Killings haunt Gaza City graveyard families

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

GAZA CITY: Blood stains can still be seen on the graves in Shejaiya cemetery just days after a deadly Israeli raid, showing that even the dead cannot rest in peace in the war-torn Gaza district.

Israel says the raid, which killed two people at dusk on Friday, targeted Palestinians firing rockets.

“On Friday night, there were members of the resistance who wanted to fire rockets from here,” said Imad al-Ashram, 36, who tends the cemetery in the impoverished neighbourhood, just two kilometres from the Israeli border.

“They were spotted by a plane and the Israeli strike hit Bilal al-Raeir,” he said, pointing to dark blood stains on the white stone graves.

“People came running, and shortly afterwards there was another air strike, and a child was killed,” he told AFP, referring to 10-year-old Mahmud al-Jaru.

The pair was among nine people killed on April 8, as violence flared between Israel and the Islamist group Hamas, which controls the territory.

It was the single bloodiest day in Gaza since Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s genocidal 22-day offensive which began at the end of December 2008, Palestinian medical sources said.

Shortly after the graveyard was struck, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad announced that Raeir was one of their activists who had been killed after he fired a missile at an Israeli position. The Israeli military subsequently posted air force footage of the graveyard showing shadows moving around the cemetery with a tubular object — what they said was a rocket launcher.

But despite the footage and Islamic Jihad’s statement, most residents here deny that any rocket fire came from their neighbourhood.

“I was there, no one fired a rocket. It’s an open area. The fighters would have been seen immediately,” said 35-year-old Alaa Mohamed al-Jaru, uncle of the 10-year-old who was killed.

“Mahmud was playing outside with some other children when the air strike happened. They all ran away, but Mahmud didn’t move. We called him, but he stayed put, and he was hit by the second strike,” said Jaru.

In his pocket is a scrap of the t-shirt his young nephew was wearing. The young boy was buried in the cemetery, in his great-grandfather’s tomb, just metres (yards) away from nearby homes.

“We have a housing crisis here,” said Jaru. “When we need to build, we look at the date on the graves, and if they are very old and all that’s inside is dust, we clear them.”

Signs of life among the dead are all around, with rubbish littering the ground around the graves, and washing lines strung between the headstones.

“If people are forced to live in a cemetery, it’s because there isn’t enough free space in Gaza except for the old settlements,” said Hassan Taysir Abu al-Kas, 19, referring to the Jewish settlements Israel evacuated in 2005.

Housing projects which were to have been built on the sites of the former settlements have yet to materialise.

As a tentative truce appeared to take hold, people in Shejaiya’s farmland, which lies close to the border, began to venture out after days of cowering indoors as Israeli warplanes and tanks pounded the area.

“The Israeli forces came very close to here with their tanks,” said Um Iyad al-Mamluk, a woman wearing a veil who spent the days holed up at home with her extended family.

“Where could we go with 30 children? If we went out we risked being killed,” she told AFP.

Jamil al-Muhsin, a 62-year-old farmer gripping a hoe in his hand, railed against the Israeli military. “The Israeli army, which calls itself the Israel Defence Forces, is actually an Israeli force that attacks unarmed civilians,” he charged.

He dismissed as “big talk” the Arab League’s announcement that it would seek a United Nations-imposed no-fly zone over Gaza.

“Will the Security Council for the first time apply a decision, or will it just be another decision… taken by the Arab League or the Security Council that is not respected by anyone?”

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