Friday, 18 May 2007
The latest decent into violence in Gaza is more than just a broken cease-fire. There are signs of something more sinister. Checkpoints at which gunmen are checking ids. With the intensity of a civil war, the only difference being that the “country” is split along religious, rather than ethnic lines.
Gunfights are no longer isolated incidents, mere breaches of the cease-fire. They last into the night, through the afternoon, with heavy arms, mortars, and occasional Israeli gunships shelling of Eastern and Northern Gaza City.
I am told stories of abductions and executions.
“Tuesday just before Meghrib prayer between 5pm and 6pm. Me, as a neighbour, I was sitting in my home. I heard noises outside. I went to the 11th floor where this man was living. He’s our neighbour. I was stopped by armed gunmen. I told him ‘what are you doing?’ He told me ‘it’s not your business, just leave.’ I told him ‘speak quietly and tell me what’s happening to my neighbour.’
He told me ‘it’s not your business’ and pointed the weapon at me. His face was covered and his face was black.”
Five minutes later, Nahed El-Nimr was shot dead outside his building.
“I can’t believe the Palestinians are doing this to each other.”
I spoke to the man who saw his body. It was blocking the entrance to his supermarket, along with another unidentified body, which remained shut for two days.
“I couldn’t open my shop with two bodies and blood all over the floor…”
At the height of the conflict, in a state of virtual war, Hamas and Fatah laid siege to two residential towers in Western Gaza City. Hamas took up positions inside, occupying peoples’ flats and kicking the families out. Fatah fired RPG’s at the buildings, burning several apartments and scarring the building’s façade with small explosions. The residents were trapped, unable to evacuate as the battle raged on outside.
We reached Um Muntaser by telephone. She lives in Borj El-Saleh, a residential tower in the west of the city, and unidentified gunmen had taken over her building, burning residents’ cars and firing at ambulances attempting to reach the injured. Gunmen were moving from floor to floor searching each appartment.
“We have been living in our kitchen for the past two days,” explained the 42-year-old mother of seven, “11 or 12 apartments have been burned…there are snipers everywhere…we are human beings, what’s our fault in all this?”
The hospitals are running low. Dr. Juma’ Saqqa is head of Al-Shifa’ hospital, the strip’s busiest. Today they’ve received three dead bodies and ten injuries, all innocent bystanders.
“We’re working with what we have. We are working with great difficulties because of lack of drugs, medicines and medical supplies. We don’t have enough stock. It’s dangerous for our staff to move, bullets don’t distinguish.”
The details of the killings are bleeding into one. More Israeli air strikes today – a car, a school, a tree only fifty meters from my hotel. We gather around to see the damage, the assassinated tree, and another trail of smoke shoots over the wall towards us. Everyone panics and scatters, but no explosion follows. The executions continue. A journalist is kidnapped, Abd al-Salam Abu Ashkar, the Gaza bureau chief of Abu Dhabi TV, and released several hours later.
Israeli gunships circle the city, looking for more targets. Drones hover in the sky, watching. The sound of a jet approaching, cover your ears and hold your breath.
This is Free Palestine? What have we done to you, Filasteen? What have you done to us? I can’t bear to look out of the window and see you, hunching down below me, flames still smouldering, lulling me to sleep with the sound of gunfire.