[News] Lives buried under the rubble in Gaza

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Feb 19 20:23:50 EST 2009

Lives buried under the rubble in Gaza
Report, PCHR, 19 February 2009

Maysa al-Louh, 16, sitting on the rubble of her home with the bombed 
Sakhnin school in the background. (Sarah Malian/Christian Aid)

Three weeks after the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip, 
16-year-old Maysa al-Louh sits stoically on the pile of sand that 
consumes half her home in Beit Lahiya. Under the sand, churned up by 
Israeli bulldozers during incursions into the area on 4 January 2009 
lie all her report cards and school awards that were testament to her 
excellent academic record.

Nearby her grandmother tries to heat water on a pile of ash. The 
smell of decomposing chicken carcasses is overwhelming: the family's 
chicken coop that provided them with eggs, as well as their vegetable 
garden, were all destroyed by the bulldozers and tanks.

Thirty-five people lived in the three-story al-Louh house. The 
contents of home life -- a refrigerator, notebooks, framed pictures, 
and plastic flowers, lie scattered over the area. The adjacent 
Sakhnin Elementary School was also damaged by artillery shells and 
some of its classrooms are now a masse of mangled chairs, steel rods, 
shattered concrete and broken glass. Israel says militants were 
firing rockets from the school grounds.

"We were trapped in our home for two days while the Israeli army was 
based in the school nearby and operating in the area," says Maysa's 
32-year-old mother Najat. "I had to give my children water from the 
toilet cistern to keep them alive. Then they ordered us to leave our house."

"As soon as we left the house they opened fire on the area and some 
of our neighbors were killed. My husband and I said our goodbyes to 
each other when the tanks came," Najat adds. "We thought it was the end."

Najat is three months pregnant with her eighth child. Her youngest 
daughter Sara who lies listlessly nearby, has been unwell for days, 
with vomiting and a high fever. They have been unable to get her to a doctor.

When the family returned to their home after Israel's unilateral 
ceasefire they discovered it had been shelled twice and all their 
animals killed. 250 meters away, and visible through a hole in the 
side of the house, is the toppled minaret of the local mosque, which 
took a direct hit. An air strike also hit Beit Lahiya's large Ibrahim 
al-Maqadmah mosque on 2 January 2009, killing 16 people and injuring 
dozens more. A total of 2,400 homes were completely destroyed during 
the three week offensive and over 12,000 were partially damaged.

International organizations have established a number of tent camps 
around the Gaza Strip. But in search of adequate shelter from the 
elements, some displaced and homeless people have moved in with 
extended family members in other areas. This is further squeezing 
Gaza's urban centers and placing an extra burden on already densely 
populated areas. It also means the scale of the problem of internally 
displaced people in Gaza is less visibly apparent.

On what was the second floor of the house, Najat's sister-in-law 
Faiza, 44 picks through the remains of their children's clothes. 
"Sometimes I wish we'd died rather than this ..." she says. "There 
were no militants near our house. Is this not sinful? Destroying 
homes, bombing mosques, killing chickens. Is that not sinful?"

Maysa has been too upset to study since the end of the offensive. 
"She had 99 percent in English, but all her school reports and prizes 
are under that sand," says her mother Najat. "What will happen to her 
future?" She shows me her bedroom now consumed by a mound of earth, 
and the edge of her bed that pokes out of the sand. "I had a few 
savings under my mattress," she says. Who knows if I'll ever find them."

International law and the destruction of civilian property

"Operation Cast Lead," or what Israel calls its 22-day offensive on 
the Gaza Strip between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009 had a 
devastating impact on Gaza's physical infrastructure.

The preliminary list of damage to civilian property includes:
    * Two thousand and four hundred homes destroyed, and at least 
12,000 homes damaged.
    * Sixty police stations and 30 mosques completely destroyed.
    * Twenty-one private enterprises, including cafeterias, wedding 
halls and hotels.
    * Twenty-eight public civilian facilities, including ministry 
buildings, municipalities and fishing harbors.
    * One hundred and twenty-one industrial/commercial workshops 
destroyed and at least 200 damaged.
    * Five concrete factories and one juice factory destroyed.
    * Five media and two health institutions destroyed.
    * Nine educational facilities including schools damaged or destroyed.
    * Thousands of dunums (a dunam is the equivalent of 1,000 square 
meters) of agricultural land razed to the ground.

Israel's destruction of property and land belonging to Palestinians 
has been a feature of its occupation since 1967 and is in clear 
violation of international law. It has also contributed to the 
steadily deteriorating humanitarian situation in the occupied territories.

Despite Israel's withdrawal of its forces and settlers from the Gaza 
Strip in 2005, Israel remains in control of Gaza's seas, external 
borders, and airspace. The Gaza Strip is defined as occupied 
territory in accordance with international law. Consequently, as the 
Occupying Power, Israel remains bound by international humanitarian 
law. The targeting of civilian property violates the most basic 
tenets of humanitarian law, and is explicitly prohibited by both 
customary international humanitarian law and the Fourth Geneva 
Convention of 1949.

Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the targeting of 
civilian property, except where such destruction is rendered 
"absolutely necessary by military operations." As the Occupying 
Power, Israel has specific legally-binding obligations towards the 
civilian population of the Gaza Strip. If the destruction of property 
is found to be disproportionate to the direct military advantage 
gained, this would constitute a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions.

The systematic nature of Israel's destruction of Palestinian civilian 
property and its use of heavy artillery, tanks and fighter jets 
against heavily populated residential areas has resulted in a 
disproportionately high number of civilian deaths and injuries, as 
well as extensive damage to civilian objects. The attacks are 
therefore illegal; they violate the principles of distinction and 
proportionality, and as such constitute grave breaches of the Geneva 

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights is calling upon the High 
Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions to fulfill their 
obligations under Article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to 
prevent such crimes, as well as their legally-binding obligation in 
accordance with Article 146 to bring persons alleged of committing 
grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions to justice.

This report is part of the <http://pchrgaza.ps/>Palestinian Centre 
for Human Rights' series "Aftermath" that looks at the aftermath of 
Israel's 22-day offensive on the Gaza Strip, and the ongoing impact 
it is having on the civilian population.

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