“Limbs And Meat” In The Street

Gaza

Gaza

THE SHADOURA family live in the Moaskar Jabaliya area in the north of the Gaza Strip. They are originally from the town of Majdal in 1948 Palestine, now Ashkelon in present-day Israel. Their simple white, one-storey house is just yards away from the Fakhoura UN school where 42 people died, 20 of them children, when Israeli tanks opened fire on a busy intersection. Paramedics and eyewitnesses reported seeing nothing but “limbs and meat” in the street at the time. Witnesses report that four tank shells smashed into the ground releasing flying chunks of burning shrapnel.

Mohammad Shadoura, aged nine, had been playing marbles with friends in the street at the time. Mohammad’s father, Bassem Ahmad Shadoura, was close by. He describes the scene: “I saw an explosion, after which there was black smoke everywhere – the area was pure black. They hit twice in the same area. I saw a boy with his finger in the air saying I am a witness to God’ and I picked him up to take him out. Then I saw my son, he had been hit twice, in the legs and in the head. His brain was out’.”

Mahmoud, 15, recalled what he saw, his eyes widening with trauma. “We saw legs everywhere, flesh, some people without heads, meat. A boy next to me, he went crazy, he was overwhelmed, he saw the massacre, the street was full of blood, the nails from the shells were as long as your hand.”
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I am sitting in the Shadoura house. The women of the house are in their second day of collective grieving. Mohammad’s mother, stunned and silent, is flanked by her sisters, aunts, and daughters Najah, 17, Iman, 12, and Shahed, two, all remembering Mohammad. Their home is very basic, the living room area is partially open, with a grooved roof with white pigeons nesting within it. You can see Apache helicopters emitting bright dazzle-flares through the metre gap all around it.

Three cats, one, a tiny ginger kitten, stretches in the sunlight. The floor is covered with woven coloured mats, the walls lined with foam mattresses and there is a poster of a cousin, Nidal, 24, short-haired, clean-shaven, with serene eyes. He was an Islamic jihad fighter.

He was killed directly by an Israeli missile two months ago. As with all families here, there is little political homogeneity. Bassem was a first commander in the Fatah Authority and his brother a police intelligence officer.

Bassem isn’t working but still gets paid a $700-a-month salary from the Fatah authority in Ramallah. But even this doesn’t stretch far with his family of seven children. Rent for their one-bedroom house is $100 per month. Cooking gas – the price of which has more than doubled here since the siege – is around $120 for a 6kg canister. It lasts around two weeks, when they can get it. When they can’t, they cook on a primitive mud clay stove, powered by wood and paper. All nine members of the family sleep in one bedroom.

There was no water in the house. The electricity lines had been smashed down by the tank shell attack on Tuesday and the family’s water system is electrically powered. Even without the attack, power is only available some four hours a day.

Najah, 17, wants my phone number. She’s a lively teenager in black mourning clothes and hijab. Of course, I give it to her. I ask her what her brother was like. “He was the best one of us all. He was very kind.

“When he would watch TV he would get very scared of all the killing – all the children being killed.”

We eat our dinner by candlelight. A small plate of tinned tuna, two small bowls of “Gaza Salad” – chopped tomatoes with onion and chilli peppers – a kind of Palestinian salsa, olives from the family olive tree, cold mujaddara (no gas to heat it) a mix of rice and lentils, and bread. After tucking in, the whole family and I sit under one blanket, all focusing on their new house guest. Children make up 51% of the population of Gaza and witness everything.

“So many of our neighbours have died,” explains Foad. Iman, 12, knew one of the daughters of Nizar Rayan, a senior Hamas leader who was killed along with his four wives and 11 children. Aya Rayan, 12, died when eight bombs fired by an F16 fighter jet slammed into the family home. A further 10 houses were also wrecked in the attack. I saw the site myself, giant slabs of concrete criss-crossed on top of one another, pulverised homes, a pile hundreds of metres wide, flanked by at least four wall-less apartments revealing living rooms, coloured walls with pictures of loved ones and sunsets, smashed kitchens, with families picking through their wreckage and, below it all, dusted white, a dead horse twisted on to one side.

“Look at this,” says Mahmoud, 15. He hands me a lump of rock the size of a pineapple. “This came through the roof of my grandmother’s house next door the day of the attack. It wrecked their roof. If we had been there it would have killed us,” he says.

Mohammad’s father drinks his sweet amber tea slowly. “You’ve made the children here very happy”, he says.

He puffs on his cigarette. “I worked in Israel, I lived with Israelis, Jews from Europe, from Iraq, the Arab world and we all got along, we were friends. They’re good people, 100%. Twelve years I spent working there, but nothing has changed.”

Bassam was jailed in 1983, before the first intifada broke out. He was just 16 years old and spent three years in an Israeli prison. “Do you know why?”, he asks me, his small, wizened, embattled features squinting in the darkness. “For throwing a stone.”

“I couldn’t complete my studies, I wasn’t allowed to, and the Red Cross didn’t do anything for us. They just gave us some clothes.”

We look up at the poster of Nidal. “He was a fighter,” says Bassem. “My son, he was nine years old, he wasn’t doing anything. In our religion, our son is in heaven. He’ll be drinking water in heaven. Our son is a martyr.”

We get ready to go to bed. Its 8pm and everything is a gentle dim orange in the candlelight. The sound of falling bombs shakes the house, a swooping zip and slam-thud sound. “We hear it all night,” say the children.

Reem, mother of Mohammad, is only 36 but looks 10 years older. She is taking Mohammad’s clothes out, putting them up to her face and smelling them, then folding them.

She starts crying in the gentle orange light. “Where, where?”, she says gently. Her sisters comfort her. Im Qusam is one of them. “You know we can’t sleep, we can’t live, no gas, no bread, no water.”

Bassem recalls the funeral procession for the 42 dead. I attended, too.

“It was the first time in one-and-a-half years that we all marched together, we all prayed together, every faction, every flag was there. I wanted my son in the funeral, my son is the son of the people.”

Usually each faction has their own funeral procession and burial. Mahmoud 15, recalls the burial. “We had gone to bury the dead and the Israelis shot at us, we were so afraid, we ran. We’re afraid all the time, all the time that we’ll be hit.”

Sitting on a small sandy hill, listening to a beautiful, sorrowful, deep-voiced song, I saw the mass of mourners run, streaming over gravestones for the gate, as shot after shot rang out of the crowd. “Kannaas” snipers, my friend said to me grimly.

I ask Ahmad, 16, how he feels about the rockets from the Palestinian resistance. “They hit us with missiles and we shouldn’t react? Ours are like games, they’re like toys compared to theirs. But ours lift our spirits.”

We go to sleep to the sound of thudding missiles, the ones close by shake the house. Terror leaps in our chests. “That one was a house! It was a house,” breathes Reem in the middle of the night. The house of the Salha family in the Beit Lahiya projects area was bombed at 4.30am. Six family members, four of them under 15 years old, were killed. They had moved there for shelter, according to friends.

We wake up to the sound of bombing. I count 15 Israeli missile strikes between seven and 8.30am. Two crunky old Palestinian missiles make off in response. Ten of us share a plate of maybe five scrambled eggs dusted with pepper and four discs of white bread.

The family pause together. “Jabaliya used to be so beautiful,” says Roweeya, 17, a visiting aunt, pouring tea for us. “There is a garden close by, full of orange trees. The Israelis keep blasting missiles into it.”
insight-info.com

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