March 11, 2008
SAFA ABU SEIF, 12, was fatally wounded as she stood in an upstairs room of her home in the Gaza City district of Jabaliya 10 days ago.
She was one of 27 children identified by United Nations staff among the 107 Palestinians who were killed in five days last week. Another 25 dead, including five women, were identified as unarmed non-combatants. The status of 13 more dead victims could not be determined. At least three of the children were reportedly shot in their homes by Israeli small arms or sniper fire.
A Palestinian gunman killed eight Israeli students on Thursday before he was killed himself. An Israeli soldier was also killed that day. Two Israeli soldiers died in action in the early stages of a three-day incursion into Jabaliya, and an Israeli civilian was killed by Palestinian rocket fire on the first day of the surge in violence.
Asked by the Herald to comment on allegations that its troops had killed children in the area, the Israeli Defence Force blamed the violence on terrorist groups who exploited Palestinian civilians as human shields while firing rockets intended to harm Israeli civilians.
"IDF operations in the Gaza Strip are aimed solely at the Hamas terror infrastructure, armed terrorists and rocket launchers," its statement said.
A security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Civil Administration - Israel's military government for the occupied territories - had received no complaints about shootings of civilians, and no investigation was underway.
Yet the family of the Palestinian television journalist Mahmoud Al Adjrami said that when Safa was struck Israeli troops were occupying their house, 90 metres across a stretch of open space from the window she was struck through.
They say the invading soldiers smashed up their tile floor to get sand to fill sand-bags for firing positions in first-floor windows facing the Abu Seif house. The discarded sand, together with the smashed door and tiles, spent bullet cases and heaps of Israeli ration boxes and discarded snack wrappers, were still in the house a day after the troops withdrew.
It is standard Israeli military procedure during tank raids to take over civilian homes as snipers' nests and hideouts, holding the occupants at gunpoint. According to the testimonies of victims and from Israeli soldiers themselves, this process can frequently involve theft, vandalism and violence against unarmed civilians.
The 15 women and children of the extended al Adjrami family were herded together into a single room for 19 hours, while the two adult men had their wrists tightly bound with plastic cable ties. Mahmoud's sister Naima, 33, said the soldiers gave them water but no food.
According to Mahmoud's brother, Mamdoeh, the soldiers ransacked the wardrobes and cupboards, stealing two gold bracelets, four mobile phones and the equivalent of $8600.
Next door Jabr Zidane, 52, a taxi driver, said troops had taken over his house for 24 hours, looting jewellery and four mobile phones. He shows visitors the remains of a smashed television and stereo, a broken floor, discarded sand and Hebrew-labelled army rations.
In another home soldiers allegedly stole two large gold bracelets and $500 from Jumaa Abed Rabbo, 40, and his wife and eight children.
"I was sitting with my hands tied with plastic ties for 24 hours. I asked if my family could use the kitchen to get water and food. They refused and so we didn't eat for 24 hours," Abed Rabbo said.
The professed purpose of last weekend's raid into Gaza was to kill or capture Palestinian terrorists involved in firing rockets into Israel, to capture or destroy equipment and to gather intelligence.
Yet all four of the families mentioned in this article are linked to Fatah, the Palestinian faction favoured by Israel and the United States over Hamas.
Abed Rabbo and al Adjrami are members of the Presidential Guard of the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas - the key weapon in what the US magazine Vanity Fair said last week was a failed attempt by the Bush Administration last year to overthrow the Palestinian Authority's elected Hamas government.
According to documents and testimony unearthed by the magazine, the administration coerced Mr Abbas into reneging on a power sharing agreement that paved the way for possible Hamas-backed peace talks with Israel.
Instead, new Presidential Guard factions trained by US soldiers were to be used to mount a coup against Hamas in Gaza with US-sponsored weapons shipped through Israel and Egypt.
Israel's foot soldiers seem to be unaware of this relationship.
"They were punching me, saying, 'You are a member of Hamas. You are a member of Fatah. Where do you work?"' Mamdoeh al Adjrami said. "I said, 'I work in the Presidential Guard' ů They kept hitting me whenever they liked."
Jabr Zidane's son Mohammed, 21, was hardly able to speak on Monday, drugged with painkillers to ease the pain from beatings and from shoulders, elbows and hands swollen from more than a day in tight plastic restraints.
He said he was beaten, questioned, used as a human shield by Israeli troops, taken to Israeli territory, and released on the border.
Mr Zidane said he did not know why Mohammed, an unemployed stonemason, was singled out for interrogation and abduction.
"It makes no sense to us. Maybe it's because he's the only one with a beard."
This article ran Monday in the Sydney Morning Herald.