Polished His Shoes, Saved His Life

An eyewitness account of the attack on a Gaza police station by Hussein Mahmoud Ahmad:

"I joined the police four years ago because I couldn't find any other work," related Hussein Mahmoud Ahmad, 28, from his home in Beit Lahiya. He is single, and graduated from high school with a concentration in literature. He does not belong to Hamas; before the Israeli attack, he carried out normal police patrols on the streets of Gaza City.

"As always, I woke up early for morning prayer that Saturday, December 27. It was around five ... It was the 21st day of a two-month course; with my colleagues in the police I had gone through sport training, defense exercises, tolerance training, and lessons about civilian affairs. I went out at seven, as always, but I felt some strange sense of fear and worry; I expected that Israel would carry out its threats and bomb the compound. Days before the attack, four drones hovered over the building all day long. I reached the compound at 7:30. The course started at eight. There were a number of police refresher courses being conducted in this period - a course for cavalry, a professional advanced training course for policemen on various procedural issues, a course for the protocol department, and also for the police orchestra. There were 200 policemen in the course I was involved in. There were 600 participants, from all over the Gaza Strip, in the officers course, but they left the compound at ten.

"That morning there were two separate inspections, for policemen and for officers. Apart from us, there were some 15 policemen from the discipline squad, responsible for internal police behavior, and some 50 policemen from the public order division, along with members of the cavalry unit and some 20 members of the police orchestra. At 8 A.M., the person in charge of the course lined us up for the inspection. He checked our uniforms and our shoes. At nine we went out for our daily run, which lasted about an hour. We returned and stood up again for another inspection, which lasted an hour. The trainer allowed us to rest for 10 minutes. At 10:30 we returned for calisthenics, which lasted half an hour, and then we rested again until 11:20. Then we lined up in rows for the inspection, and the trainer demanded that I leave the row and go to straighten out my uniform and polish my shoes. I asked a friend for his polish, because I didn't have any. I walked to the structure across from the training square, and took the polish out of my friend's bag; and I polished my shoes. Time was passing slowly. I was worried and anxious. I left this structure and was outside at 11:27. I am convinced that was the time when I heard a piercing whistle. I looked up at the sky and saw two long, heavy missiles speeding toward us. I yelled 'missiles' and looked at my comrades in the structure - I think there were about 20. I saw the two missiles when they landed in the heart of the group that was standing in the inspection compound; then their bodies were thrown in the air. Another missile landed at the compound's western gate. I managed to pick myself up and started to run from the structure, and reached the Al-Azhar University junction. It was then that I noticed that I was wounded in my left leg; blood was dripping from it.

"The missiles were aimed at the square, not at any of the buildings. When I reached the hospital to tend to my wound, which was defined as 'average,' I heard that dozens of my mates in the course had been killed; I don't know how many were wounded. All told, 89 died in the square."

Hussein returned to his work after three months, but he has refused to return to the police compound because of the gruesome images that still haunt him. Some of his friends have received psychological help; he has refused such care.

- Mustafa Ibrahim, Gaza