[News] 'End of the Rainbow' (Gideon Levy)

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Thu Jun 3 08:56:46 EDT 2004

"I lost all my memories"

Ha'aretz, June 3, 2004
Twilight Zone / End of the Rainbow
By Gideon Levy

One of the 120 homes demolished by the IDF in the Brazil refugee camp
belonged to architect Manal Awad. This was the third time since 1948
that her family has been left homeless - and the second time that
Ariel Sharon was responsible.

Now all 19 people are crowded into a tiny two-and-a-half-room
apartment belonging to one sister, on the edge of the destroyed area
of their refugee camp. The curtain blowing in the breeze allows
intermittent glimpses of the view from the window: mounds of rubble
all the way to the end of the street. This is the Awad family:
Mother, elderly aunt, son, daughters and their families. On Thursday,
May 20, two bulldozers approached their home, threatening to raze it
with the occupants still inside: Operation Rainbow. The 85-year-old
aunt barely managed to climb out. She says that in 1948, when she
fled from her first home, and in 1972, when the IDF razed her home
again, it was easier for her - she was still young then. One of the
daughters, architect Manal Awad, says that it's not just stone walls
that have been destroyed, but also memories - in the photographs and
books that are lost forever. Her sisters tried to save the coffee
table that she had designed, but couldn't. The table was crushed
along with the other contents of the house. Among the wreckage, the
only thing she could find was the new narghile she had bought for her
brother in Tunisia.

The IDF did its work very thoroughly here: The houses and their
contents were completely crushed. Here and there, some recognizable
items can be seen - part of a dress, a smashed water boiler, the torn
pages of a book. Entire houses have been wiped off the face of the
earth, and now they are just mounds of dirt. The chief of staff,
Moshe Ya'alon, said without batting an eye: "We know of 12 houses
that were demolished since the start of the operation." Platoon
commander Brigadier General Shmuel Zakkai corrected him the next day,
saying the actual number was 56 houses.

But neither figure is correct. In the Brazil camp alone, according to
Mustafa Ibrahim, an experienced investigator for the Palestinian
civil rights commission, 120 houses were destroyed. Visiting the
place, it's hard to count, but one sees that many dozens of houses
were demolished, judging by the many mounds of rubble. All the talk
about smuggling tunnels also appears less than credible. The Awad
family's home, for example, is approximately 800 meters away from the
Philadelphi corridor; there are no tunnels that long. This was
demolition just for the sake of it, a punitive campaign of vengeance
against innocents rendered homeless for the second and third times.

In Operation Defensive Shield, we destroyed the center of the Jenin
refugee camp - 350 houses - but the destruction was dense and
concentrated. There were battles there as well. In Operation Rainbow,
we demolished houses in a scattered fashion, without a battle, so
that the Brazil camp now looks like Sarajevo in 1993. It's hard to
find the logic in the demolition campaign: A group of houses here and
another one there, this house yes and that one no, seeming more the
result of whim than any real planning. To the 120 houses in the
Brazil camp that were thoroughly destroyed must be added a similar
number of houses that were partially destroyed - not to mention the
crushed cars, the roads and utility poles that were uprooted, or the
Taha Hussein school, part of which has been reduced to rubble. The
residents describe how the bulldozers approached from all sides; they
were trapped inside their homes, and terrified. (One resident
telephoned me then and told about his neighbor and the man's 12
children who were trapped in a house that was about to be demolished,
begging for something to be done to save them.)

This past Sunday, long after the end of the operation, as a bonus, we
demolished another 23 houses in the adjacent Block J, in another
nameless, forgotten operation which doubtless is of tremendous
security importance.

Manal Awad sits in her modest office in the Rimal neighborhood of
Gaza City, tearlessly mourning her demolished home. She is the
director of the Women's Mental Health Center in Gaza. She is 30 years
old, dressed in an elegant sport jacket and speaks fluent English.
She was in her office when the bulldozers arrived at the family's
home, where her mother and aunt and sisters were. They had sent her
brother out of the house before the bulldozers came, thinking that if
it was only women left there, they'd be safe.

"I'll never forget that day. My sister called and told me there was a
tank next to the house. I told her not to dare peek out the window.
We're experienced - in Tel al-Sultan, they shot at anyone who peeked
out of the window. On the radio I heard that they were starting to
raze houses with people still inside. We were afraid that this time
it would be especially bad, but in our worst dreams we never imagined
that our home would be destroyed.

"I tried to reassure my sister, but when I called back she told me
that the bulldozers were right in front of the house. I told her: You
have to get out of the house immediately. She said the guest room was
already collapsing. They were afraid to go out because there was a
bulldozer in front and another one in back, as well as tanks. My
mother took a hammer and tried to break through the wall to get to
the neighbors. My sister brought a ladder for them to climb out. My
85-year-old aunt, who walks with difficulty, managed to climb the
first couple of rungs, but then she stopped and said she couldn't go
on. She said that in 1948, she could run away, but not now. My mother
and sisters pushed her up, the neighbor pulled from the other side
and she finally got over, I don't know how.

