I Miss the Gaza Strip

Israeli journalists have been in Syria and Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, but not in Gaza, an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv.

M., Gideon Levy's taxi driver in Gaza Strip. 2007
Miki Kratsman

The kindergarten teacher lies on a stretcher, her body covered with blood. The minibus is parked beside her. The cannon fires shells, the children lie on the road. This is a child’s drawing on the wall in the town of Beit Lahiya in the Gaza Strip. It was drawn 10 years ago, a day after an Israel Defense Forces shell hit the kindergarten minibus, killing the teacher and two children who were standing in the street.

This description was published 10 years ago today, in my last story from Gaza. For 10 years, the only Israeli journalists who have visited Gaza are Haaretz’s Amira Hass, who was there twice, once via the sea and the other time via Egypt, and the military reporters accompanying the IDF, who see nothing but the soldiers’ heroism. Israeli journalists have been in Syria and Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, but not in Gaza, an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv.

Israel forbids such visits and nobody protests. During my last visit, I saw an elderly man lying wounded on a donkey-drawn cart in the courtyard of the shabby Kamal Radwan clinic. He had been hit by an IDF shell. Afterwards, we went with the children to the funeral of their kindergarten teacher, who had been killed in front of their eyes. It didn’t occur to me that this would be my last visit.

The toddlers have since become teenage boys and girls, some of them may have been killed. The IDF killed 344 children in the 2008-09 Gaza war, known as Operation Cast Lead; 180 toddlers and 366 children were killed in the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, known as Operation Protective Edge.

No Israeli journalist can write their stories any more. The Israeli reader knows nothing about them, nor does he want to know. For him, all the dead children are terrorists, or children that terrorists hid behind, as Israeli propaganda tells it. All of Gaza is Hamas, Israelis are told, and everyone in it wants only to destroy Israel.

I look at my last reports from Gaza. A visit to the remnants of the Abu Udah family – Mohammed, whose son Ismail and daughter Hanan were shot dead by soldiers; Dam al-Ez Hamad, 14, the only daughter of a paralyzed mother, was killed by a missile fired by Israeli Air Force pilots at the house next door. Dam was killed in her sleep, curled up in her mother’s arms. The IDF said it was an attack on a tunnel.

Abdallah a-Zak was able to identify half of his son’s body in the morgue because he recognized the belt he was wearing. That was in an Israeli military offensive in the summer of 2006. Only after the IDF left, did he find the other half. Mohammed was 14 and buried twice.

Dr. Nabil Abu Salmiya lost his wife and seven children in an air force bombing. Khaled Wahabe, an 18-month-old infant, is anaesthetized and on artificial respiration. His pregnant mother was killed, as was his uncle, who had just arrived from Saudi Arabia. They were having lunch when the Air Force missile struck their Khan Yunis home.

Miriam Raliya’s four brothers, two nephews and grandson were killed when their strawberry fields were shelled. A few months later she lost another brother, her sister-in-law and five nephews in the same strawberry fields, which we visited twice.

And of course, Hamdi Aman, my Hamdi. In the summer of 2006 he lost his mother, wife and son when a missile fired from a plane struck his car, which he had bought that morning. In Israel it was reported that the strike was a targeted assassination.

Maria, his small daughter, was critically wounded in the attack and taken to Shifa Hospital’s Emergency room. Hamdi, furious, refused to talk to us. Maria was transferred to the Shiba Medical Center in Israel and then to the Alyn rehabilitation center. They’ve been living in Israel ever since.

Maria is paralyzed from the neck down. She’s a wonder who moves around in an electric wheelchair, which she activates with her mouth, and draws wonderful drawings, also with her mouth. A few weeks ago she had her 15th birthday.

These are my last memories of Gaza. Go explain to an Israeli that this work has to be done; that I miss Gaza, despite it’s awful fate – the beaches, the landscapes; the wondrous spirit of the residents I knew until 10 years ago.