A Story About Generals

On the face of it, this is a story about 14-year-old Mohammed Shaqfa from Block O in Rafah, whose house was destroyed by an IDF bulldozer on May 13. One of some 70 homes completely demolished in two days there.

On the face of it, this is a story about 14-year-old Mohammed Shaqfa from Block O in Rafah, whose house was destroyed by an IDF bulldozer on May 13. One of some 70 homes completely demolished in two days there.

His family was sitting in the house (built from his father's earnings from work at Kibbutz Re'im). The father was praying. It was evening. Suddenly the family members heard a bang on the wall outside. They tried to open the door, but could not. They understood there must be a bulldozer outside. For fear of explosives, the bulldozer digs its teeth deep into the sand and throws it forward into an ever growing mound. The pile of sand prevented them from leaving the house. Mohammed climbed up the hill that had formed, and used a stone to bang on the side of the bulldozer. He made a sign to the driver to stop. The driver asked him in Arabic whether there were people inside. Mohammed said there were. You have 10 minutes to leave, the driver told him. The family grabbed a pre-packed bag ("like a woman rushing to give birth") with documents and money, and fled. Since then, the family has been staying at the Hansa school in the Shabura refugee camp, together with dozens of other newly homeless, without showers, their water rationed; the men sleep outside in the courtyard at night, under the helicopters. Two days after they lost their house, Mohammed's parents found that some of their son's hair had turned white.

But in fact, this is a story about the Israeli bulldozer drivers and their commanders who together, bury the fruits of labor of hundreds of families in a few minutes. (The families will have to pay the loans on the house for years to come). This is the story of the soldiers in the tank who say, "hurry, hurry" to the son carrying the old grandfather on his back while they are fleeing from the bulldozers. This is the story about the soldiers of the armored corps and helicopter pilots who provide them with cover of fire while they are busy with the demolition work. Even if we do not know their names, they are the subject of the story, they and their undiminished faith in their contribution to the security of the State of Israel.

On the face of it, this is also the story of Mahmoud Shaqfa, Mohammed's nine-year-old brother, who went to see the spot that used to be his home, next to the border, on Friday. He was missing his house. A shot was fired, and he was hit in the head. Apparently he was lucky and it was merely a ricochet. He is still lying, groaning, on a mattress in the school yard, his head bandaged. But in truth, the story is about the IDF spokesman who relays responses from soldiers in the field; when the dead person is a child or when someone is merely hurt, they say that "we do not know of any shooting in that area at that time," or they say, "gunmen were spotted and shots were fired at them, and an armed militant was hit."

Will we really hear the story about Mohammed Jaber, 27, who went to drink coffee with his neighbor, Abu Ali in Tel Sultan? True there was a curfew, but they live close to each other, five houses away. And how long can one remain buried in one's house? He realized he had forgotten his cigarettes and ran home to fetch them. The coffee was boiling over, and he had not returned. About half an hour later, the telephone rang: he was killed by a shot from the military position at the Abu Hashem building.

Above all, this is the story of an army the size of a world power, which is forgiving if its soldiers shoot at civilians who are unarmed because they, the criminals, contravened the curfew orders. We are told with pride of the "fighting" in actions, such as the uninterrupted destruction of tomato hothouses and onion fields, and of the "opening" of safe routes for tanks in narrow refugee camp lanes with densely populated houses that collapse like a pack of cards. We hear about officers who promise that "there is no humanitarian problem" in a neighborhood under curfew and siege, without electricity, without garbage collection, with overflowing sewers, without water, or with water mixed with sewage because the tanks and bulldozers have torn up the pipes.

It is possible also to talk of Oula who puts on her fan at night, even if it is not hot, so that she will not hear the hum of the helicopters or the roar of the tanks and their fire; and Mou'in, aged 5, from Shabura, who suggested to his parents to prepare the bag with the important things in advance and to go to the school before the Jews come to destroy the house.

But the story is about the 61 percent of the Israeli public, who - according to a telephone survey commissioned by Israel Radio's Reshet Bet - support the destruction of houses in order to widen the Philadelphi route.

The thousands of stories from Rafah will never be told, because they repeat themselves; they are about the Israeli generals, army and government. They are the ones who managed to convince Israel's majority that Rafah and its tunnels are the worst enemy that has risen up against the State of Israel in recent times, and therefore, it is legitimate to strangle its 160,000 residents.

But perhaps, ultimately, the story is about 28-year-old Ahmed, a taxi driver, who likes to tell jokes. "No one here dies a natural death any more," he says.