Weapons of Light Construction

when the neighbors telephoned to Ismail at home to tell him what happened, all they said was that soldiers had dynamited the iron door to his print shop. Arriving on the scene, unshaven, he was shocked to find that his brand-new, $23,000 paper-cutting machine had been completely destroyed.

Adnan Ismail, 45, stood at the door to his destroyed printing shop on Sunday morning and shook hands with visitors expressing their sympathies. His eyes were bloodshot, his smile of thanks fragile. Dozens of boys and young men were busy clearing the rubble, shattered glass, fragments of machines, broken aluminum sheets, and concrete blocks blown helter-skelter around the unpaved street.

Many of the youths had just come from the funeral of the 13 who were killed the night before - the youngest only 16 or 17, the oldest 28 - when they went out with rifles and home-made explosive devices to greet the invading tanks and armored personnel carriers and helicopters that proceeded to shell their neighborhood. Other residents shuttled between the littered street and the hospital, where about forty injured people had been taken, including civilians who had been wounded in their homes.

Early Sunday morning, when the neighbors telephoned to Ismail at home to tell him what happened, all they said was that soldiers had dynamited the iron door to his print shop. Arriving on the scene, unshaven, he was shocked to find that his brand-new, $23,000 paper-cutting machine, ordered a month ago (from Israel, where else?) and installed only two days before the shelling, had been completely destroyed when the door was blown in.

The printing press was ruined, too. He climbed over fragments of furniture and window frames and rolls of paper and pamphlets )some in Hebrew( to reach the shaky narrow iron stairs to the gallery he built to house his advanced computer systems. There, word processing and editing was done on text books, reports for human rights organizations, posters (like the one still hanging on the wall, intact, with "The Right to Play" inscribed above a boy and girl on swings).

The five computers - the pride of the print shop and its staff - were overturned, broken, shattered. He hadn't yet had a chance to check whether their hard disks had been taken or not, since it was clear that what the shelling failed to accomplish, soldiers had seen to. They had climbed up to the gallery and confiscated a file with thousands of disks - with science and technology learning materials for children. "Futurekids", the series is called. Ismail printed the texts that go with the disks and was then supposed to have distributed them to schools and book shops. "That was the biggest shock, that they took these learning materials for children," said Ismail, who studied physics and math at Bir Zeit University and graduated in 1985.

Ismail rents the first floor of the building from the Iyad family, who live upstairs in a flat they finished building a couple of years ago. This past Saturday night around ten-twenty, everything started to shake - beds, walls, floor - in their house, in southeastern Gaza City's Zeitoun quarter. There was a roaring sound coming from outside.

`Tanks are coming'

The children woke up, bewildered, but their parents realized immediately what was happening - tanks were approaching. The family then spent six terrifying hours huddled in a corner, as the IDF shelled the neighborhood and destroyed small workshops that allegedly were manufacturing rockets. The Iyads, mother and father and five kids, didn't know what to do - they were afraid to look out the window, lest the soldiers take them for Palestinian fighters and shoot them.

They were afraid to leave the house for the same reason. All the lights were on. None of the soldiers tried to talk to them. Nor did anyone order the 12 members of the Shuafiri family next door to come out of their house, located above the Hasanin family's Almania Warehouse, where spare parts for Mercedes cars are made, next to a shop producing water pumps for agriculture, and a repair shop for automotive engines.

The Shuafiri family didn't know what to do, either. Then suddenly came the first explosion. Children screamed, and mothers tightened their arms around the little ones and ran for what seemed like the least dangerous room. Everyone huddled together in one corner. And there they sat, for five or six hours, shaking at each new explosion, listening to glass shattering and doors being blown in.

The darkness outside suddenly lightened, and a scorched odor wafted in through the wide-open window. The sound of heavy firing was audible all over the city, and few people slept that night. People in Gaza have already learned to classify those sounds - after explosives were detonated to blow up a shop, a rocket was fired from an invisible helicopter, then came shelling from a tank, and next a round from a submachine gun in the unseen helicopter overhead.

All were in use on Saturday night and on into the early hours of Sunday morning, in a neighborhood where some streets are paved and some are deep in sand. Some of the shops have modern computer systems and others are labor-intensive workshops with old, heavy equipment; some have reinforced doors and others are built of corrugated tin, naked concrete and iron sheeting. In 17 shops spread over several streets, soldiers planted explosives and blew them up entirely. Two explosions per shop, at least.

In Fuad Samaneh's workshop, producers of metal crates and heavy doors, the soldiers put explosives in all the computerized parts of the machines and detonated them. Three houses were blown up nearby, belonging to the Dehduh, Abu Zour and Daouleh families, in which several dozen people lived. Everyone was told to come outside and they fled to nearby streets.

