Al Ahram Weekly
Families targeted
15 – 21 January 2009

Israel is using weapons of mass destruction to take out ordinary families in Gaza, reports Saleh Al-Naami

Arafat Al-Samuni lives on the eastern border of the Zeitoun neighbourhood south of Gaza City. He was recently startled by a loud knock at his door and didn’t open it at first because he and his family were too scared. The sound of explosions filled the air and the walls of his home had been shaking ever since the Israeli army had begun its land offensive. Yet the knocking persisted, and Al-Samuni had no choice but to open the door. He had thought that occupation soldiers had been knocking, but was surprised to find dozens of his relatives — men, women and children — shouting at him to get down to the storage space on the ground floor as ordered by the Israeli soldiers who had raided the area. The soldiers had asked all the families in the area, including Al-Samuni’s, to gather in his house.

The men, women and children stayed in the storeroom for three days without food or water. During the afternoon of the fourth day, two of the men decided to leave the house to bring water and some food for the children who were weak with hunger. They returned an hour later and as the children were eating the bread and cheese they had brought an Israeli tank fired shells at the house, directed at the ground floor storeroom. Dozens of family members were killed or injured, while two men who were unharmed fled through the door that had burst open from the impact, leaving to bring an ambulance. Israeli occupation soldiers were watching and demanded that the men strip naked before allowing them to leave. They eventually ran off to get emergency relief teams to rescue the injured, but when the ambulance finally arrived, the soldiers shot at them and didn’t allow them to remove the wounded for another three hours.

Hilmi Al-Samuni is now lying in Dar Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza. He told Al-Ahram Weekly that he lost his mother, father, little sister, oldest brother, wife, daughter, and two of his uncles. Arafat Al-Samuni, one of the few people who survived uninjured, says that more than 100 people were in the house when the Israeli army shelled it. Nael Al-Samuni, who was lightly injured in the shelling, told the Weekly that his wife and two daughters were killed. The most distinctive feature of the horrific campaign that Israel is currently waging against the Gaza Strip is the army’s intentional targeting of entire families.

Jihad Abu Jabara, 55, lived in Al-Bureij Refugee Camp in the central Gaza Strip and thought that his family would be safe from Israeli shelling. Jihad lived in the heart of the camp, far from the eastern border where families are usually vulnerable to shelling. But at 11pm last Friday night, after Jihad listened to the news on the radio to learn the latest on the Israeli operation, he was unable to sleep. Once he did finally fall asleep, his house collapsed on him and his sons Bassem, 29, and Osama, 22. They were all sleeping on the top floor of the house and were killed while the rest of the family on the ground floor barely survived. The Israeli tanks stationed to the east of the camp had fired a shell upon their house and destroyed this family.

Yet perhaps the worst that Palestinian families have undergone was the massacre of the Abu Aisha family in the Al-Shati Refugee Camp west of Gaza City. Dalal — a little girl who is the sole surviving member of the family — tells of the tragedy. Last Sunday afternoon the Abu Aisha family learned that the Zeitoun neighbourhood had been targeted by shelling that killed Ruby Abu Ras, Dalal’s cousin and friend. Dalal insisted on going to Ruby’s house with her grandmother, and arrived despite the dangers in their path, for the invading Israeli forces were and remain stationed close to the Zeitoun neighbourhood. Dalal had to spend the night at her aunt’s house with her grandmother; oblivious to the tragedy that meanwhile befell her family in the refugee camp. That night, Israeli warships fired three shells on Dalal’s family’s home, killing her father Amer, her mother Nahil, her brothers Sayed, 12, Mohamed, nine, and Ahmed, five, and her sister Ghayda, eight. Dalal says that her life was saved by her going to her aunt’s, but she considers life after the death of her family to be hell.

Atta Azzam, 40, lived on the eastern border of Hajar Al-Deek village south of Gaza City. He knew how dangerous this location was, for his home is just opposite the border separating the Gaza Strip from Israel. He had seen the Israeli army’s movements in the area with his own eyes, but had been reassured when he’d heard that the Israeli government had decided to stop the shelling and firing for three hours each day (from 1pm to 4pm), so that people could shop for necessities. He decided to go out to buy some things his family needed, and went to a nearby grocery store, stopping at some neighbours’ houses along the way to talk. Before the period set by the Israeli army had ended, at 3.45pm, Atta left his neighbours and headed back home. Near his house he found his oldest son Farid, 15, and another, Hassan, one, and he picked Hassan up and continued on his way. For some reason, Atta turned around just as he reached his door facing the east, and an Israeli tank was stationed there on the border. It fired a shell at him, hitting him in the stomach as he held Hassan, killing them both. Farid was struck in the heart with shell shrapnel and also killed. A nurse in Shuhada Al-Aqsa Hospital, which received the three corpses, told the Weekly that the upper bodies of Atta and Hassan were fused when they reached the hospital.

Evidence of the occupation army’s field executions of Palestinian civilians is abundant, but what happened to Shahad Huji, four, is one of the cruelest examples of these operations. Last Monday morning, Fatima Huji, who lives in Al-Zahra City seven kilometres south of Gaza City, decided to go to her father’s home in Khan Younis. She took her daughter Shahad and her son Ahmed, seven, and thought that she would find a taxi on the coastal road that connects Gaza City and the southern Gaza Strip. She walked west, towards the road, and was surprised to find a detachment of Israeli soldiers standing at the crossing. Fatima was afraid that if she turned back she would arouse their suspicions, so she decided to continue on her way. When she reached the crossing, the soldiers asked where she was going and she told them she was travelling south to visit her family, and they let her pass.

Fatima told the Weekly, “I held Shahad’s hand and Ahmed walked in front of me and we turned south. I thought that the matter had ended. But only a few minutes later, the soldiers opened direct fire on me and my children, and we were all shot.” Fatima and her children lay injured and bleeding until the soldiers left and a farmer living near the vineyard overlooking the area called an ambulance and the three were taken to hospital. Ahmed’s injury was moderate, Fatima’s more serious, and Shahad’s critical. Shahad had been shot in the heart, and doctors tried for four hours to save her life, but she eventually died from her wounds.

What happened to Abdel-Ghani Abu Madin and his family is terrifying also. This well-known ear and throat specialist was standing with his wife and his brother Sami last Sunday on the balcony of their villa on the seaside of Al-Zahra City. The doctor noticed Apache helicopters in the sky, but had grown accustomed to that and so paid no attention as he continued his conversation with his wife and brother. Then a helicopter fired a Hellfire missile at them, killing Sami, injuring Abdel-Ghani critically, and leaving his wife with moderate wounds. The doctor may be transferred to a hospital in Libya in an attempt to save his life.

Among the 1,000 Palestinians killed in the Israeli military campaign against the Gaza Strip by the time of writing, Israeli shelling has deliberately destroyed dozens of families.