The Independent (London) April 16, 2001, Monday
IN THE filth and powdered cement of what the Israelis had left of his
home yesterday, 81-year-old Mohamed Shaer found his Palestine passport
but sought in vain for the only photograph of his wife, Mansoura. She
died just three years ago, and Mohamed, in white beard and white robe,
smiled when he conceded it was probably for the best that she had not
lived to see this day; the home she had shared with him and their two
sons, Ibrahim and Mohamed, and their own 17 children, ground into the
mud by an Israeli bulldozer that came through the border fence,
spitting fire from a machine- gun on the roof while two tanks sent
salvoes of shells into the nearest buildings.
On one of the holiest days in the Middle East, how does one write
about this wanton Israeli destruction of homes in Gaza? How to
describe the 15 shacks - home to about a hundred Palestinian civilians
- that now lie in a great tangle of wooden beams, crushed television
sets, concrete breeze blocks, driving licences, video tapes,
delicately embroidered women's clothes, socks and pulverised tables
and shopping receipts and bread, all washed through with sewage? Not
to mention the 35 wounded, the boy with his leg chopped off by an
Israeli shell, the teenager with shrapnel nudging at his shoulder bone
and no feeling in his left hand, flapping it uselessly towards me from
his hospital bed. Is this a tragedy or a war crime, this deliberate
attack on the homes of civilians?
As usual, amid the pathetic heaps of family detritus, there stood not
far off that familiar feature of all Middle Eastern stories: the
Department of Double Standards. A smaller, even more dilapidated
structure - the Department of Truth - was also not far away; of which
It had, in any case, been a bad Easter weekend. The only fatal
casualty - save for a Palestinian called Mohamed Nasser who apparently
blew himself up in Gaza with his own bomb - was a young Israeli
soldier killed in his tank close to the UN's "blue line" demarcation
frontier with Lebanon. The first big lie of the weekend, however, came
from the Israeli army, which blandly announced that the destruction of
the Palestinian homes in Rafah was no more than "engineering activity"
and that in any case the houses that their tanks and bulldozers turned
into rubble were unoccupied. This was totally untrue as the Israelis,
who inhabit a massive block-house above the shacks, knew very well.
When the first tanks burst through the dividing wall before dusk on
Saturday - firing anti-armour missiles into the nearest apartment
blocks even though a small market was open 300 metres away - hundreds
of men, women and children ran screaming into the neighbouring
The Israelis claimed they had previously come under attack from the
area by men using gunfire and home-made mortars. Either way, by dawn
yesterday, the Western media were hard at work belittling the event.
Israel, Reuters announced, was "flexing its military muscles" in both
Lebanon and Rafah; it managed to put the 35 Palestinian wounded in the
eighth paragraph of its report, referring to the Israeli Prime
Minister, Ariel Sharon - in the usual let's-forget-Sabra-and -Chatila
manner - as "Israel's leading hawk". According to Reuters, an earlier
pipe-bomb attack in Jerusalem that wounded an elderly Israeli man
struck at "the soft underbelly of vulnerability that has always rested
beneath the Israeli state's hard shell of security".
No such sympathy was shown by Reuters for the Palestinians of Rafah
who seemed to have a rather softer underbelly and no security at all.
Jalal Zohri saw the tanks coming from his first-floor apartment block.
"It had been very calm and people were shopping in the little market
over the road," he recalled. "Then there was a tremendous noise and a
tank burst through a gap in the wall between us and the Egyptian
frontier. It started shooting rockets and everyone was screaming. I
saw a woman below me grab her daughter from a sofa in the yard just as
a wall collapsed on the sofa. Bullets started hitting my own walls and
cutting through the blinds and with everyone else I ran for my life."
Several of the now-homeless Palestinians agree that within minutes of
the Israelis entering the slums - part of the Palestinian-controlled
Area A and thus a clear violation of the Oslo agreement - members of
the Palestinian Tanzim militia arrived to fire Kalashnikov rifles at
the Israelis on the bulldozers. "But they couldn't drive the Israelis
out," Mr Zohri said. Then it became a battle, with Israeli tank -fired
missiles smashing into the walls of the houses opposite the military
post." Sabah Zaanoun saw her eldest son, Ahmed, run towards the sound
of the gunfire. "He wanted to see what was happening - all boys do
that," she said as she sat by her son's hospital bed in Khan Younis
The boy flapped his hand in my direction as I spoke to his mother. He
can no longer use his fingers. "He's had an operation to remove a
bullet that went through his shoulder," Sabah Zaanoun said. "Part of
the bullet flew out of his back but the rest got lodged inside him.
There's also a piece of shrapnel that's against his bone in his left
shoulder and he says it's so painful that he feels as if his body is
on fire." Not far away, a 16-year old lay unconscious; part of his leg
was blown off by a tank shell. All of this, according to the Israelis
- like the vandalism and destruction of more than 30 homes in Khan
Younis last week - was in the name of "security". But now to the
Department of Truth.
Had the Palestinians been firing from the slums at the Israelis in
previous days? Several people, in the muck of what had once been their
homes, said they had. "The Tanzim would come here from time to time
and they would fire a few shots at the Israeli block-house and the
Israelis would respond with rockets," one said.
It was certainly another breach of the Oslo agreement; Palestinians
are not supposed to try to kill Israeli troops from Area A, any more
than Israeli troops are supposed to enter Area A on a spree of wanton
destruction. It was, as so often is the case, an Israeli writer who
was able to salvage some of the honour of journalism amid the rubbish
peddled by Western reporters here.
"Why ... is the demolishing of dozens of civilian homes not an act of
terror?" Gideon Levy asked in Ha'aretz . "Perhaps ... the firing of
mortars by Palestinians is an act of self-defence against the
occupation that has no end, and against the Jewish settlements beyond
the 1967 borders that are just growing larger and larger before their
The Independent (London)