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On Anniversary of Gaza War, We Will Remember IDF Soldiers Who Destroyed Palestinian Families

On the third anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, we must recall the other, nameless soldiers, guided by the spirit of the army's top brass.

Amira Hass

 by Haaretz (Israel)

On the third anniversary of the Cast Lead onslaught, we remember the anonymous soldiers who fired on a red car, in which a father, Mohammed Shurrab, and his two sons were returning home from their farm lands. It is not fair that the officer who then served as GOC Southern Command of the Israel Defense Forces, Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, will be the only one remembered on this anniversary. Indeed, the list of fighters who should be mentioned and recalled is long.

We will remember the pilot who delivered the bomb that killed Mahmoud al-Ghoul, a high-school student, and his uncle Akram, an attorney, at the family's home in northern Gaza. We will remember the soldiers who analyze photographs taken by drones, who decided that a truck conveying oxyacetylene cylinders for welding, owned by Ahmad Samur, was carrying Grad rockets - a decision that led to an order to bomb the vehicle from the air which, in turn, led to the deaths of eight persons, four of them minors.

We will remember the soldiers who turned the Abu Eida family home in eastern Jabalya into a base and place from which to shoot, and confined in one room an elderly invalid, a blind woman and two older women. We will remember how these soldiers did not allow these four persons to go to the restroom for nine days. We will remember the soldiers who herded members of the Samouni family into one house and were themselves positioned 80 meters from it when it was shelled, with all its residents inside, under orders from brigade commander Ilan Malka - someone else whom we will remember, of course.

The list goes on and on, and we ask forgiveness from those we haven't cited due to lack of space. But on this occasion we shall especially remember the soldiers at a certain post in the eastern part of Khan Yunis.

On Saturday, January 17, 2009, at 8:46 (a day before the cessation of the attacks ), I received the following letter from the United States in my inbox: "My father and two brothers were attacked yesterday [Friday, January 16th] while driving home from their farm. One brother [Kassab - 27] died, but the father [Mohammed Shurrab - 64] and the remaining brother [Ibrahim - 17] are now wounded and stranded in an Israeli Defense Force (IDF ) controlled area. They were attacked between 1:00-1:30 P.M. local time during the cease-fire time, and emergency services are unable to reach them."

The IDF did not allow an ambulance to approach this area; the letter writer, Amer Shurrab, believed that media pressure would help bring about such authorization. "We are very desperate, and trying as many avenues as possible to get aid to reach them. If you know even a foot soldier who might be able to push the ball by calling a local commander we would really appreciate any help," he wrote.

Shurrab did not know that while he was writing this desperate appeal to a person he did not know, his second brother was already dead, after bleeding in his father's arms for 10 hours. The bereaved brother also did not know that from 6 A.M. that same Saturday, Tom, a field worker for the Physicians for Human Rights nonprofit organization, was in touch with me.

This was a case of death on via live broadcast: Until the battery of the father's cell phone went dead, Shurrab phoned his relatives in Gaza and the United States, as well as the Red Crescent and the Red Cross, Tom from PHR, and local journalists.

The humanitarian cease-fire, as it was called by the IDF, had lasted on that Friday from 10 A.M. to 2 P.M. The father, who was driving, and his two sons passed an IDF checking position, and were allowed to continue on. Around 1 P.M. they reached the Abu Zeidan supermarket, in the Al Fukhary neighborhood in eastern Khan Yunis, whose residents had fled at the start of the ground attack. The neighboring house, the largest building on the street, had been turned into an army base two weeks beforehand. Shots were fired from this base at the Shurrab car. Wounded in his chest, Kassab got out of the jeep, collapsed and died. Ibrahim jumped out of the vehicle, and was then wounded in his leg by unrelenting gunfire.

The father was wounded in the arm, but managed to drag his surviving son to a nearby wall. He saw a tank, and soldiers coming and going. The soldiers could see him. At 11 P.M., 10 hours after the shooting, still pinned against the wall, the father noticed that his bleeding son was becoming cold and that his breathing was becoming labored. He managed to carry his son back to the gunshot-riddled vehicle, hoping it would be warmer there. But half an hour after midnight, between Friday and Saturday, the son drew his last breath, in his father's arms.

All this occurred some 50 or 100 meters from the soldiers. Periodically, the newly bereaved father spoke on the phone with Tom who, stationed in his Tel Aviv home throughout the night, joined the Red Cross in efforts to persuade the army to allow an ambulance to come immediately to the scene. The European Gaza Hospital is located some two kilometers, a one- or two-minute ride, from this area.

Around 9:30 Saturday morning Tom was informed that the IDF had given authorization for the ambulance to come at noon that day.

At the time, the IDF Spokesman relayed that, "In general, during the cease-fire the IDF opened fire only when rockets were fired at Israel, or shots were fired at the IDF. We are unable to investigate and retrieve the facts of every incident, or to verify or deny each piece of information that is brought to our attention. The ambulance's entry was allowed only after an assessment was made of the situation in the field, and a decision was reached that operational conditions allowed such entry. The wounded persons [!!] were evacuated by the Palestinian health ministry, and brought to the hospital in Rafah."

I well remember those anonymous solders who destroyed the Shurrab family. Upon my arrival at the site on January 24, I discovered that they had left behind not only the usual images of destruction, and the routine filth, at the Palestinian home from which they fired shots against this family: They also left behind the inscription, "Kahane was right."

© 2021 Haaretz
Amira Hass

Amira Hass

Amira Hass is the Haaretz correspondent for the Occupied Territories. Born in Jerusalem in 1956, Hass joined Haaretz in 1989, and has been in her current position since 1993. As the correspondent for the territories, she spent three years living in Gaza, which served of the basis for her widely acclaimed book, "Drinking the Sea at Gaza." She has lived in the West Bank city of Ramallah since 1997.

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