GAZA - The scene at the home of the Abu Sukheileh family in the Jabalya refugee camp yesterday evening bore no resemblance to what is normally seen on television - the pictures of people rejoicing at the death of their beloved, who has become a shaheed (martyr) by falling at the hands of the Israel Defense Forces.
Far from the street and the cameras, dozens of women sat on mattresses in the family's covered yard, waiting for Luteifa Abu Sukheileh, "Umm Munzir," to return from the funeral of her son, Hanni, who was killed when troops attacked the Sajaiyeh neighborhood in western Gaza.
The women of all ages, wearing black skirts or dark cloaks, sat with their feet bare and their legs crossed. Many were silent. Others spoke in whispers. One elderly woman spoke out, perhaps to herself and perhaps to others, about how hard it was to bring children into the world and then see them killed. Her neighbor responded with a proud comment about "our youths who lay explosives to stop the tanks from penetrating." Some repeated time-worn phrases about how the shaheed does not die, but instead goes to paradise, while others asked each other what was new with their children, who had married and who was studying, and where. Still others talked of the earthquake that had shaken the region that morning.
Yesterday's quake rocked the apartment buildings and the office towers of Gaza. At first, people thought that in addition to the IDF attack on the eastern part of the city, a bomb had been dropped somewhere and had shaken the whole area. But no explosion was heard and no glass shattered from the blast. In seconds, it became clear that this must be something else. People found great symbolism in the fact that the earth quivered as the wails of ambulances were heard approaching, bringing the dead and wounded to the city's hospitals, and as the local radio stations announced another person dead every few moments.
The women kept coming and going at the Abu Sukheileh home. Many bent down to kiss one woman who sat stony-faced and did not utter a word. This was the dead man's aunt, who lost two sons when an IDF force attacked Jabalya on March 11, 2002. Her sons, members of Iz a Din al-Kassam, the military wing of Hamas, were among the 16 Palestinian gunmen and civilians killed when they tried to stop the Israeli tanks. A family member said that she was still crying bitterly when he met her a week later.
Hanni Abu Sukheileh, also a member of Iz a Din al-Kassam, fought then alongside his cousins. He was wounded then, and twice more later: once in a clash with the IDF and another time in a fight between Hamas and Fatah militants. He earned the nickname "a-Zaim," the leader. Yesterday morning, when he and some of his friends heard that the IDF was attacking Sajaiyeh, they jumped into cars and drove there to reinforce the other gunmen, mainly from Hamas.
Hanni was buried yesterday afternoon in the Beit Lahiya cemetery. There were traffic jams in the streets of Jabalya because of the large number of mourners. Many of the mourners were originally from the village of Brir, where Bror Hayil stands today, and from which Hanni's family came. Members of the Brir families fired gun salutes at the funeral. The men then went to the mourners' tent placed on the road, which Hamas had not yet decorated with its usual slogans. The women came to the family home.
Hanni's mother's eyes were red with crying. As the women comforted her, they said: "The martyr is not dead." And she replied bitterly: "I feel good and so does he." Some of the older women joined her in crying, while some of the younger women urged: "Don't cry. This is his wedding day." (Hanni was married, with a four-month-old son.)
Holding back her tears, his mother responded: "Whether I cry or not, it won't help; it won't bring him back."
She had been woken by one of her neighbors who heard the news; she then ran to Shifa Hospital. "Has something happened to Hanni? Is he wounded?" she asked. "Hanni, the leader? He is in the refrigerator," they told her, and showed her the body.
"He didn't look dead. I asked whether it wasn't a mistake; perhaps he was just unconscious. Only the previous night, we had sat together at his cousin's house and chatted," she sobbed.
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