Thursday, September 07, 2006

Gaza Watch #15: Palestinian children pay price of Israel's Summer Rain

Rights group says 197 civilians have been killed in
military operation, including 48 minors

By Rory McCarthy in Gaza City

The Guardian
7 September 2006

On a humid afternoon, an hour or two after lunch, Nadi
al-Attar, 12, set off on a donkey-drawn cart with his
grandmother Khariya and two of his young cousins to pick
figs from a small orchard near their home in northern

Ahmed, 17, one of the cousins, remembers the moment when
the shell struck, but pauses as he tells his story to
nervously rub the muscles at the top of his thighs. The
shell that hit their cart that afternoon sliced off his
left leg just above the knee and his right leg halfway up
his calf. He still has an aching pain in his bandaged

They had stopped the cart and two of the boys jumped off.
"They went to collect something, some metal bars, and then
they came back to the cart," he said. The boys hoped to
sell the strips of metal for scrap. The Palestinian Centre
for Human Rights (PCHR) later determined that the metal
came from a launcher for a Qassam, one of the crude
rockets launched by Palestinian militants from Gaza into
Israel. Qassams had been fired from the area that morning,
though the militants had since left.

"Then the shell struck. I saw my mother [Khariya] dead and
Nadi killed. I saw them dead on the ground," Ahmed said.
"I looked down and then I saw my legs were cut away."

Human rights field workers believe an artillery shell,
fired from an Israeli military position not far away at
the border with the Gaza Strip, hit the cart. Several were
fired that day, July 24 - one day in a long and damaging
Israeli military operation.

"I think it happened because of the metal we were
collecting," Ahmed said. "But we were just going to the
farm." He was taken to hospital with another cousin,
Shadi, who was wounded in the stomach by shrapnel. Nadi
and Khariya, 58, were killed instantly.

"We had lunch together," said Nadi's father, Habib, 36.
"Then he went with his grandmother and never came back."

The deaths are not an isolated case. For the past two
months, while the world's attention in the Middle East has
been focused on the conflict in Lebanon, the Israeli
military has led a wave of intense operations along the
length of the Gaza Strip. It began after the capture of an
Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit, by Palestinian
militants on June 25. The Israeli military said its
operations were intended to free Cpl Shalit and to halt
Qassam rocket fire. Early on the Israelis bombed Gaza's
only power plant and they have kept Gaza's crossing points
to Israel and Egypt closed for most of the time.

Since the start of the operation, codenamed Summer Rain,
at least 240 Palestinians have been killed. One in five
were children. According to the PCHR, which has
investigated each case, 197 of the dead were civilians and
the vast majority were killed in Gaza. Among them were 12
women and 48 children.

Yesterday an Israeli military spokesman said his forces
did not target civilians. "Our actions are targeted only
at terrorist organisations, terror activities and
infrastructure," he said. "It can happen that innocent
people are hit. But the responsibility does not lie with
the Israeli army, but rather with the terror groups who
are working within civilian populations without any regard
to the danger they are causing."

More than two months into the Gaza operation Israel has
still not secured the release of Cpl Shalit or stopped
Qassam rocket fire.

"We believe that the whole offensive against the Gaza
Strip is characterised by being an act of revenge and
retaliation in which civilians are paying the price," said
Hamdi Shaqqura, a founder member of the PCHR in Gaza City.
"They have demonstrated total disregard for the rights of
innocent Palestinian civilians. There has been an
excessive use of force, a disproportionate use of force in
civilian areas, and that explains the high toll of death."

Mr Shaqqura also condemned the Palestinian militants for
launching the Qassams and for firing them from civilian
areas. "This is illegal and we have called on them to
stop," he said.

Many relatives of those killed by the Israelis in Gaza
have been equally critical of the rocket attacks. "We get
nothing out of it," said Muhammad al-Attar, 23, another of
Nadi's cousins. "After they launch rockets we get killed
and they destroy our farms."

A few hours after the donkey cart was hit a shell was
fired into Beit Hanoun, another district of northern Gaza.
It killed Khitam Tayeh, 11, who was on her way to the
shops after school with her sister Nuha, 12. Nuha was hit
by a piece of shrapnel in her left thigh, but survived.
Khitam had a severe head injury and died in hospital.

"I carried her in from the ambulance and took her to the
operating room in my arms," said her father, Muhammad 48.
"Then she died. They couldn't do anything." He showed
several framed photographs of his daughter, with long dark
hair and wide brown eyes. Two bright stars had been
superimposed in the background.

Mr Tayeh has collected a box of shrapnel from the scene, a
couple of dozen sharp, rigid shards of metal, each three
or four inches long, and talks of bringing a legal case
against the Israeli military. Like many, a year ago he had
hoped that life in Gaza would improve when Israeli
settlers were withdrawn, in what seemed a ground-breaking

"People expected it would get better, but it's been the
opposite," he said. "Don't tell me they withdrew. It's
like they didn't leave. They are everywhere."

On the eastern side of Gaza, in Shujaiya, Hussam
al-Sirsawi, 12, was with his friends standing on the
street watching Israeli troops fighting against militants
in the distance on August 27. He was badly injured by a
piece of shrapnel and died three days later.

"You know how children are when they hear something
happen. They want to go and see," said his uncle Nasser
al-Sirsawi, 37. "I can't say why the Israelis killed him.
These army people are full of hatred. Maybe these kids
went to watch some resistance people and they were in the
wrong place. To kill a child like this is not natural." On
the wall opposite his cloth shop there is graffiti
dedicated to his nephew. "Hussam," it says, "we swear to
God you won." "Of course," said his uncle, "he's a

Two days later there was another incident in Shujaiya,
when again a group of children were watching the fighting.
Either a tank shell or a large chunk of shrapnel flew at
them and hit Muhammad al-Ziq, 14, on the head. He died
instantly. "I think sometimes they just want the
Palestinians to pay," said his uncle, Ziad al-Ziq, 36. "He
was with children wanting to see what was happening. There
was no excuse for what happened."

All of the dead and most of the injured pass through the
Shifa hospital in Gaza City. Staff photograph the bodies
of the dead - they call the victims "martyrs" - and
document their injuries. Juma'a al-Saqqa called up a
picture on his computer screen of Muhammad al-Ziq, an
appalling image of the boy lying on his side on a metal
morgue table, the side of his head sliced away. In the
past two months the hospital's doctors have dealt with
1,280 injured from the military operations, a third of
whom were children. The doctors performed 60 amputations.

Dr Saqqa flicks through the photographic record, images of
bodies charred beyond recognition, flesh no longer human
in form. Many of the figures were young children, at least
one in a shredded blue school uniform. "We have passed
through the worst situation we have ever come across in
our years of work," he said. "But this is our situation.
What can we do? We raised our voices to the world, but
nobody moves."

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