The Gaza Diary 3: “Our Heros”

Our Heros
by Safa Joudeh (See earlier entries)

The Israeli incursion in, and invasion of the Tal el Hawa neighborhood at the end of my street on Wednesday night and Thursday morning had many devastating consequences, especially given that it is the furthest Israeli incursion into the city so far.  Many buildings in Tal el Hawa were raided, many buildings, including mine, were bombed, many civilians were killed, injured or arrested.  Thousands of families were forced to flee.  Phosphorus bombs rained down on the city and our eyes are still burning from the fumes.  The UNRWA headquarters was bombed and the fire caused by the fuel kept burning till the next day.

It was these consequences that Alaa, Palestinian resistance fighters in his late 20’s, was trying to prevent.  I will not mention which of the various resistance factions he is affiliated with because that is irrelevant.  Alla and his fellow fighters were out in the battle front, facing Israeli aircrafts and tanks with their rudimental weaponry, their bodies and their faith 2 days before the invasion.

Alaa, his parents, his wife and 2 daughters live in my building compound.  Alaa’s wife is pregnant with a baby boy.  It was her husband’s wish that their unborn child and his young daughters would be given the opportunities he himself was deprived of growing up.  He was a doting father and husband, and a favorite of all among the residents in the area.  He was especially adored by Haja Na’oom, an old lady who lives alone on the fourth floor.  Alaa would buy her groceries, fix anything that needed to be fixed in her apartment, and keep her company on a regular basis.

And so as the attack of the Israeli Occupying forces on Gaza began, Alaa said goodbye to his family and disappeared to join the lines of other fearless young men who had traded in their lives to defend us.  In was understood that the risk was high, but that is by no means a deterrent for any of them.  Do you understand why we value our resistance so much?

Alaa kept in touch with his family.  Calling every night to make sure they were safe and to let them know he was still breathing.  The girls stayed up to talk to “baba” (daddy), Alaa’s wife was heartbroken, and his parents were in a constant state of panic.

It was a few nights ago that Alaa called his parents to let them know he was in Zatoun, the neighborhood right behind Tel el Hawa, and that witnessed the heaviest bombardment of all.  Alla spoke to his mother, and she immediately knew that there was something different about his voice.  It was weak, full of emotion…full of pain.  Alaa finally told her.

He had been shot in the stomach.  He was bleeding, hiding by a wall of some building.  His friends had called the Red Cross, but many injured civilians had been waiting all day too, and yet Israel denied the Red Cross entry into Zatoun.

Alaa’s wife and parents stayed up all night, calling him, talking to him on his cell phone and the cell phones of his friends.  As the son rose, Alaa’s voice got weaker and weaker.  All of a sudden he stopped responding.

His wife shrieked, his parents frantically tried dialing again, and then they got a call from Alaa’s friend.  Alaa had died, slowly, quietly and without complaint he had bled to death.

It wasn’t until 4 pm that the ambulance was able to retrieve Alaa’s body.  We saw men carrying him up the stairs, as we stood watching at the door of our apartment.  His face looked so peaceful, so picturesque, so beautiful. He had died a hero’s death, a martyr, and seeing his face you would understand that without even knowing the full story.

The funeral was held in the outside opening in front of my father’s clinic.  The men had taken our permission to hold it there and we were honored.

Today, Alaa is buried, perhaps he’ll live on in our memories for a while, but time dims such memories.  For his family, his life, his spirit, his smile, his touch will live on in their thoughts and hearts forever.  For the rest of us, he and others have given us a gift, a sense of pride and loyalty, a sense of gratefulness and unbound ability of sacrifice, a sense of connection to each other that surpasses any physical memory no matter how deeply ingrained it is in our minds.


Gazans Rally Behind Hamas
By CHARLES LEVINSON,  JANUARY 20, 2009, Wall Street Journal

GAZA CITY-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, as he announced a cease-fire in Gaza over the weekend, said Israel’s military objectives against Hamas had been met. But at least initially, the militant group appears to have gained what Israel and its Bush administration allies had long hoped they could damp: popular support.

“Hamas is now our army, the only ones fighting to defend the Palestinian people,” said Gaza resident Ahmed al-Sultan, standing outside the rubble of the north Gaza City home his family has lived in for 40 years. “I saw how they fight, their courage and their sacrifice, and so I’ve changed my opinion about them.

