Busy neighbourhoods flattened into moonscapes

The wreckage of a classroom in Gaza. ©Amnesty International

The wreckage of a classroom in Gaza. ©Amnesty International

Each day, wherever we go we are struck by the extent of the destruction. We take photos and film everywhere we go, but the scale of the devastation is impossible to capture on camera. Previously busy neighbourhoods have been flattened into moonscapes.

Other large areas look like they’ve been hit by earthquakes. There is no lens wide enough to embrace the sheer dimensions of the devastation.

Orchards and road have been churned up by Israeli army tanks and armoured D9 bulldozers; the latter sometimes dragging plough-like hooks which ripped the roads behind them – just one example of wanton destruction. Buildings with no apparent military value have been destroyed in vast numbers.

Power lines have been torn down, and water mains ripped up. Gaza’s infrastructure, already much debilitated by previous waves of destruction and years of sanctions, is now in dire condition. Prolonged blackouts are the norm, tens of thousands of people have no access to clean water and sewage is now flowing in the open from the broken conduits.

Artillery shells, designed for use in conventional battlefield scenarios, have been fired into dense residential areas. It’s hard to see what military sense this makes. The Israeli army claims that they are firing at militants launching rockets, but artillery is, in military jargon, an area weapon, wholly unsuitable for pinpoint targets.

Israeli forces also fired mortar shells into the street outside an UNWRA school in Jabalia killing at least 41 people, among them 10 members of one family. In an UNRWA primary school in Beit Lahiya, where 1,898 people were sheltering from the fighting, an artillery shell hit a classroom on the second floor where 35 people were sleeping at 6am one morning. Two brothers, aged five and seven, were killed.

Their 18-year-old sister was grievously injured and had to have her leg amputated. Their mother lost a hand and sustained a serious head injury. Twelve others were injured. Their relatives told us that they had fled their homes to escape the bombardments and had come to the school hoping to find safety.

Shortly afterwards, a classroom on the same floor was burnt out in a fire caused by white phosphorus. Luckily, those sheltering there, including three disabled people, were able to escape.

Time and again today, Monday 19 January, people told us that during the past three weeks there had been nowhere for them to go where they could feel safe. Schools, medical facilities and UN buildings all took direct hits.

The rubble of the American School in Gaza. ©Amnesty International

The rubble of the American School in Gaza. ©Amnesty International

By the rubble of the American School in Gaza we met the father of school guard Mahmoud Mohammed Selmi Abu Qleiq, who was killed when Israeli F16 aircraft bombed the school campus. It was Gaza’s only international school, providing a progressive, co-ed style of education in English, and presented itself as ‘part of the vision for the future of Palestine’. Now all that is left of the school is a huge mass of tangled wire and gigantic concrete slabs.

The old man sat overlooking the rubble and explained how he tried to call his son’s mobile phone when he heard the huge explosions, but he never answered… His son’s body was found 50 metres from the school.

Smouldering food supplies. ©Amnesty International

Smouldering food supplies. ©Amnesty International

We also inspected the main UNRWA Field Office in Gaza City, which came under Israeli fire on 15 January. The warehouses full of food, medicine and other humanitarian aid were destroyed when white phosphorus and high explosive Israeli artillery shells hit the compound, causing a huge fire.

Four days later, the fire is still burning – the charred and smouldering remnants of millions of dollars’ worth of food and medicine all destroyed. The ground outside the warehouses is still slick with the thousands of litres of burning cooking oil that spilled out. Several UN vehicles were also destroyed in the attacks.

The compound is in a busy, densely populated area in the centre of Gaza City and at the time of the attack some 700 people had just flooded into the UNRWA compound to escape the Israeli bombardments. But it too proved to be a dangerous haven.

UN staff showed great personal courage in driving full fuel tankers out of the compound under fire. Repeated calls to the Israeli authorities by UN officials failed to stop some 10 shells being fired directly into the facility.

It appears to have been only by good fortune that the hall where the 700 plus people from neighbouring buildings were sheltering wasn’t hit, or that the fuel trucks didn’t explode. Many people escaped death and injury by the narrowest of margins. But the food and medicine have been destroyed, and so too has people’s belief that they could find safety in a UN compound.

Ambulances made into roadblocks by Israeli army. ©Amnesty International

Ambulances made into roadblocks by Israeli army. ©Amnesty International

At the al-Quds Hospital in Gaza City, we saw the wrecks of several destroyed ambulances. We heard from medical staff there how Israeli tanks had crushed ambulances to make roadblocks. The hospital buildings were hit in the attack, and their medical stores burnt. Doctors told us how panicked patients had to be evacuated from the hospital under fire.

Hundreds of people from nearby buildings had taken shelter in the hospital buildings, just as others elsewhere in the city had sought refuge in the UN compound or schools, believing that they were places safe from Israeli attacks. They were wrong.

Posted in Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories | 13 Comments

  1. A Syrian says:

    And after all the dead, the Saudis go and give their money… 1 million euros that will go directly into Israel’s construction material companies, what a business they’ve made!

  2. reyes says:

    It,s a crime against Humanity….only that . Like Hitler with Jews ,the same story.

