Friday 26 December 2014

'The world abandoned us and we were on our own'

Shona Murray

Published 07/08/2014 | 02:30

A Palestinian man lies on the ruins of his son's destroyed house in Khuzaa town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during Israeli offensive, in the east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Reuters
A Palestinian man lies on the ruins of his son's destroyed house in Khuzaa town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during Israeli offensive, in the east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Reuters
Palestinians ride a donkey cart past destroyed and badly damaged residential buildings as they return to Beit Lahiya town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the northern Gaza Strip
An Israeli reserve soldier checks a tank track near the border with Gaza. Reuters
Mahmoud Ismail speaks of his feeling of helplessness during the bombardment of his area

Corpses of babies, men and women were stored in ice-cream and vegetable fridges such was the extremity of the brutal onslaught.

And the inhabitants of East Rafah, the town of Khza'a and Khan Yunis suffered the most during the conflict in southern Gaza. Israeli tanks barrelled in to the south with full force, albeit after warnings from the IDF troops for people to evacuate.

What was left was a scene of complete destruction - comparable only to the aftermath of a violent earthquake.

And the foul stench of decaying bodies - far from sight - makes the scene even more repugnant.

Mahmoud Ismail (23) arrived home to Khza'a on holiday from studying in Cairo. The trip home will be etched in his memory forever.

"Last Tuesday night, all of a sudden, we hear shelling coming all over the place.

"We heard that they cut us off by F16 (planes) - they hit the place and made huge holes in the street so you can't leave or get in. They cut the electricity and the phone lines; we were totally in dark; you could not use the phone or anything," he said.

"Me and my family ... for 13 hours straight, all we did was sit there listening to shelling, guessing where it was coming from, and what was going on. I tried to call the Red Cross, several times: the last call before my phone died, I was told 'The Israeli army told you to leave the place two days ago, why didn't you?'

"I told them that, okay, we didn't, for some reason, we didn't, what should we do now? He told me, 'You just, well, pray for yourself'.

"I just hung up, I lost every hope after this, and we just waited; it's all we could do."

Days later the family tried to make their way to the entrance of Khza'a where they believed the Red Cross were situated.

"All you need to do is wave white flags; you'll be fine. We said, okay, we'll leave; there was around 3,000 of us in the town -the ones that didn't leave. When we got there, all of a sudden, there was no Red Cross, not even an ambulance. Waiting were three tanks, sitting in the entrance of Khza'a village," he said.

He told how the shooting started immediately. "I myself saw a boy getting shot; his father was lifting him. "The first bullet hit his leg but the second hit his head.

"He died in front of me," recalls Mahmoud.

Days before the siege on Khza'a, the IDF warned inhabitants to leave the area.

"I don't have a clear answer why I didn't leave; I know there is no safe place in Gaza," he said, adding: "I didn't expect this destruction; this ugliness, nobody expected this. It was horrible; the world abandoned us, and we were on our own."

The city of Rafah resembles the scene of a disaster; mosque, apartment buildings, businesses: beauty salons and shopping centres, all reduced to rubble.

"They destroyed the infrastructure, they killed so many people and they could not occupy Gaza. The resistance was very strong, and the people will not turn against their own resistance," said the Palestinian delegate to talks in Cairo, Dr Mustafa Barghouti.

"The demilitarisation of Gaza will never happen," he insists.

Irish Independent

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