that we are coming. A copy of the
    notification to the Israeli Authorities is attached.

    The media is invited to the Larnaca Port at 10:00am to for final
    preparations and a press conference before departure.



    Take Action! CALL the Israeli Government and let them know that the
    SPIRIT OF HUMANITY is coming to Gaza. DEMAND that Israel immediately STOP slaughtering civilians in Gaza and STOP using violence to prevent human rights and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people.

    Mark Regev in the Prime Minister’s office:
    +972 2670 5354 or +972 5 0620 3264

    Shlomo Dror in the Ministry of Defence:
    +972 3697 5339 or +972 50629 8148

    Major Liebovitz from the Israeli Navy:
    + 972 5 781 86248

    Official Notification of Intent to Enter
    January 11, 2009

    To: The Israeli Ministry of Defense, Fax: 972-3-697-6717

    To: The Israeli Navy

    To: The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Fax 972-2-5303367

    From: The Free Gaza Movement

    This letter serves as a formal notification to you as the Occupying
    Power and belligerent force in the Gaza Strip that on Monday, January
    12 we are navigating the motor vessel, Spirit of Humanity, from the
    Port of Larnaca to the port of Gaza City. Our vessel will be flying
    the Greek flag, and, as such, falls under the jurisdiction Greece.

    We will be sailing from Cypriot waters into international waters, then
    directly into the territorial waters of the Gaza Strip without
    entering or nearing Israeli territorial waters. We expect to arrive
    at the Gaza Port on Tuesday, January 13, 2009.

    We will be carrying urgently needed medical supplies in sealed boxes,
    cleared by customs at the Larnaca International Airport and the Port
    of Larnaca. There will be a total of 30 passengers and crew on board,
    among them members of various European Parliaments and several
    physicians. Our boat and cargo will also have received security
    clearance from the Port Authorities in Cyprus before we depart.

    As it will be confirmed that neither we, the cargo, any of the boat’s
    contents, nor the boat itself constitute any threat to the security of
    Israel or its armed forces, we do not expect any interference with
    our voyage by Israel’s authorities.

    On Tuesday, December 30, an Israeli Navy vessel violently, and without warning, attacked our motor vessel Dignity, disabling the vessel and endangering the lives of the 16 civilians on board. This notice serves as clear notification to you of our approach. Any attack on the motor vessel, Spirit of Humanity, will be premeditated and any harm inflicted on the 30 civilians on board will be considered the result
    of a deliberate attack on unarmed civilians.

    The Steering Committee of the Free Gaza Movement

    Contact: Huwaida Arraf, Free Gaza Movement, 357 96 723 999