Friday, 6 February 2015

Israel’s “open-fire policy” wiped out entire families in Gaza, says new study

Salah Sweidan fled his home while Israel was bombing Gaza in July last year.

“I honestly don’t remember the exact day,” Sweidan, 22, told The Electronic Intifada. “It is a blur. We tried to stay in our homes, but it was very dangerous.”

Sweidan lived in a four-story home in the al-Shaf district of Gaza City along with his pregnant wife, four brothers and their families. When Israeli shells began to pound their neighbors’ homes, the family gathered what they could and sought shelter in the central Gaza Strip until the attack ended.

“We came back to check on the home during every ceasefire,” he recalled. “We found it intact every time. But then the last time we came it looked like this.”

Although the home is still standing, the walls were blown off by shells and it looks like it could collapse at any moment. No one from Sweidan’s immediate family was killed, but thousands of others were not as lucky.

The Sweidan family home was completely destroyed by Israeli shelling. (Patrick O. Strickland) Israeli forces attacked Gaza by air, land and sea, leaving 2,257 Palestinians dead by the time the offensive ended in late August, according to the United Nations monitoring group OCHA. Of that total, 1,563 are estimated to have been civilians, including 538 children.

At the height of Israel’s attack, more than 338,000 people were displaced and sought refuge in schools and other shelters across Gaza, according to the humanitarian aid coordination body Shelter Palestine.

Nearly 11,000 Palestinians were still taking shelter at UN-run schools at the end of last month, UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, reported. Many more internally displaced people in Gaza stay with relatives or in other temporary accomodations.

“Open-fire policy”

More than 10,000 homes were completely destroyed and another 6,000 were damaged so badly they were “rendered uninhabitable,” says Shelter Palestine, adding that at least 102,000 partially-damaged homes need repair.

“We all had to flee to different areas,” Sweidan said. “After the [Israeli] forces entered we decided to leave because we saw people from the houses around losing people — civilians.”

Before the attack, Sweidan and his brothers worked together in his supermarket on the ground floor of his house. “Thank God, business was good and I was able to work with my brothers,” he said, explaining that his family has lived in the al-Shaf area for more than twenty years.

Sweidan climbed a mound of broken concrete and pointed to the spot where his supermarket used to stand. All that is left is a rubble-filled crater. “Life was good before the war,” he said. “We visited each other all the time … we spent 24 hours a day together.” more