Remembering OPERATION ‘CAST LEAD’: 22 DAYS OF DEATH AND DESTRUCTION
“It was 8.30pm on 14 January, the area was quiet except of course there was always the noise of F-16s, drones. There was no electricity. All the family were in the yard or the house listening to the news, negotiations in Egypt, martyrs, and so on. The missile hit. Four were dead at once; my brother’s body was all in pieces. We want to understand something: why did they hit our house? It is in a residential area. We are neither Hamas nor Fatah. We are all civilians. None of us did anything. My father was opposed to firing rockets against the Israelis; he wanted peace, and they killed him. We have nothing to do with the resistance. Until now we don’t understand, we don’t understand why. We want peace; and we want an investigation; we want to know why me and my sisters have been orphaned. Why did they kill our parents, our 1family? What life will we have now? Who will take care of us?” - Fathiya Mousa, 14, whose parents and siblings were killed in an Israeli air strike while sitting in their garden (Amnesty International)
11.30am on 27 December 2008 in Gaza. Without any warning, Israeli forces began to bomb the Gaza Strip, code named Operation ‘Cast Lead’. According to Israel its aim was to end rocket attacks into Israel by armed groups affiliated with Hamas and other supposed groups.
1,400 Palestinians had been killed by January 2009 when ceasefires were announced by Israel and Hamas, including some 300 children and hundreds of other unarmed innocent civilians, and large areas of Gaza had be destroyed to the very ground, leaving thousands homeless. Hundreds of civilians were killed in attacks carried out using high-precision weapons – airdelivered bombs, missiles, and tank shells. Women and children, were shot at short range when posing no threat to the lives of the inhumane Israeli soldiers.
Aerial bombardments released from F-16s targeted and destroyed civilian homes, killing and injuring palestinian inhabitants in an instant, often while they lay asleep. Children playing on the roofs of their homes or in the street and other civilians going about their daily business, as well as medical staff attending the wounded were killed in broad daylight by highly accurate missiles launched from helicopters and aerial vehicles, or drones, and by precision projectiles fired from tanks.
Disturbing questions remain unanswered as to why such high-precision weapons, whose operators can see the smallest of details of their targets and accurately strike fast moving vehicles, were used in an ‘responsive attack to hamas’ which actually killed civilians only. Ethnic cleansing? Genocide?
White phosphorus, a highly subversive substance, repeatedly fired indiscriminately over densely populated residential areas, killing and wounding civilians and destroying civilian property. The instant contact with white phosphorus immediately leads to chemical reactions, specifically it burns by melting flesh to the bone.
“It’s as though a fire is burning in my body. It’s too much for me to bear. In spite of all the medicine they are giving me the pain is still so strong.” Sixteen-year-old Samia Salman Al-Manay’a, speaking to Amnesty International from a hospital bed 10 days after a white phosphorus shell landed on her house in Jabalia refugee camp, northern Gaza, 10 Jan.
They were let down from the skies in shells, raining over poorly built houses and streets, the exposure to oxygen setting fire to people and property. Once the phosphorus is empties out the shells crash into buildings causing further death and injury. Repeated denials of the use of white phosphorus by
Israeli officials during the conflict delayed or prevented appropriate treatment for people suffering agonizing burns. White phosphorus continued to be used until the last day of Operation “Cast Lead”, on 17 January 2009. On that day a white phosphorus shell exploded around 6am in an UNRWA primary school in Beit Lahia, where more than 1,500 people were sheltering. International humanitarian law prohibits the use of incendiary weapons against civilians. Of
course, no weapon is supposed to be used against civilians, an incendiary weapon, the use of white phosphorus, even against combatants, is restricted under customary international law. It should not be used against combatants unless weapons less likely to cause suffering are not available.
In Gaza Israeli forces repeatedly fired them into densely populated residential areas, knowing that an indenciary imprecise weapon like white phosphorus would kill and injure countless civilians. More Palestinians were killed and more properties were destroyed in the 22-day military campaign than in any previous Israeli crimes.
Israeli officials knew from the first days of Operation “Cast Lead” that a significant number of Palestinian civilians were wounded and killed, Israeli forces continued the same tactics for the entire 22-day offensive. Thousands of civilian homes, businesses and public buildings were destroyed. In some areas entire neighbourhoods were flattened and farm animals killed. Much of the destruction was deliberate, carried out in a manner and circumstances indicating that it could not be justified on grounds of military necessity. Rather, it was often the result of reckless and indiscriminate attacks.
“I want aggressiveness – if there’s someone suspicious on the upper floor of a house, we’ll shell it. If we have suspicions about a house, we’ll take it down… There will be no hesitation…Nobody will deliberate – let the mistakes be over their lives, not ours.” An Israeli company commander in a security briefing to soldiers during Operation “Cast Lead (Amnesty Int)
Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed in attacks by Israeli forces during Operation “Cast Lead” between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009. Some 5,000 were injured, many for life. Hundreds of those killed were unarmed civilians, including 300 children, more than 115 women and 85 men over the age of 50. The IDF has put the death toll to be under 1,200 and maintain the belief of minimal civilian deaths. However, the Israeli authorities haven’t released any lists of those killed – neither of those claimed to be identified as combatants or civilians.
