Civilians dead

Ewa Jasiewicz reports from Gaza on the devastation wreaked by the Israeli air strikes

December 28, 2008
7 min read


Ewa JasiewiczEwa Jasiewicz is a Palestine solidarity activist, union organiser and part of the editorial collective of Le Monde Diplomatique Polish Edition.

There was blood on a broken plastic yellow slide and a crippled, dead donkey with an upturned vegetable cart beside it. Aubergines and splattered blood covered the ground. A man began to explain in broken English what had happened. ‘It was full here, full, three people dead, many many injured.’

An elderly man with a white kuffiyeh around his head threw his hands down to his blood drenched trousers. ‘Look! Look at this! Shame on all governments, shame on Israel, look how they kill us, they are killing us and what does the world do? Where is the world, where are they, we are being killed here, hell upon them!’ He was a market trader, present during the attack.

He began to pick up splattered tomatoes he had lost from his cart, picking them up jerkily, and putting them into plastic bags, quickly. Behind a small tile and brick building, a man was sitting against the wall, his legs were bloodied. He couldn’t get up and was sitting, visibly in pain and shock, trying to adjust himself, to orientate himself.

The police station itself was a wreck, a mess of criss-crossed piles of concrete – broken floors upon floors. Smashed cars and a split palm tree blocked the road.

We walked on, hurriedly, with eyes skyward at four apache helicopters – their trigger mechanisms supplied by the UK’s Brighton-Based EDM Technologies. They were dropping smoky bright flares – a defence against any attempt at Palestinian missile retaliation.

Turning down the road leading to the Diere Balah Civil Defence Force headquarters we suddenly saw a rush of people streaming across the road. ‘They’ve been bombing twice, they’ve been bombing twice,’ shouted people.

We ran too, but towards the crowds and away from what could be target number two, ‘a ministry building’, our friend shouted to us. The Apaches rumbled above.

Arriving at the police station, we saw the remains of a life at work smashed short. A prayer mat clotted with dust, a policeman’s hat, the ubiquitous bright flower-patterned mattresses, burst open. A crater, around 20 feet in diameter, was filled with pulverised wall and floor debris and a motorbike, tossed on its side, toy-like in the crater’s depths.

Policemen were frantically trying to get a fellow worker out from under the rubble. Everyone was trying to call him on his phone. ‘Stop it everyone, just one, one of you ring,’ shouted a man who looked like a captain. A fire licked the underside of an ex-room now crushed to just three feet high. Hands alongside hands rapidly grasped and threw back rocks, blocks and debris to reach the man.

We made our way to Al Aqsa hospital. Trucks and cars loaded with the men of entire families – uncles, nephews, brothers – piled high and speeding to the hospital to check on loved ones, horns blaring without interruption.

Hospitals on the brink

Entering Al Aqsa was overwhelming, pure pandemonium, charged with grief, horror, distress and shock. Blood-covered and burnt bodies streamed by us on rickety stretchers. The morgue was a scrum of shouting relatives, crammed up to its open double doors. ‘They could not even identify who was who, whether it is their brother or cousin or who, because they are so burned,’ explained our friend. Many were transferred, in ambulances and the back of trucks and cars, to Al Shifa hospital.

The injured couldn’t speak. Casualty after casualty sat propped against the walls outside, being comforted by relatives, wounds temporarily dressed. Inside was perpetual motion and the more drastically injured. Relatives jostled with doctors to bring in their injured in scuffed blankets. Drips, blood-streaming faces, scorched hair and shrapnel cuts to hands, chests, legs, arms and heads dominated the reception area, wards and operating theatres.

We saw a bearded man, on a stretcher on the floor of an intensive care unit, shaking and shaking involuntarily, legs rigid and thrusting downwards. A spasm coherent with a spinal cord injury. Would he ever walk or talk again? In another unit, a baby girl, no older than six months, had shrapnel wounds to her face. A relative lifted a blanket to show us her fragile bandaged leg. Her eyes were saucer-wide and she was making stilted, repetitive, squeeking sounds.

A first estimate at Al Aqsa hospital was 40 dead and 120 injured. The hospital was dealing with casualties from the bombed market, playground, Civil Defence Force station, civil police station and also the traffic police station. All levelled. A working day blasted flat with terrifying force.

At least two shaheed (martyrs) were carried out of the hospital. Lifted up by crowds of grief-stricken men to the graveyard with cries of ‘La Illaha Illa Allah’, there is no god but Allah.

Who cares?

According to many people here, there is nothing and nobody looking out for them, apart from God. Back in Shifa hospital tonight, we meet the brother of a security guard, who had had the doorway that he was sitting in fall down upon his head. He said to us, ‘We don’t have anyone but God. We feel alone. Where is the world? Where is the action to stop these attacks?’

Majid Salim, stood beside his comatose mother, Fatima. Earlier today she had been sitting at her desk, at the Hadije Arafat charity, near the headquarters of the security forces in Gaza City. Israel’s attack had left her with multiple internal and head injuries, a tube down her throat and a ventilator keeping her alive. Majid gestured to her, ‘We didn’t attack Israel, my mother didn’t fire rockets at Israel. This is the biggest terrorism, to have our mother bombarded at work.’

The groups of men lining the corridors of the overstretched Shifaa hospital are by turns stunned, agitated, patient and lost. We speak to one group. Their brother had both arms broken and has serious facial and head injuries. ‘We couldn’t recognise his face, it was so black from the weapons used,’ one explains. Another man turns to me and says, ‘I am a teacher. I teach human rights – this is a course we have, “human rights”.’ He pauses, ‘How can I teach,my son, my children, about the meaning of human rights under these conditions, under this siege?’

Its true, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and local government schools have developed a human rights syllabus, teaching children about international law, the Geneva conventions, the International Declaration of Human Rights, the Hague regulations. To try to develop a culture of human rights here, to help generate more self confidence and security and more of a sense of dignity for the children. But the contradiction between what should be adhered to as a common code of conduct signed up to by most states, and the realities on the ground is stark. International law is not being applied or enforced with respect to Israeli policies towards the Gaza Strip, on ’48 Palestine, the West Bank, or the millions of refugees living in camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

How can a new consciousness and practice of human rights ever graduate from rhetoric to reality when everything points to the contrary – both here and in Israel? The United Nations has been spurned and shut out by Israel, with Richard Falk the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights held prisoner at Ben Gurion airport before being unceremoniously deported this month. Deliberately blinded to the abuses being carried out against Gaza by Israel, the international community speaks empty phrases on Israeli attacks, urging ‘restraint’ to ‘minimise civilian casualties’.

The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated regions on the planet. In Jabbaliya camp alone (Gaza’s largest camp), 125,000 people are crowded into a space only two kilometres square. Bombardment by F16s and Apaches at 11.30 in the morning, as children leave their schools for home reveals a contempt for civilian safety. As does the 18 months of a siege that bans all imports and exports and has resulted in the deaths of more than 270 people as a result of lack of access to essential medicines.


Ewa JasiewiczEwa Jasiewicz is a Palestine solidarity activist, union organiser and part of the editorial collective of Le Monde Diplomatique Polish Edition.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill