When Israeli Bombs Ruin Your Train of Thought

I had almost finished this column, a monologue by Naji from Beit Hanun and testimony from a Red Crescent doctor, when the following news landed on me hard.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Palestinians look for their belongings in the rubble of houses destroyed in an Israeli strike, Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, August 2, 2014
Palestinians look for their belongings in the rubble of houses destroyed in an Israeli strike, Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, August 2, 2014Credit: AP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

1. At 3 A.M. Saturday an air force pilot dropped a bomb in the heart of the Shabura refugee camp in Rafah.

2. The bomb destroyed three asbestos houses (a few rooms, a kitchen and a toilet around a courtyard, with an asbestos roof).

3. The bomb destroyed three families, cutting down eight people including six children: Ibrahim Minrawi, 55, Arwa Neirab, 40, and three of her children: Duha, 15, Ibtisam, 12, Ola, 4, Ibrahim Abu Eita, 11, and his brothers Ahmed, 8, and Mohammed, 4. Their father, Fathi Abu Eita, was severely wounded.

4. Fathi is an English teacher. His brother Ya’aqub was a math teacher. He died 18 months ago of a stroke. Lucky him.

5. A few days ago an Israeli bomb or missile cut down Ya’aqub and Fathi Abu Eita’s sister at her home in Gaza. I forgot to ask what her name was.

6. On Saturday another bomb cut down members of the Neirab family in Gaza: Ahmed Neirab, 60, his wife Suheila, about 40, and their three children, who were born after several fertility treatments: Mohammed, Mahmoud and M’amoun.

7. The Nerab and Abu Eita families are related by marriage. The Nerabs are also related to the Ibrahim family, whose members live in a concrete house a few meters away. They’re all originally from the village of Bureir. People born in Brazil, members of Kibbutz Bror Hayil, now live on their land.

8. I’ve known the Bureir neighborhood in Shabura, named after the village, since 1993, when the Ibrahim family’s dwelling was still a typical UNWRA house: a courtyard surrounded by rooms with an asbestos roof. Chickens clucked from the neighbors’ house and in the adjacent alleyway a bougainvillea bloomed bright red. House touching house, alleys two or three meters wide.

9. I spent quite a few days of curfew with them in that house. Basal was 2 years old at the time, and he was promised a trip to relatives in Jabalya. The trip was canceled because of the curfew and he kicked the metal door and cried that he wanted to go out. Today he’s 23 and has never left the Gaza Strip. His sister Yafa was 8 eight months old back then. She has never left the Strip either.

10. This became my home in Rafah. “Isn’t she afraid?” the neighbors asked my hosts. And Aouni, the eldest brother, answered, “What, are we so scary?”

11. After 1993 they turned the asbestos house into a two-story home. They invested every penny they saved from hard work in Israel, in the Gulf states, in Gaza. The roof became a substitute for a garden. Full of plants. A swing for the children. Mattresses to sit on, a teapot on burning coals. On that roof I learned how to pickle olives in salt, I played with the children, and I heard Abu Aouni tell about 1948, when he was 18.

12. I would take the children from there to the beach in my Israeli car with forged Gaza license plates, which I would switch at the Erez checkpoint. But that was the 1990s, dark years from today. Fathi and Ya’aqub’s little brothers and other children in the neighborhood once crowded around us and asked how to say car in Hebrew, and night, black and white.

13. At midnight between Friday and Saturday I was talking to Yousef, the youngest of the Ibrahim brothers. He and his father and one of his brothers moved with their families a few years ago to a house outside the refugee camp in the J’neina neighborhood, with a real garden. The father passed down to his sons his longings for the soil and fruit trees. On Friday afternoon they were going back to the house in Shabura. The Israeli bombardments had come too close to their home in J’neina.

14. Yousef spent all day Friday at the hospital near his house. He was trying to count the dead and wounded before the hospital decided to evacuate everyone, because the bombs were falling there too close as well.

Yousef is a field researcher for the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. I’ve been relying on his precise work for many years.

This must be the 200th time since 2000 that he has seen body parts of women and children and old people being removed from ambulances. But this was the worst time for him, he said in his quiet, understated way. “Frightening,” he said. The bombs landed on the houses, and when the people fled, the bombs chased them.

15. “You see,” we returned to the camp, he said in his restrained tone. “Somehow we feel it’s safer here.”

16. At 3 A.M. an Israeli pilot dropped a bomb (American?) on three asbestos houses of his friends and relatives, refugees like them from the village of Bureir. It fell only four or five meters away from them.

17. Broken glass in the Ibrahim house. Doors torn off their hinges, cracked furniture. And we hadn’t yet begun to talk about sleeping and waking up when a bomb (a half ton? Only 250 kilos? A ton?) exploded meters away. We hadn’t yet begun to talk about the neighbors’ kids who perished in a second. And I didn’t ask about the fears of the 84-year-old father, who at age 18 was exiled from his land at Bureir.

18. “We became numbers,” said his granddaughter, Yafa. “Write that we are not numbers. We have dreams, too.”

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