Friday, May 26, 2006

'How can people live, I wonder?'

Eight months ago, the Palestinians were celebrating the end of Israel's military occupation of Gaza. But the artillery shells keep falling, factions are fighting each other and the economy is on its knees as Israel blockades exports. Has anything changed for the better?

Chris McGreal reports

Thursday May 25, 2006
The Guardian

Mousa al-Sawarka lived in a small ramshackle house, watching over his camels and crops on the edge of Beit Lahia in the north of the Gaza strip, until the rain of Israeli artillery shells got too much. So the 68-year-old Bedouin farmer moved in with his son in town. Two days later a shell flattened Mousa's house. Three weeks after that, another shell killed him as he was trying to drive his camels away from artillery fire. "He was hit directly in the head," says his nephew, Fares al-Sawarka. "We couldn't rescue him because of the shelling. It was 10 minutes before we could get to him. It was so difficult to see his face. When we got the body back from the hospital, we tried not to let his wife see it."
The next day, the family set up the traditional mourning tent within sight of the old man's flattened house. A stream of friends and neighbours arrived to pay their condolences and take coffee. "Then the shells started falling again," says another nephew, Adel al-Sawarka. "We heard screaming and shouting and it was Hassan al-Shafei. The shrapnel hit him in the back and almost cut him in half. There were so many shells, we had to crawl on the ground to escape."

Hassan al-Shafei, a 55-year-old fruit and vegetable farmer, died in hospital. His cousin, Ahmed al-Shafei, carries to the mourning tent five large pieces of shrapnel he picked up in the field. Each is more than six inches long, heavy and jagged. "Imagine this thing, so hot and fast. Just one piece would tear a person's body. It's horrible," he says.

After that, both families set up mourning tents on the other side of town where there were fewer shells, although still enough for the neighbouring American School to close its doors and move to Gaza City in January.

Since the beginning of last month, Israel has fired more than 5,100 shells into the Gaza strip from artillery just the other side of the border and from ships off the coast. The military says the bombardment is aimed at deterring Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel from open fields, but the artillery fire has killed six Palestinian civilians, including two children, eight-year-old Hadeel Ghaen and 15-year-old Mamdouh Obaid, and wounded 60 others, including 21 children.

The Israeli army changed its own rules to allow it to drop shells within 100 metres of built-up areas. On the afternoon that the Sawarka family was mourning the loss of Mousa, more than 300 shells fell in and around Beit Lahia, some so close that the explosions rocked the fragile homes.

"We are Bedouin and we live in homes with zinc roofs and it doesn't protect us," says Fares al-Sawarka. "The Israelis are dropping shells closer and closer. They can see that for 10 years we have been doing the same things, moving the camels at particular times. They know our names even. They know who they kill. Before, they targeted the fighters. Now they are targeting all of us. The Bedouin have no relationship with the fighters. This is collective punishment."

The two men are among about 110 Palestinians who have been killed by Israel since the beginning of the year, about half of them civilians. At the weekend, an Israeli missile strike on a car carrying an Islamic Jihad commander also killed three generations of a family driving by. The youngest victim, Muhannad Mohammed Aamen, was four years old.
This is a lengthy article which expands on the economical conditions in present Gaza. Read the full story here.

I don't dispute Israel's right to defend against attacks. I don't dispute that firing Qassam rockets into Israel is pointless and futile. But I do feel Israeli response to the problem is exaggerated and little more than tit-for-tat, resulting in collective punishment of those who've little, if anything, to do with Islamic Jihad and assorted groups. Here's a previous post on the Gaza shelling.


At 6:32 PM, Blogger Oleh Yahshan said...

Although I don't agree with the Tit-for Tat concept, (should Israel only fire small shells into Gaza??) I will say that I think this is the wrong way to do things. The Israeli shelling is nt what's going to stop the Factions from fireing the rockets.
The answer is simple - but no one would like that because it would involve "invading" Gaza, and the world would be in an outcry.
but if you think about it - if Israel raided the areas where the rockets were fired and managed to stop those who are firing them - it would make the life on both sides a lot better.
Twisted logic I know - but there isn't really a better solution.

At 8:33 PM, Blogger Gert said...

I agree that actually going after the Qassam launchers would be more effective than shelling. And I agree that this would be seen as an invasion and meet much condemnation. Damned if you do, damned if you don't...

My interim solution would be for Palestinian security forces to stop these factions from launching the rockets. But wouldn't that be also a case of "damned if you do, damned if you don't"?

At 10:29 PM, Blogger Oleh Yahshan said...

they would have to stop fighting each other before they actually do any police work.

Then of course they would have to have some sort of reason to do that - and unfortunately they do really care if Palestinians die from shells - or any other kind of death - it actually helps them.

At 4:15 PM, Blogger markfromireland said...

O/T to this - Blair has reached new levels of beyond-poodledom so much so that he's reached IMO the level of quisling. I truly hope you guys get so revolted at his antics that you get rid of him ASAP.

I did a posting today to that effect. I doubt you'll enjoy reading it but dear God, just when you think he can sink no lower .....

At 5:45 PM, Blogger Gert said...


"and unfortunately they do really care if Palestinians die from shells - or any other kind of death - it actually helps them."

That's also being said about Israeli victims of suicide bombers: they're useful because it justifies Israel's behaviour.

But by saying so we completely brush aside the fact that victims on both sides are just that: tragic victims...

At 6:53 PM, Blogger Oleh Yahshan said...

But by saying so we completely brush aside the fact that victims on both sides are just that: tragic victims...

once again I am forced to agree with you. Damn there must be something wrong with me today :>

At 9:46 PM, Blogger Wolfie said...

What puzzles me a little is that Israel has some of the most advanced anti-ballistic missile technology in the world, backed up by surveillance drones that can read a car number plate from several km - so why are they blanketing Gaza with missiles? From a military strategic view-point it doesn't make sense.

At 12:07 PM, Blogger Oleh Yahshan said...

it's actually very simple - all the great technology is meant to stop balistic missles.
There are 2 major problems here -
1. they are not balistic - there is no arch that you can track, with the amount of time they have. If you ever watch it fly you will see it has a huge random factor. Also, about 80% of them land in Gaza itself or in the sea and rarely manage to land where they want to.

2. the people who fire it are teams of 2-3 people and a rocket, there is nothing really to go after unless you can find them while thye are in the process of firing.

The answer to such problems goes back to what I noted in the first comment - not Amazing technology but palin old fashion Infantry, going in and fighting them off. that by the way is the Tactical thing to do.

At 11:09 PM, Blogger Oleh Yahshan said...

well it seems I spoke just a day to soon. - a report came out in an Israeli paper (online), that the IDF has sent in a ground force to raid the areas where kassamim are beeing fired. I have not seen the report in English yet but I am sure we will read more about it tom.

good night

At 3:04 PM, Blogger Gert said...

You might be referring to this (from Haaretz).


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