Monday, September 13, 2004

Northern Gaza Lies in Ruins...Again

Northern Gaza Lies in Ruins...Again
The International Press Center (IPC)
September 13, 2004
Israeli occupation forces withdrew from the northern Gaza Strip towns of Beit hanoon, Beit Lahya and Jabalia refugee camp, after a four-day invasion of the area in which 12 civilians were killed and scores others wounded. The damage was yet unspoken of as dozens of houses, shops, businesses and plantations were wiped out.
Entering the Tal Za'atar area, one is 'greeted' by the image of damage that is beyond description; huge piles of concrete slabs and twisted iron beams that used to form a house, decorated with splintered tree stumps and branches of citrus trees scattered everywhere. What looked like pools of water in front of the demolished homes appeared – upon close observation – to be where sewage pipes were burst by the heavy Israeli tanks that passed over it, filling the entire with a powerful stench.
Not far from this scene, and under a makeshift tent, stood Awad Al Kahloot and his sons gazing into their large construction materials' warehouse, which turned years of hard work and financial investment into ruins in a number of hours.
"We've just finished building our new home and prepared to move in, when – at about three in the morning – Israeli forces attacked the area and demolished the house. They also tore down my 24-meter-long construction materials' warehouse. My seven sons and I put every cent we had for five years into this warehouse. There was about $215 thousand worth of material inside, and now it's gone… completely," Al Kahloot said, as he shouted at some kids who were searching through the rubble.
Israeli military sources claimed that they have only demolished the houses used by Palestinian militants to fire at Israeli forces or to fire home-made rockets, known as Qassam, at Israeli towns and illegal settlements near the Gaza Strip.
Mr. Al Kahloot has lived in Tal Al Za'tar for all his life, seeing his seven boys grow up and marry in the same place. He asserted to IPC that he has never saw any member of the resistance fire near his warehouse, slamming the Israeli claims.
"This is a criminal act. It cannot be perpetrated by civilized people. I can't believe that world governments and international organizations can accept such actions that destroy everything, regardless of the pretext. The warehouse was the sole source of livelihood for seven families …" Mr. Al Kahloot lashed out, before bursting into tears.
Not far from Al Kahloot's destroyed warehouse was another catastrophe, as entire families who were owners of their own homes turned in one night into refugees in their own lands.
Ra'fat Abu Eghbayyer, who lives two houses away from Al Kahloots, lives with his father and brother in the house, each with his own family, said the Israeli bulldozers started knocking down their homes while they were inside, forcing them to flee the house without being able to evacuate any of their belongings or valuables.
Abu Eghbayyer, who still owes mortgage money for the house, said the 13 residents of the house had nowhere else to turn to except the site of their demolished home. He also criticized the international relief organizations, mainly the International Committee of the Red Cross, for not doing its supposed role in helping them even with basic relief aid.

Another neighbor of Abu Eghbayyer, Abdel Karim Salha, also recalled the time preceding the destruction of their homes, saying that Israeli tanks showered the area of bullets, shattering all the windows of his house, before the tanks advanced in and flattened the house. He added that he barely managed to flee the house with his 15-member family minutes before it was reduced to rubble.

Salha mentioned also that Israeli troops opened fire at his family and himself to force them to leave the house, nothing that there were children with them who started screaming hysterically when the shooting began. He said the soldiers did not give any reasons for tearing down his house.

Going inside Jabalia refugee camp, the once lush areas of citrus groves were turned into barren lands by the Israeli war machine, as dozens of dunums of citrus trees were bulldozed and the houses near them demolished.

As he leaned on his cane watching municipal workers reinstall an electricity pole, Mohammed Badawi, a well-known land owner and citrus farmer, sighed for the scene of his empty grove. "I never used to see my house from here because the trees were too thick to see from. Now I can see the entire area… they uprooted 20 dunums of lands planted with 30-year-old citrus trees. Each tree filled an entire crate with oranges or lemons."

Badawi lost also a citrus plantation east of Jabalia camp in the last invasion of northern Gaza Strip, in which Israeli forces razed 30 dunums of citrus trees, a large irrigation pump and a shed. He said that the land ruined today were the only livelihood for him after his plantation was lost.

"I rented this land for $30 thousand per year, and now it's all lost. The Israelis lied all the time about that they destroy lands and houses because resistance fighters hide inside them. We're far away from any Israeli settlement or town, so there's no chance that Qassam rockets can reach their targets from here, so they aim only at destroying our lands and livelihoods," said Badawi.

He also added that Israeli forces have destroyed the main water pipes in the area, depriving them of clean drinking water for almost four days. "Why would they destroy our drinking water pipes if they claim they destroy only houses and areas used by resistance against them?!! We had babies that almost died of dehydration due to the lack of water."
"But we can rebuild all that," said Badawi's 9-year-old grandson, Moaweya, who smiled at his grandfather, probably not knowing that this sentence described the Palestinian spirit from every aspect; the determination, patience, will and pride. "I'm sure Moaweya would grow up to be a fine citrus farmer, just like me, and turn this land into a paradise once more," said Mr. Badawi as he kissed Moaweya and leaned on him on their way to their half-destroyed home.

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