"It was the first time in my life that I ever heard my mother cry
like that. She's a strong and sensitive woman, but she never cried
that way. Not even when my father died 23 years ago and she was left
alone with six daughters and a son and an elderly aunt. She fought
for us all her life and now I felt that she needed my support and I
wasn't by her side. I was helpless. It wasn't easy to hear her crying
on the telephone. She said to me: `I won't leave the house.' Those
were the last words I heard from her. My sister said: `Now it's the
end. We're running away.' I didn't know what happened to them,
whether or not they were alive. I only got the good news an hour
later - they had reached the neighbors. They thought that the
bulldozers would stop and not demolish the neighbors' house, too, but
that also turned out to be wrong. My mother was so angry and shouted
against Sharon and against Bush while the bulldozers were pursuing
them to the neighbors' house. It was also demolished. My sister came
out of the neighbors' house waving a white flag. I tried to picture
the layout of the street, to think where they could have run to, with
the tanks there. I was afraid for their lives. All of those images
keep coming back to my mind.

"In 1948, the family fled from our village near Ramle to a cave. In
1972, Sharon demolished our house in the Shabura camp, when I was a
baby. Now this is the third house. My mother is a strong woman, but
now she's broken. It's the end for her. She always dreamed about the
first house that they fled from, but she was attached to the house in
the camp. Now it's all meaningless. Her life was for nothing. She
hoped that our fate would be different. Peace. Maybe not peace, but
at least a better life.

"I wasn't with them, but I felt what they felt. I lost all my
memories there. A house isn't just walls. I can buy new furniture, a
new refrigerator. But that's not it. The photographs with the family
history - every one holds a memory for me. Photographs of our loved
ones and our joys and our sorrows - all destroyed. We also had a book
collection. It wasn't so big, but it meant a lot to us. Each one had
his favorite books. Nothing is left. The house is destroyed. Life is
destroyed. Thirty years of life was wiped out.

"When I was finally able to go to Rafah on the weekend, a friend
offered to accompany me. I told her there was no need, that I was
strong, but she warned me that I'd be in shock when I got there. She
was right. Nothing was left of the whole street. We live in the old
part of Brazil, and we always said that if they did demolitions, we'd
just hear the noise, but that they'd never come close to us, because
we're far from the border. But for some reason they started with our
house. I'm sorry that I'm just talking about myself ... I hoped so
much that I'd be able to save something.

"A week has passed and I have the feeling that it's just going to get
harder and harder. I thought I'd recover. It was a simple refugees'
house, but on the inside it was beautiful to me. I've been all over
the world and seen some amazing houses, but I always missed that one."

Here is where the family home stood. A pile of rocks. Manal's mother,
Shukrin, emerges from the ruins - a small woman in black - and here
is Manal's brother, too. And here is the Mansour family's house, and
the house of the Hassan family and the Hamad family. Nothing is left.
The elderly aunt, Aliya, sits on the floor of the apartment that is
their temporary refuge, staring at the carpet, her expression masked.
Manal took her to see a doctor in Gaza; he said that her spine had
not been injured during the escape with the ladder.

Aliya vividly remembers the first escape, from Abu Shusha, and the
second escape from the Shabura camp, when Sharon came "to widen the
corridor." It's the same now. Aliya tells about their first days in a
cave after fleeing Abu Shusha, and how they trekked from there first
to Yavneh and then to Gaza. Her niece Shukrin adds some details. They
speak softly, the signs of the most recent trauma still very
apparent. It happened twice in the month of May - May 1948 and May
2004. Only in 1972 did it happen in December.

Yusuf, the husband of one of the sisters in whose home they've taken
shelter, chuckles: He hasn't yet counted how many people are now
living in his tiny house. "Like sardines, but at least everyone's
together." This morning, when a Palestinian bulldozer came to clear
away the rubble opposite his house, his daughter burst into tears.
She thought the Israelis had come back to demolish some more.

We go outside to wander along the long pile of rubble. There is
destruction on both sides of the sandy road. By one pile that used to
be a house, children are still scavenging for pieces of metal to load
onto a donkey cart. The apartment of Yusuf Bahlul (who once worked
for Sonol in Gaza), on the top floor of an apartment building
overlooking this refugee camp, took a direct hit from a shell and is
also ruined and covered in soot. Everyone here speaks Hebrew, from
the years when they used to work in Israel.

A small television table stands alone in a living room whose walls
have all collapsed. In the Brazil camp, an old woman tries to push a
crushed water heater. Her strength is gone. A post-disaster calm
prevails. The Philadelphi corridor is visible at the bottom of the
street, and every so often a menacing Israeli tank passes by. The
stench of burst sewage pipes pervades the air as children display
their latest finds from the rubble.

Residents of Brazil camp search for any possessions they can find in
the rubble. "I lost all my memories." (Miki Kratsman)


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