Life and Death in Gaza
A funeral cortege passed as I left Gaza City to move down to Khan Yunis. Last night the Israeli army destroyed three houses to the north east of the city, injured 20 people and killed two. According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, the body of one of the victims, a 70-year-old man who was deaf, was discovered among the ruins of his house. The other victim was shot dead for no apparent reason while travelling home in his car. One of the destroyed houses was of five storeys, accommodating five families totalling 60 people of whom 35 were children. They are now in tents. 60 tanks were used in the incursion.
A noisy night in Khan Yunis, with intermittent automatic weapon fire throughout the hours of darkness. What is the army trying to do? The attacks and gunfire to which Palestinians are subjected day after day, month after month, are a terror tactic much more damaging than anything that Israelis have to suffer.
It is very bad that the Israeli army has entered Jabaliya Camp in Gaza City and destroyed a warehouse containing 500 tonnes of food for 47,000 Palestinians. BBC World Service reports that the army refused a request that the food should be salvaged before the building was destroyed. Malnutrition is increasing in the Occupied Territories. There is no doubt that, but for the food being supplied by the UN agency, UNWRA, many Palestinians would be dying of starvation. Last month the agency reported that 22 per cent of Palestinian children are suffering from acute or chronic malnutrition for man-made reasons. "The destruction of the Palestinian economy by Israel's closures policy has had the effect of a terrible natural disaster."
10.30pm A spotter aircraft has been droning over Khan Yunis for some time - it was with helicopters last night when they flew over the town for half an hour and fired at something near where I am staying. After a period of fairly heavy gunfire, there is the sound of helicopters in the distance. Maybe they are going for something in Rafah.
When I left a computer café this afternoon, I was grabbed by three lads. One of them kissed me ostentatiously on both cheeks while another tried, unsuccessfully, to take my mobile. A Palestinian man, who took my arm and pulled me away from them, did not have enough English to help me dialogue with the lads, but told me that his mother and sister had been killed by the Israeli military. He said that everyone is suffering effects of the Israeli occupation and terror tactics. Someone else said: "When people live in a jungle for fifty years, some of them get a bit wild." Being a foreigner and particularly because I am British, in the eyes of many Palestinians I bear some responsibility for their suffering at the hands of the Israelis. I could also be an Israeli infiltrator.
In Rafah I met a social worker who had spent 12 years in Israeli jails. Most of the older men I spoke to had been imprisoned, often for many years. I was told about the gratuitous violence the townspeople here are subjected to. The day before yesterday a woman was deliberately shot dead by an Israeli soldier as she walked down a street with her children. Last month 32 people were killed by Israeli military activity in the town, 7 in one day, and 300 were injured. Many of these people were shot with heavy bullets which increase the number of deaths and serious injuries. Rafah has had a higher proportion of deaths in the past two years than anywhere else in the Occupied Territories - 10% of Palestinian deaths, though its population accounts for 2.5% of all Palestinians.
Ambulances have been shot at on many occasions. Crew members are issued with body armour, but they did not wear it while I was there because it is so heavy that it slows them down if they have to run to or with casualties. They sometimes have to wriggle along the ground to recover wounded people under fire.
I was shown a house that was heavily fired on yesterday from an Israeli army tower half a mile away, killing a woman in her bedroom. Also yesterday, three women were killed when a tank fired on new houses built by UNWRA for families whose homes had been demolished by Israeli bulldozers.