We meet Mohammd Zoadi Abu Amsha, a United National employee running a local job creation programme and the son of Hajj Zohaadi Amsha, the owner of the destroyed house. Mohammad’s house, opposite the Abu Amsha house, had its windows blown out in the attack. I asked him why he thinks the house was targeted ‘This is the policy of Israel, the logic is to make us leave this land, make us leave our homes, to clear this land for their occupation and ownership of it. That’s what this is about. There were no fighters here by the way’, he says, ‘This is a civilian house, my father is 80 years old, he worked as a teacher for the UN.’
As we’re talking, children that have gathered around us, point to the sky, ‘Look, look, Apache’ they say. And we look at it, flying silently across the sky, puffing out a perfect line of burning dazzle flares. A boy of about 10 spots a piece of missile, the size of a large marrow, electronic parts still intact, and lugs it up to us, ‘Take care’ we shout to him; he scrambles over debris and then lobs it onto the ground in front of us. All our hearts skip a beat.
Back at Kamal Odwan, we hear the news. Wafa Al Masri, 40 years old, and nine months pregnant was walking to Kamal Odwan Hospital, to give birth. With her was her sister, 26 year old Rghada Masri. They were passing through the Dewar Maboob crossroads in the Beit Lahiya Project area. It was 4.30pm. Witnesses said they were hit directly by a missile from a surveillance drone. Daniel, a half Ukranian paramedic here described the scene. ‘Her legs were shredded, there was just meat, and she had a serious chest injury, hypoxemia’. Wafa was transferred to Shifa for a double leg amputation, from the Fema (upper thigh area down). Paramedics were apprehensive about her or her unborn child making it.
Medics managed to save the right foot of Rghada Masri, 26. I visited her at Kamal Odwan today. Visibly distressed and writhing in pain, she recounted the story: ‘We were walking down the street when we heard the sound of the plane, I can still hear ringing in my ears. We were hit by a missile. We were in the area right in the main street, in broad daylight. We would never have expected this. I saw smoke, and I saw Wafa’s legs all mangled. She was thrown metres away from me, I was thrown too. He mandeel was torn off her head, her hair was all burnt, she didn’t look like my sister, her hair was gone, everyone was saying to me, “she’s a martyr, she’s a martyr.”‘ Today I learned medics managed to save one leg and that she gave birth to a healthy boy.
At 5pm, while we’re gathering info on the bombing of Wafa and her sister, ambulances and taxis bring over casualties. There’s been a tank bombing of an apartment building, the Burge al Sultan, in Jabaliya. Three dead, two of them children, and five injured. Again Daniel brought them in. He’s sitting in the ambulance, stunned and staring into space. ‘In all my days, I’ve never seen anything like this’, he says. ‘First they fired one missile at the roof of the building, this got people running out of the building. Then they fired another one, at the people outside, and then when we turned up, they fired another one. I don’t understand. And they were all civilians.’ The weapon of choice was a Kadifa – a tank shell that releases tiny flachettes; spiked arrows that tear into flesh at lightning speed. Daniel went on to say that ambulance staff and helpers were shot at by snipers when evacuating casualties.
Ashar al Battish, 33, lost his two brothers in the attack. ‘Kids were playing in the street, and then three missiles were shot at us. He’, he says, gesturing to his brother on an ER bed, ‘was shot by a sniper in the chest and another sniper’s bullet grazed his face.’
When I began writing this I was on the fifth floor of the Al Awda Hospital, a few things have happened in between. I was buying coffee, snickers bars to chop up for the guys and some shampoo when we got a call at around 9.30pm, to pick up casualties from the Bier Najje area, Western Jabaliya. We wove our way up a column of rickety vans. Our ambulance had a plastic bin bag held up with brown parcel tape for a back window after it was blasted out last week – too close to an F16 repeat attack.
When we reached the casualty zone, near a mini roundabout, flanked with painted portraits of pale PFLP fighters, and orange groves on our right, we drove slowly up towards the leading ambulance which had stopped up ahead. As we were approaching, the crew suddenly came running towards us, waving their arms for us to move, ‘move, get back, get back’. We reversed sharply and a minute later advanced again as they receded back to the ambulance. I jump out with the stretcher and start to assemble it but I’m told, ‘Get back inside, get back inside, this is a dangerous area!’ They have their casualty, we pick up another with a leg injury on our way back. When we get back to base it transpires that a surveillance plane missile was shot directly onto the crew ahead but failed to explode. Unknown to us, it had been lying beside the ambulance when we came up to see about the injured.
As well as this, there were two F16 missile strikes on targets just a few hundred metres away from Al Awda. Both enormous bangs shook the building, shattered a window and sent everyone running for cover.
An empty dead zone
I asked the paramedics, what happened when they went to collect bodies and the injured from the areas where street fighting is taking place, places like Tel Al Zater, Salahadeen Street, Atahtura, Azbet Abu Rubbu – closed to everyone and anyone but the Israeli Occupation Forces. During 1-4pm there is supposed to be a ceasefire and co-ordination between paramedics and the Israeli army, through the Red Cross. Of the three paramedics I asked, all of their replies were the same. ‘We saw no one’. ‘It was like a ghost town’.
Despite finding bodies over the past week, including one baby which had been half eaten by dogs – photos, film and witnesses at Kamal Adwan confirm it – and bodies which had been run over by tanks, when they went yesterday, they found nobody, and came back to base empty handed. ‘I think the Israelis must have taken the bodies away, I think they must have taken them away by bulldozer and buried them’. The terrifying thing is that there are still people trapped in their homes – if their homes are still standing – without food, water, or electricity. Refugees at the Al Fakhoura school report not being able to recognise their areas, their streets after the heavy fighting and destruction of so many houses. When these areas are finally accessible to people, the full extent of the killing and destruction will at last be known.
Meanwhile, as the killing continues, the ministry of health ambulances in the north are becoming slowly paralysed. Four ambulances based at Kamal Odwan have no fuel and have been grounded, two have just half a tank each. One in Beit Hanoun has also been immobilised. A senior source coordinating the rescue services, who did not wish to be named, said, ‘We haven’t got the capacity now to respond. The civil defence and the Red Crescent will go out, we cannot, only in cases of a major emergency. In cases of another strike like the one at Fakhoura, the injured will have to be transported by donkey cart. People will die’. Petrol is available, just a short drive away in Salahadeen Street, although Israeli Occupation Forces control the area and won’t let any vehicle pass. To add to the ministry of health woes, the radios they’ve had since the beginning of the invasion have had no service – there’s been no radio contact between the base and ambulances and the Jawwal mobile network is also frequently down.
So everybody who can, still keeps going. Israeli war planes keep targeting civilians. The evidence piling up points to a deliberate campaign and policy of targeting civilians. And the bombs keep falling, thudding all around all of us, everywhere we go, everywhere we sleep, everywhere we walk, drive, sit and pray. Everyone is exhausted and just wants these attacks to end and for a real ceasefire to materialise.