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Still in Shock, Gaza Women Tell Their Stories

Friday, January 30, 2009

In the Gaza Strip, women gave first-person accounts of the ordeals they suffered in the 22-day war that ended Jan. 17. One woman's baby was born to the sounds of missiles.

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Khadra Abed Rabo walks in the rubble

GAZA CITY, Gaza (WOMENSENEWS)--There may be a ceasefire here, but no there's no cessation to the suffering of women who survived this month's 22-day war.

"We've seen horror movies before but nothing looked more real than this one," Kawther Abed Rabo, who lives in the northern city of Ezbet Abed Rabo, said shortly before the end of the war.

Rabo is the mother of three young girls, two of whom she says are now dead, killed by Israeli soldiers.

She spoke to Women's eNews near the rubble of her destroyed house.

She says that when the Israeli land operation started, she and her husband and mother-in-law were in their house, looking for a safe room in which to take cover.

Then a voice on a loud speaker coming from a tank outside ordered them to evacuate.

"They asked us to line up in front of the doorstep. I was helping my mother-in-law to walk while Khaled was holding the girls' hands: Amal, 2 years old; Sua'ad, 7 years old; and Samar, 4 years old."

She said two soldiers were staring at them eating chips and chocolate. "Suddenly a third one got out of the tank with an M16 and began shooting my girls. Sua'ad and Amal fell dead immediately. I didn't know about Samar so I just grabbed her and Amal and went back to the house. Khaled was supposed to get Sua'ad but his mother got injured. It was madness and I really can't understand what happened. What did I do to get my angels killed in front of my eyes? Khaled lost his mind and went back out asking them to shoot him but they didn't."

Khadra Abed Rabo, Kawther's neighbor, confirms the account, saying she witnessed the shootings from her balcony window.


Call for Investigations

On Jan. 23 the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza called for an independent international investigation into alleged war crimes committed by both sides during the war.

International rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have called for an independent investigation for possible war crimes of both Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights and B'tselem, the Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, have also called for investigations.

On Wednesday, Richard Falk, an independent investigator with the United Nations, announced that he believed there was evidence of war crimes committed by Israeli troops during the 22-day siege on Gaza and called for additional inquiry.

Israel has appointed a team of international-law experts to defend its soldiers against any war-crime charges.

The women interviewed for this article did not seem aware of any such investigations. They appeared to be suffering from shock.

They were all interviewed during the last week of the war and the week following the Jan. 17 ceasefire, while Women's eNews traveled to various parts of the country with a group of photographers. Most of those interviewed had taken shelter in U.N. schools. But some spoke as they stood beside houses that had been reduced to rubble.


A Premature Delivery

Manal Al Samoni, 39, lives in Al Zaiton, an area in the eastern part of the Gaza Strip. She spoke with Women's eNews three days after the truce, while checking on her family's damaged house. She said she gave birth on Jan. 8, two months early, while listening to tank fire and missiles exploding.

She said her mother--who lived with a son a few houses away--left her home to come to her daughter's after she told her she was going into early labor. "My daughter-in-law Sana'a kept calling the hospital to send us an ambulance, but no ambulances could make it to our area since it was too dangerous and the Israeli army was opening fire on everything moving."

Sana'a Al Samoni, Manal's daughter-in-law, confirmed the account. She said the premature baby wound up being delivered in a large room in the house with dozens of other family members crammed in, all of them trapped inside the house.

"We were forced to deliver the baby, depending on our poor skills in these issues," said Sana'a Al Samoni. "About 60 men and women were trapped with us in the same room where Manal was having her baby. We covered her with a blanket and began urging her to push. At last, when we succeeded to deliver the baby, Manal started to get cold and so did her newborn daughter. The battery of the cell phone ran out and I couldn't know what to do other than pray. I remember my hands shaking when I had to cut the umbilical cord."

Not far from Sana'a sat the new mother's own mother, Majeda Al Samoni, 67. She was mourning over a wide spot of blood left by the body of a son, with whom she lived. She said he had been brought there by another son who found him shot to death in their living room, killed by tank fire. She had been with him hours earlier, when he was still alive.


Mourning a Son

"He is really gone! If I knew they would shoot my only son while I'm helping my daughter to deliver I swear I would never have left him. I thought he ran away with his family not knowing he was bleeding for four hours screaming for help . . . Oh, my beloved son!"

Medical workers from the Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City confirmed on Jan. 18 that he bled to death after he was injured by a tank bullet in different parts of his body.

In one of the U.N. schools serving as a temporary shelter in the Al Atatra area of Jabalia, in the northern Gaza Strip, Sieda Al-Atar spoke to Women's eNews on Jan. 19, describing how she and her family fled their home on Jan. 7 as rocket fire from a tank began hitting the house.

She was carrying her newborn baby. Her brother was shot and was bleeding but she kept running, leaving him behind.

"It had been 20 days but I still remember it as it was yesterday. I couldn't turn my head back in fear that I might get shot or my baby will. I only took a look back for a second and was shocked to see my brother Omar lying there, motionless and bleeding. It took me a minute to realize that I can't go back to rescue him. So I just continued running in tears for hours till I found myself in the middle of the city near one of the hospitals."

Sieda Al-Atar said she waited at the hospital for hours to see if any ambulance would come from the north with her brother's body. "I waited till night in the E.R. for my brother to come, but he didn't. I still wake up at night, hearing his cries for me to help him. I couldn't breastfeed my baby anymore. My health and hers aren't good, but it all seems meaningless now anyway."

Eman Mohammed is a freelance journalist in Gaza.

Women's eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at editors@womensenews.org.




 
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