“Many Civilian Targets, but One Core Question Among Gazans: Why?
By SABRINA TAVERNISE in the New York Times
Published: January 19, 2009

As Gazans surveyed the destruction of the city on Monday, one question kept arising: Why had civilian institutions been hit? At lunch tables and in coffee shops, people listed the targets: the Ministry of Justice, Parliament, the central police station, the fire station, Islamic University.

“The war was not against Hamas,” said Rahmi el-Kheldi, the owner of a flower shop in central Gaza. “It was against me, my shop and my city.”

He added, “Their aim was chaos, to disrupt society.”…

For Mr. Baroud and his friends, the bombing of the science lab building, which happened in the early days of the Israeli offensive, was a frontal attack on their future. The university is prestigious, and they said they worked hard to get there. It is one of the best medical schools in the region, and Israel recognizes its degrees.

“Are we going to study in a tent?” asked Mr. Baroud’s friend, Ahmed….

Read this old article by Malley and Miller. Very prescient.

‘West Bank First’: It Won’t Work
By Robert Malley and Aaron David Miller
Tuesday, June 19, 2007; A17, Washington Post

Having embraced one illusion — that it could help isolate and defeat Hamas — the Bush administration is dangerously close to embracing another: Gaza is dead, long live the West Bank. This approach appears compelling. Flood the West Bank with money, boost Fatah security forces and create a meaningful negotiating process. The Palestinian people, drawn to a recovering West Bank and repelled by the nightmare of an impoverished Gaza, will rally around the more pragmatic of the Palestinians.

The theory is a few years late and several steps removed from reality. If the United States wanted to help President Mahmoud Abbas, the time to do so was in 2005, when he won office in a landslide, emerged as the Palestinians’ uncontested leader and was in a position to sell difficult compromises to his people. Today, Abbas is challenged by far more Palestinians and is far less capable of securing a consensus on any important decision….

Comments (13)

Joe M. said:

Excellent analysis by Yitzhak Laor in the London Review of Books:

We’ve been here before. It’s a ritual. Every two or three years, our military mounts another bloody expedition. The enemy is always smaller, weaker; our military is always larger, technologically more sophisticated, prepared for full-scale war against a full-scale army. But Iran is too scary, and even the relatively small Hizbullah gave us a hard time. That leaves the Palestinians.

Israel is engaged in a long war of annihilation against Palestinian society. The objective is to destroy the Palestinian nation and drive it back into pre-modern groupings based on the tribe, the clan and the enclave. This is the last phase of the Zionist colonial mission, culminating in inaccessible townships, camps, villages, districts, all of them to be walled or fenced off, and patrolled by a powerful army which, in the absence of a proper military objective, is really an over-equipped police force, with F16s, Apaches, tanks, artillery, commando units and hi-tech surveillance at its disposal.

The extent of the cruelty, the lack of shame and the refusal of self-restraint are striking, both in anthropological terms and historically. The worldwide Jewish support for this vandal offensive makes one wonder if this isn’t the moment Zionism is taking over the Jewish people.

But the real issue is that since 1991, and even more since the Oslo agreements in 1993, Israel has played on the idea that it really is trading land for peace, while the truth is very different. Israel has not given up the territories, but cantonised and blockaded them. The new strategy is to confine the Palestinians: they do not belong in our space, they are to remain out of sight, packed into their townships and camps, or swelling our prisons. This project now has the support of most of the Israeli press and academics.

We are the masters. We work and travel. They can make their living by policing their own people. We drive on the highways. They must live across the hills. The hills are ours. So are the fences. We control the roads, and the checkpoints and the borders. We control their electricity, their water, their milk, their oil, their wheat and their gasoline. If they protest peacefully we fire tear gas at them. If they throw stones, we fire bullets. If they launch a rocket, we destroy a house and its inhabitants. If they launch a missile, we destroy families, neighbourhoods, streets, towns.

Israel doesn’t want a Palestinian state alongside it. It is willing to prove this with hundreds of dead and thousands of disabled, in a single ‘operation’. The message is always the same: leave or remain in subjugation, under our military dictatorship. We are a democracy. We have decided democratically that you will live like dogs.

On 27 December just before the bombs started falling on Gaza, the Zionist parties, from Meretz to Yisrael Betenu, were unanimously in favour of the attack. As usual – it’s the ritual again – differences emerged only over the dispatch of blankets and medication to Gaza. Our most fervent pro-war columnist, Ari Shavit, has suggested that Israel should go on with the assault and build a hospital for the victims. The enemy is wounded, bleeding, dying, desperate for help. Nobody is coming unless Obama moves – yes, we are all waiting for Godot. Maybe this time he shows up.

Yitzhak Laor lives in Tel Aviv. He is the editor of Mita’am.

January 20th, 2009, 4:20 am


Joe M. said:

I don’t like posting articles, but this one is also good, about the reality of Israel being a fascist state.

It’s very frustrating to see Israeli society recruited so calmly and easily to war. Hardly anyone has dared to mention the connection between the decision to go to war and the fact that we are only a few weeks away from an election. Kadima (Tzipi Livni’s party) and Labour (Ehud Barak’s) were doing very badly in the polls. Now that they have killed more than 1000 Palestinians (250 on the first day – the highest number in 41 years of occupation) they are both doing very well. Barak was expected to win eight seats in the Knesset; now it is around 15. Netanyahu is the one sweating.

I am terribly sad about all this, and frustrated. On the first day of the operation I wrote an article for the Walla News website and within four hours I had received 1600 comments, most calling for my deportation (at best) or immediate execution (at worst). It showed me again how sensitive Israeli society is to any opposition to war. It is shocking how easily this society unites behind yet another military solution, after it has failed so many times. Hizbullah was created in response to Israel’s occupation of Lebanon in 1982. Hamas was created in 1987 in response to two decades of military occupation. What do we think we’ll achieve this time?

The state called up more than 10,000 reservists, and even people who had not been called also travelled to military bases and asked to be sent to Gaza. This shows once again how efficient the Israeli propaganda and justification machine is, and how naturally people here believe in myths that have been disproved again and again. If people were saying, ‘We killed 1000 people, but the army is not perfect, and this is war,’ I would say it was a stupid statement. But Israelis are saying: ‘We killed 1000 people, and our army is the most moral army in the world.’ This says a lot about the psychology of the conflict: people are not being told what to think or say; they reach these insights ‘naturally’.

Since I was a soldier myself ten years ago, I worry I might be called up as a reservist. If I were to refuse now, when Israel is at war, I would be sent to prison. But still, I tell myself, that would be so much easier than being part of what my country is doing. Apparently, every single Jewish member of the Knesset, except one from the Jewish-Arab list, believes that killing more Palestinians, keeping the Gazan population under siege, destroying their police stations, ministerial offices and headquarters will weaken Hamas, strengthen Israel, demonstrate to the Palestinians that next time they should vote for Fatah, and bring stability to the region. I have no words. Only one Jewish member of the Knesset, out of 107, went to the demonstration that followed the deliberate bombing by the Israelis of an UNRWA school being used to house refugees, resulting in the deaths of 45 civilians. Once again, the Israeli slogan is ‘Let the IDF win’ and once again everybody agrees. People have short memories. By 2008, two years after the Second Lebanon War ended, Hizbullah had more soldiers than before, three times more weapons, and had dramatically improved its political position. It now even has a right of veto in parliament. The same could happen to Hamas, but once again military magic enchants Israeli society.

I have a friend whose brother is a pilot in the IDF. I asked to speak to him. I told him what I thought about Israel’s behaviour and he seemed to agree with my general conclusions. He said, however, that a soldier should not ask himself such questions, which should be kept to the political sphere. I can’t agree. But the second thing he told me was more important. He told me that for pilots, a day like the first day of the war, when so many attacks are being made simultaneously, is a day full of excitement, a day you look forward to. If you take these words into account, and bear in mind that in Israel every man is a soldier, either in uniform or in reserve, there is no avoiding the conclusion that there are great pressures for it to act as a military society. Not acting is damaging to the IDF’s status, budget, masculinity, power and happiness, and not only to the IDF’s. This could explain why in Israel the military option is almost never considered second best. It is always the first choice.

Ha’aretz too is a source of unhappiness for me, since in wartime the paper is part of this militaristic discourse, shares its values and lack of vision. Ha’aretz did not criticise Israel when its troops deployed to Lebanon in 2006. Nor did it have anything to say when the same soldiers bombed Gaza’s police, schools and people. Even when there was a demonstration against the war, with more than 10,000 people taking part, both Jews and Palestinian citizens of Israel, the Ha’aretz website chose to publish a picture of a counter-demonstration, in which a few hundred participated, waving Israeli flags and shouting: ‘Let the IDF win.’

I have problems speaking to my closest friends and family these days, because I can no longer bear to hear the security establishment’s propaganda coming from their mouths. I cannot bear to hear people justifying the deaths of more than 200 children killed by Israeli soldiers. There is no justification for that, and it’s wrong to try to find one. Usually I feel part of society in Israel. I feel that I am on one side of the political map and other people are on the opposite side. But over the last few days, I feel that I am not part of this society any more. I do not call friends who support the war, and they do not call me. The same with my family. It is a hard thing for me to write, but this is how it is.