The killings of many of the hundreds of Palestinian civilians not involved in the conflict, including some 300 children, cannot simply be dismissed as “collateral damage” – incidental to otherwise lawful attacks – or as mistakes.
Five-year-old Lama Talal Hamdan, her sister Haya, 12, and their brother Isma’il, eight, were killed near their home on 30 December 2008. At about 8am, after breakfast, their mother sent the children as usual to carry the rubbish bags to the rubbish dump about 200m from their home in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza. Moments later the family heard two massive explosions from F-16 bombardments, about half a minute apart, which made the whole quarter shake. The children’s father told Amnesty International: “We didn’t realize that our children would be targeted and might be hit when we sent them out. We found the bodies buried beneath the dust thrown up by the bomb in the bare ground. The two girls died at once and Isma’il died the following day in hospital. I don’t know of any fault they committed; they weren’t carrying rockets, they were just children.”
One of the most shockingunbelievable cases reported by Amnesty International is of al-Sammouni family, who lost 29 members of their extended family in the al-Zaytoun neighbourhood, south-east of Gaza City. Most of those who died were killed when one of the family homes, was shelled, seemingly with tank rounds, on 5 January 2009, a day after Israeli soldiers had ordered dozens of family members to move there from a nearby house belonging to the same extended family. In addition to those killed in the attack, several other family members who had been wounded in it died in the following days as they remained trapped in the house because the army did not allow ambulances to reach the area. Several family members bled to death over a three-day period while they waited in vain for someone to rescue them. Children lay for three days without food or water next to the bodies of their dead mother and siblings.
“Soldiers came to the area at night and at dawn on 4 January many relatives came to my house to stay with us. We though that if we stayed in our house we would be all right. After a while soldiers came to the house and my father spoke to them in Hebrew; he told them: ‘These are my children, my family, there are no terrorists here.’ The soldiers told us to leave our house and go to Wa’el’s house across the road and we obeyed. We were many relatives, about 100 altogether, many of them children. We stayed there all day and all night. We had hardly any food in the house and the children were hungry. Nobody could come to the area, not even ambulances. We were scared. The following morning (5 January) three of my cousins and I tried to go out of the house, to the walled garden to get some tomatoes and some wood to cook something. As soon as we got out of the door we were shelled. My cousins Muhammad and Hamdi were killed and Wa’el and I were injured and we retreated back into the house. Then the house was shelled again – at least two shells – from above. Some 25 people were killed and most of the others were injured. My little girl, Azza, was killed and my wife was injured. My mother Rahma was holding baby Mahmoud (six months old) and she was killed but she shielded the baby with her body and saved him. My father was killed. Wa’el’s children, a boy and a girl, were both killed. Safa, the wife of my brother Iyad, was killed and Maha, the wife of my brother Hilmi, and their baby son Muhammad were all killed. Why did they shell the house after having put us all in there? We thought we’d all be killed; those of us who could ran out of the house. Many of us were injured; I was injured in the head and blood was pouring down my face as I ran. Nearby there were soldiers in the house of the Sawafiri family and they shouted to us to go back and shot at us, but we kept running. When we got to safety we raised the alarm, called the Red Cross to send an ambulance to the house to get the injured, but the army did not let any ambulances approach the area. We knew there were people still alive in the house because we called the mobile numbers and children answered; they were scared, with dead bodies all around them. Some of the injured died in the house waiting to be rescued. Only three days later could the Red Cross go in, but only on foot as the army did not let the ambulances approach; they found some children still alive and many others dead.” (Amnesty Int Witness Case Report)
Three-year-old Fawzia Fawaz Salah and her four-year-old brother Ahmad were killed on 17January 2009 at 2.15pm wh ile they were playing in the family home in Jabalia, in northern Gaza. Their two brothers, Faraj and Mohammed, aged seven and eight respectively, were both injured. The children had been playing in a room on the third floor of the family home when a tank shell smashed through the window and exploded in the room. Boys father explained, “It was the last day of the war, and our home was full of relatives who had come to stay with us because this area was safe; we are right inside Jabalia town, far from the border. Everyone was downstairs, my wife was up here, washing the dishes in the back room and keeping an eye on the children who were playing here. How can anyone fire into civilian homes and kill innocent children like this?”
These are only few of the many cases of Cast Lead victims. Everything clearly suggests an open attack on the people of Gaza, the displaced Palestinians. Israel’s Zionist agenda to completely wipe out the Palestinians and establish their empire was drawn precisely with the aid of Operation Cast Lead to the entire international community. Israel as always uses one of its best excuses of ‘national security’ and ‘hamas’ to explain their atrocious actions upon the indigenous people of broken Palestine. Today, 27th December 2010 marks the second anniversary of the ‘Gaza War’. Israeli denies the death toll and use of weapons against the civilians, grazing any hint of justice to the ground.
Palestine is under severe, brutal military occupation, aimed to starve and humiliate the its confined people, after already having taking their land forcefully with blood and Zionist ideology. I call you to recognising a full Palestinian state and the dismissal of Israels existence. For no thief can rightfully own what he has stole. You cannot make negotiations with the thief that has stolen from you. You cannot make peace with the thief that holds your property and you hostage. You cannot accept the thief that then bulldozes your home and shoots your 5 year old in their head. One state solution. Begin to support Palestine by boycotting Israel, and its supporters.
LONG LIVE PALESTINE!