[News] Lives buried under the rubble in Gaza
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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