Wake up homeless

When they ventured back in the morning, they discovered they were homeless. Underneath the Dehduh home, empty storage areas had been blown up. Abu Zur owns a lathe shop and Daouleh's shop makes water pumps. A kebab restaurant was destroyed, too. Another 15 or so workshops were "partially" destroyed - like Ismail's print shop.

Dozens more buildings were damaged, like those of Shuafiri and Iyad, where bathrooms, bedrooms, refrigerators and washing machines were destroyed, aside from all the broken glass and the windows and doors blown apart and the cracks in the walls. In other houses, "only" the windows were broken. The ruined sidewalks and bent electricity poles and the windows of the neighborhood mosque and the walls of the Safed (like the city) School don't even count any more.

The Sejayah clothing market was burned to the ground: In one corner of the market, a group of armed Palestinians was hiding, including three members of military intelligence. An invisible helicopter identified them and fired a rocket, killing four. A fire broke out and spread, and that was that for about sixty shops and stalls. Some were recent acquisitions by unemployed people who used their last savings or their wives' gold bracelets to buy the material and clothing they planned to sell, hoping to scratch out a living.

Three buses belonging to the Maadi company were destroyed. A tank evidently "got stuck" in the middle of Salah e-Din Street. To see what the problem was, the soldiers had to get out of the tank and the APCs accompanying it. To defend the soldiers from armed Palestinians, the tanks appropriated two buses parked in the street in front of their owners' homes, and dragged them into position to serve as temporary barricades.

The half-demolished buses damaged the fence and the walls of the house. When the IDF withdrew form the quarter, a tank pushed a third bus along the road and then squashed that one, too. Another ten or so cars were flattened or badly damaged by firing, along with one heavy truck.

This admixture of homes and workshops is the result of 30 years of Israeli rule. The Palestinians were unable to develop their own industry, so they never set aside separate areas for industrial plants, and light industrial workshops had to be located in residential neighborhoods. During the Oslo years, the Palestinian Authority was unable to get rid of the ones in the poorer neighborhoods.

When closures severely reduced the numbers of people working in Israel, there was increasing pressure to open up all kinds of industries. Separate zoning for industry could not be adhered to. Did the 17 workshops intentionally destroyed by the IDF actually produce rockets or parts for rockets?

The people in Gaza City, including some semi-unemployed activists from the security establishment in Gaza, are extremely skeptical. They give several reasons:

Reasonable doubt

l About two months ago, four Hamas men were killed in an unexplained explosion in a home storage area in the southern Gaza City Sabra quarter. Hamas activists didn't permit anyone near the place - not journalists, not human rights field representatives, not Palestinian security services people. One journalist was even beaten up when he displayed too much professional curiosity. There are two conclusions. One, the rockets were manufactured in secret, underground workshops. Two, Hamas doesn't trust anyone. It doesn't give away secrets or reveal the identity of its militant activists so easily, and wouldn't let just anyone engage in making rockets.

l People know the proprietors of the shops that were destroyed. Some are family businesses that have been around for thirty or forty years, where the father teaches his sons and they teach the grandchildren. Would they endanger all of that, and their future as well, to produce rockets in secret? Of those whose workshops were completely demolished, one man is so notoriously stingy that even his own sons who worked for him were treated like hired help, their breakfasts only grudgingly provided. Would people like that endanger their own property to make rockets?

l Most of the workshops are storefronts on main roads. If they were making rockets, how would their owners hide those long cylinders from passersby?

l The IDF has made it crystal clear during the last two years that it can get to any workshops anywhere in the Gaza Strip. If any lathe shop owner had ever agreed to make parts for a rocket, along with his regular work, he has had plenty of time to rethink his decision.

l Many workshop owners were pressured by neighbors to move their enterprises elsewhere. To stay in a residential location, an owner had to persuade his neighbors that the IDF certainly would be able to tell that no rockets were being made in his shop.

Palestinian Authority figures in Gaza are convinced that the IDF attacked workshops that were easily accessible, simply to let off steam and to hide the fact that it hasn't been able to uncover the lathe shops that are actually producing the rockets. People in Gaza are not pleased that rockets are being launched.

"For every one that hits Israeli territory, there are ten that hit a Palestinian house and even kill Palestinians," argue Fatah activists. The rocket game is perceived as a macho exercise by Hamas, seeking ways to prove to the IDF that it's still around even in Gaza. But this criticism wanes with each Israeli shell fired, so Hamas isn't about to stop shooting, nor to stop working to improve its capabilities.

It is a fact that the 12 young men who went out to face the tanks and the helicopters were from the PLO, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. They didn't let inter-organizational political differences stop them.

Between Saturday night and Sunday morning, in the space of six hours, about ten families lost their homes, while 150 families lost their means of support. Several dozen more suffered serious financial losses, for which compensation will not be easily found.

No one is talking about the emotional damage, for now. "To hell with all of them," mumbles one old man, visiting one of the families whose homes were damaged. "Who are you talking about?" he was asked. "To hell with Sharon, and the ones who fire rockets, and the collaborators."