  3. An American says:

    Don’t let the Saudis do that.Get Arab construction companies, the Israelis should not benefit financially from their mass murders.
    Also the Israelis pre-meditated wider genocide extending beyond initial massacres. They bombed dairy farms, poultry farms,grocery markets, fish markets, fishing boats, the main UN food storage facility,bakeries, shops, and the tunnels the Gazan fathers risked their lives to build to bring food in for their children,when the Israelis tried to starve their children to death in the illegal blockades. The Israelis bombed residential neighborhoods,and housing projects, they deliberately targeted entire families,even those with infant children. They committed genocide. But the wider genocide they intended was to be AFTER the cessation of bombings-starvation and death by dehydration and thirst.
    There are madmen on the order of Adolf Hitler at work in the military in Israel and they must be brought to trial for genocide and mass murder.
    But so that their clear design does not succeed, funds,including the Saudi money must be used to IMMEDIATELY bring food, water, shelter and clothing to the children,women,men,elderly, the victims of Israel genocide in Gaza.

  4. Jonathan says:

    Ms. Rovera,
    Another bias article that surely “sounds” like Israel bashing. You speak of “Wanton Destruction” as if the Israelis were intentionally trying to inflict hard / damage on the civilians of Gaza – Is this your first visit to a war zone – this is what they look like – trust me (been there done that).
    Unfortunately you still haven’t understood that Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in Gaza used civilians, their houses, buildings and playgrounds as well as the schools, mosques and UN installations (especially those of the UNWRA) as cover for their weapons, explosives and of course the Kassam and Grad missiles. Where better to hide them there so the IDF could not hit them and if they did it would be a PR score for Hamas. So please do not use terms like innocent buildings houses etc as the Hamas intentionally used these as cover as well as the civillian population as living shields for it’s fighters and their weapons. Is it just coincidence that the UN warehouse were hit as Ban met with Livni – this of course was planned by Hamas who fired intentionally from the compound in order to draw Israeli fire upon it and at the correct time.
    Please explain to your readers that the Israeli’s contacted the civilians by phone, leaflets and megaphones all in Arabic to warn them that they (or their property) were being used by Hamas and to leave in order not to be hurt. No other amy in the world does this not the Americans / Brits / Canadians / NATO forces in Iraq, Afganistan, Bosnia or any other therter of war in this or the last century.

  5. Saladino says:

    Now, and in the name of peace: they try not to let more weapons in to Gaza. So the IDF finds no resistance next time? What if they hadn’t found any? Can you make pacific civil resistance in front of the zionists? Like the muslims of Srebenica… May these brave and patient men and women of Gaza not be bereaved of their means to defend themselves. And may Allah Almighty grant them wisdom for more effective strategies than their weapons

  6. Ciara says:

    This should not descend into a bitter game of tit for tat as some of the comments suggest. There is enough seething bitterness and hatred as a result of years of death and destruction without the international community losing sight of its useful and powerful position. The blog was an expression of grief and shock at the horror of the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

    Leave the views regarding justification of commencement of war fare and the crimes which may be committed during to the legal experts. People should be mobilizing their political establishments to push for large scale and impartial investigations into ANY breaches of international law, whether of armed conflict or humanitarian/human rights violations.
    The legal world and bodies such as the UN should be seriously reassessing the international structures that exist to vindicate and protect universal liberties. There is ‘wanton’ abuse of these and questionable justification for them everyday in this world. The international community needs to move quickly and carefully to adopt a fairer and more transparent system of law and custom which will ensure that for example UN compounds containing ANY group of sheltering civilians cannot be a legitimate target.

    All blood is blood.

  7. Pingback: Busy neighbourhoods flattened into moonscapes at Livewire … | HEALTH AIDS FOR SENIORS

  8. Ana says:

    # Jonathan:
    “So please do not use terms like innocent buildings houses etc as the Hamas intentionally used these as cover as well as the civillian population as living shields for it’s fighters and their weapons.”
    I gather you were there and eyewitnessed? Filmed?

  9. Israel has always maintained a kill ratio of 100 Palestinian deaths for every Israeli death. This does not include Israeli targeted assassinations. Whether we call this war or mass murder, it does not lead to peace, only continual war into the indefinite future. Israelalways refuses to talk with various factions until they surrender in advance. Peace can be negotiated only by talking with and listening to each other. Let’s work for peace!

  10. Donatus says:

    Jonathan. why are you dreaming? of course Israeli Army deliberately destroys civil neighborhoods and lives. Of course Tsahal do not care for Palestinians, as they didn’t care in 1948 ff, not in 1967 and not, by protecting the settler’s land robbery since. Who says attacking Hamas, says attacking Palestinians. If you want to stop hatred, stop OCCUPATION, STRANGLING Palestine! Install Democracy in Israel, for all it’s people, instead of a new monster Jewish Ghetto State. For the sake of sustainable and just peace. Sderot? aren’t the poor people of Sderot misused as human shields by their cynical leaders? On the other hand, where do you suggest palestinian resistant fighters should present themselves to the magnifique israeli army? Should they say, “look, here we are, shoot on us, we like to be killed, as you’ve already killed our children, sisters and brothers, having been sheltered by the UN? Please do not forget Deir Yassin! NEVER AGAIN!

  11. SHIBYE says:

    Israèl is cruel!

  12. Pingback: New Amnesty report calls for comprehensive arms embargo on Israel and Hamas | Human Rights Now - Amnesty International USA Blog

  13. Jack Dee says:

    And after all the dead, the Saudis go and give their money… 1 million euros that will go directly into Israel’s construction material companies, what a business they’ve made!

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