Yonatan Mendel was a correspondent for the Israeli news agency Walla. He is currently at Queens’ College, Cambridge working on a PhD that studies the connection between the Arabic language and security in Israel.

January 20th, 2009, 4:42 am


majedkhaldoun said:

the next palestinian election,will determine who won, I think Hamas won.
None of the Arab leaders won.
Israel has to stop the fight,Obama told Levni.
King Abdullah of KSA,must be sick,he hardly can read.
Mubarak sound arrogant.

January 20th, 2009, 5:07 am


Innocent Criminal said:

Words of kissing and making up between Bashar Al Assad and Saudi/Egyptian/Jordanian leaders. If this is true, its HUGE

hate to be a sceptic but i wonder how long this wil last. but you cannot miss the irony of this happening the day Bush leaves the whitehouse

January 20th, 2009, 5:52 am


Akbar Palace said:

For Sabrina Tavernise

“Many Civilian Targets, but One Core Question Among Gazans: Why?

January 20th, 2009, 12:11 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Once again, the pundits and experts on this website got it wrong.

The Middle East envoy is shaping up to be Senator George Mitchell (of Arab-American heritage, mother’s side).

All the fears of having a Jewish envoy have been thrown out the door. No “bias”, no “jewish cabal”, to worry about. Right?

Of course the US and ISrael-haters will find something wrong….

January 20th, 2009, 12:29 pm


SimoHurtta said:

Iranian arms shipment?

Akbar, what Debka propaganda sources (and other Israeli media) do not mention Fajir 5 rockets are 10.5 meters long and 2.5 meters wide. I really would like to see that Bedouin camel that carries it. 🙂 Even an elephant could not carry it. Maybe Bedouin have brontosauruses or big trucks and the smugglers a modern port that Egyptian officials can’t see.

Fajir missiles are certainly no shoulder fired missiles. The explanation that they can be in parts which is a highly technical talent demanding process and it is not very believable, because most of the missile is fuel tanks.

Then we come to the problem how to assemble in Gaza 50 large 10 long missiles and fire them against Israel. That is not done in seconds. If Iran would ship Fajir 5 missiles to anybody certainly they would give them to Hizbollah, not Hamas. The changes to get them to Gaza and guarantee a successful launch is about zero.

I am little confused what Israel means with this heavy Grad rockets. Grad is a Russian rocket launcher built on a truck. Egypt builds own ammunition (Sakr-36 and Sakr-18) for Grad systems. In Gaza they use most probably that Grad ammunition bought from Egyptian officiers.

Sad that Israelis (and Americans) believe to such stupid propaganda and seem to have no ability to use own brains.

By the way Akbar how does Israel ship the weapons to Burma’s regime? As you might know your trade partner is a miserable dictatorship, which makes Saddam look good, and there are numerous civil wars. Hmmmm….

January 20th, 2009, 2:06 pm


EHSANI2 said:

Would anyone of us live to witness an inaugration day for any Arab state where an exisiting head of state passes the torch to his successor?

Speaking for myself, I doubt it.

January 20th, 2009, 4:47 pm


norman said:


wouldn’t be smarter for Israel to open the crossing with Gaza and monitor what comes in and out without having to depend on others to monitor the Gaza border , (( keep your friends close and you enemy closer))

January 20th, 2009, 4:47 pm


why-discuss said:

If Israel the “democratic” and “big nation” ( Sarkozy) uses phosphorus bombs against ‘ghost’ fighters and civilians, what would stop a bunch of “lawless terrorists” to use chemical weapons too? It can easily be sneaked in the 50% tunnels not yet destroyed after 23 days of smart bombing!

January 20th, 2009, 4:54 pm


S.A. said:

To Akbar Palace,

(About #5),

It does not take much intelligence to figure out that what the Israelis were trying to do was ethnic cleansing. They simply want to make the lives of the Gazans impossible. The cartoon on your post was really an insult to other people’s intelligence.

One thing I’d like to remind you of and that is that all these people who have lost loved ones are not going to forget. Just like you didn’t forget the holocaust, the memory of the ethnic cleansing is going to haunt people forever.

Pretty short sighted of a government that pretends it wants to live in the neighborhood in peace!

January 21st, 2009, 10:02 pm


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