Wednesday begins normal enough. The regular policeman at the Al Sarayya junction conducts traffic from his usual spot. Families rush about collecting supplies, and shopkeepers tidy up. A mother urges her children, distracted by something tantalising, to move faster. To the west, the sun begins to set. A slight Mediterranean breeze scented with the salt and seaweed stirs as the residents of Gaza prepare for the evening meal.
I’m going with a group of my journalist colleagues to select an invitation card for my wedding. The lady in the shop starts to show me the cards, and then…
A missile explodes across the street, The mostly residential road of Al-Khidma Al-Ammah turns black. A fireball the size of a small car shoots down the middle of the street, dissipating nearly 100 feet away. Dust, grease and concrete rain down as residents of the area rush toward any shelter they can find. But none exists. As the breeze parts the black cloud, an ominous vision emerges. A car is engulfed in flames, its Kia logo barely visible, the metal liquefying from the heat. Inside the occupants burn. The smoke, fueled by oil, petrol and rubber grows denser and black. It smells of burning tar mixed with flesh.
Onlookers stare, ears ringing from the blast. Others move toward the burning car to help survivors – if there are any. As they approach a macabre patchwork of severed limbs and disemboweled entrails greet them. Moving closer, there’s a portion of someone’s head. On a nearby building, four stories up, a scrap of unidentifiable flesh sticks to the wall – a testament to the awesome power of the missile blast.
Residents of the street rush into their homes, each grabbing buckets of water. Women run carrying children away from the terror. The first ambulance arrives, and the Kia continues to burn. Not much can be done for the victims inside. They’re dead.
Within minutes, emergency vehicles arrive. Nobody knows how many passengers were in the car. Identifying those killed will be difficult given the messy remains. As the fire and ambulance crews do their work, a witness thinks he recognises the license plate. As he speaks, he begins crying.
Firemen continue to battle the fire, as paramedics sift through the burning wreckage. One firefighter pulls out the remains of fingers clutching a white blood-soaked satchel. Neighbours and witnesses join the emergency workers in the grim task of collecting body parts and burnt flesh from the scene. As more charred body parts are pulled from the wreckage, the identity of one of the victims becomes clear. The crowd murmurs in disbelief… “It’s Abu Mohammed…”
The target of the Israeli missile strike this Wednesday, November 14, was later identified as Ahmad “Abu Mohammed” Al-Jabari. Al-Jabari was a leader of the Iz al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. (Mohammed Al-Hums, his assistant, was also in the car, and died, too.) But Al-Jabari was more than just a military man. Al-Jabari was one of Israel’s closest allies within Hamas and he had just completed brokering a truce with Israel three hours before his murder.
Al-Jabari, born in 1960, was Israel’s man inside Hamas to contact about putting ceasefires in place. Al-Jabari was considered a moderate who carried significant influence. Ha’aretz, Israel’s leading English language newspaper, recently reported that Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, a mediator between Israel and Hamas who worked with Al-Jabari in negotiating the release of a captured Israeli soldier named Gilad Shalit, stated that Al-Jabari’s assassination came just hours after Al-Jabari had received the draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel. The draft of the agreement received by Al-Jabari included mechanisms for maintaining the ceasefire. “Al-Jabari was interested in a long-term ceasefire; he was not interested in these repeated rounds of attacks with Israel,” Gershon Baskin said.
If Baskin’s claim is accurate – and no compelling evidence has emerged to suggest otherwise – Israel assassinated the very man it was indirectly working with to obtain peace, after an agreement had been achieved yet before it could be implemented.
The airstrike comes after weeks of on-and-off fighting between Israelis and Palestinians.
Ten days ago, on November 7, an Israeli airstrike killed a 12-year-old boy playing soccer in the street in Gaza.
Afterward, an Egypt-brokered ceasefire went into effect. But it only lasted two days. Israel’s assassination of Al-Jabari within three hours of his receiving the draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel has angered many, including the Egyptian officials responsible for negotiating the ceasefire, who have stated that Al-Jabari was a man who was responsible for saving the lives of many Israelis and Palestinians.
Palestinian militant groups in Gaza have retaliated by firing homemade rockets, some of which for the first time reached the outskirts of Tel Aviv. Three Israelis have been killed and several injured, according to Israeli sources. In retaliation to these bombings, the Israeli military expanded its operation using high tech guided missiles, F-16 fighter jets to bomb building after building in civilian areas. They call this new campaign “Operation Pillar of Defense”. In an official statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote: "Hamas and the terror organisations decided to escalate their attacks on the citizens of Israel over the last few days. We will not accept a situation in which Israeli citizens are threatened by the terror of rockets. No country would accept this, Israel will not accept it. Today, we hit Hamas strategic targets precisely." Netanyahu continued, "We will continue to do everything necessary to defend our citizens."
The White House has thrown its full support behind Israel's military attack. Yesterday, November 16, the White House took the unusual tactic of releasing a White House memo entitled “Updates for the American Jewish Community,” which was sent out by email. It reiterated the Israeli position but made no mention of Palestinian casualties, the timeline and cause of the escalating conflict, nor the significance of Al Jabari’s assassination given his involvement in brokering a truce. The communication removed all information that would provide any context to the reality of the past three days as well as the fact that Israel chose to break the truce of two weeks, not Hamas, by killing a negotiator.
For many Gazans, this latest Israeli attack brings back memories of “Operation Cast Lead”, which occurred during Christmas in 2008-2009, during the ‘lame-duck’ period between George Bush and Barack Obama’s presidency. During that holiday season, 1,500 Palestinian men, women, and children were killed and thousands more injured, leaving huge destruction of infrastructure that has yet to be repaired.
Today, Saturday, the skies of Gaza are filled with Israeli fighter jets, attack helicopters and unmanned drones armed with high tech missiles and artillery tank shells. They are firing on East Rafah, Khan Younies, Gaza City, and north of Gaza. From the sea, Israeli warships pound the coast of Gaza. Missiles are falling every few minutes in an area about the size of Manhattan. The number of innocent dead, including children, grows higher. The latest victim is a 10-month old baby girl by the name of Haneen Tafesh. The loss of her life pushes the death toll to 41, a total that includes 12 children, four women and three elderly men. Another 300-plus have been injured by Israel forces.
For those without an army, navy or air force, nor ‘the right to defend’ themselves, it is a sleepless night. Families huddle terrified as the sky fills with the sounds of bombs. No one knows when this will end. On the border, Israeli troops have amassed with tanks, bulldozers, missiles and planes. Israeli papers report that 75,000 reservists have been called up. Their leaders have been warning for several months that an invasion of Gaza is necessary. For people in Gaza, the only question is if and when it will occur, and when it’s over, how many more will be dead?