Today our team in Gaza met the Awaja family from Thabat. There were nine members of this family, seven children aged 1 to 12 years old, but one son was murdered during Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009), so seven children is now six. Today we visited a few days in the life of this family, courtesy of a magnificent Palestinian mother named Wafaa.
Before Cast Lead Thabat was known as Beit Lahia. Thabat means perseverance, determination, steadfastness, resolution, in a nut-shell, never give up. When you hear this family’s story, which in terms of heartbreak is not so uncommon, you will understand why this area was renamed.
As a reminder, during Cast Lead Israel killed over 1400 people who were imprisoned in a medieval siege. Hundreds of children were murdered; nine-year-old Ibrahim is just one; one child within one family, a statistic for most, and a shattered family for some.
During Cast Lead the Israeli Army invaded Thabat and the Awaja family, like just about every family, took shelter in their home. Let us not forget however there were no options, there was nowhere to run; Gaza prison was and remains sealed off by both Israel and its collaborator, the Egyptian government. Anyway, as the family hid and prayed, with no warning whatsoever, the family home caved in around all nine members of the family, courtesy of an Israeli bulldozer. Their home became a demolition site, but the family remained there, trapped and terrified for one horrible day and night. A cold, dark, terrifying January night, waiting and hoping for some form of rescue. It never came.
The next day Ibrahim (9 years old) and his father, Kamal, poked their heads out of the pile of rubble that was their home to see if escape was possible. This is where the nightmare became a living hell. Israeli soldiers shot Kamal in the chest from about a 100-metre distance; then they shot 9 year-old Ibrahim in the stomach. In a panic, with Ibrahim bleeding badly, Kamal picked up his son and the entire family fled their former home into the street. I asked this question twice, to be very clear, “was there any fighting going on around you, is there any chance at all that the Israeli’s fired at your family by mistake.” The answer came with a wry, tortured smile, “No, one million percent no.” After hearing what happened next you will know why.
With the entire family now exposed in the street, while Kamal carried his now limp son, he was shot twice more in the chest; he and Ibrahim fell to the ground, lifeless. Six children and their mum remained, and then mum was shot, twice, once in each leg. The family is now exposed in the street, father and son thought to be dead, mum now unable to walk and bleeding dangerously.
If you have a child, think of your child in this circumstance. Now think of seven of them in this circumstance. I want every parent to imagine this, think what you would feel in this scenario.
Bleeding and unable to walk, crawling with her 1 year-old baby, Wafaa and six of the children managed to reach the side of the road and find some cover behind a abandoned fridge. Ibrahim and his father remain lifeless, although shot three times father Kamal is alive, but playing dead. 20 metres away, the rest of the family hid on the side of the road. What happened next would torture anyone but a demon.
Israeli soldiers then came to “within seven metres” of Kamal and his son, Kamal shot three times in the chest, Ibrahim lifeless but possibly still alive, a gunshot to his stomach. Unimaginably, while his mother watched just 20 metres away, the soldier shot Ibrahim in the eye and his brains and head exploded. A son was lost, while a mother watched. Wafaa told me the soldiers ate Strawberry’s shortly after executing her son.
That same soldier then began to unload “100, 150 bullets” into Ibrahim’s lifeless body. When the eldest son, Subhi (13 years-old), looked to see what was happening, he was shot in the head.
Perhaps the only luck on this day was that his headshot was not fatal.
And so it was, in this particular instance one killed and three seriously injured. Add them to the statistics of Operation Cast Lead; numbers.
Wafaa told me more about how she knew “one million percent” that her sons killing was no accident. Because they remained on the side of the street with no medical care for three more days, the Israeli’s walking by regularly over that time, making a point to laugh when they passed Ibrahim’s bullet ridden body.
With Ibrahim martyred and no home to live in, and no building materials to rebuild, the now 8 member Awaja family was forced to live in a tent, and they have done so for the last two years. Only this week had they managed to get a flat to live in, paid for by a charity.
As you might imagine the whole family is just a little bit traumatized. All of the children are experiencing post traumatic stress disorder. The eldest daughter, Omsiat (14 years-old) thinks of Ibrahim everyday, and she misses him the most when she is walking to school, as they used to walk this journey together every school day.
Another daughter, Hala (11 years-old), is obsessed and fearful of death. Most heartbreaking of all is little Diaa (5 years-old), he was your normal 3 year-old when all this happened. He has not spoken since and nearly the whole time we were there Diaa was sitting up on the window ledge, gazing. He did this in a way man of 50 might do it, with deep, troubled contemplation. This was not a little boy anymore, his childhood over at the age of 3.
I asked Wafaa if she could say anything to her son’s killer, or the killer’s mother, what would she say? She simply said she hoped that he would feel the pain of losing a child someday. I think if you were there you would have taken this as I did, this was not about vengeance, I think it was simply the best she imagined justice could be.
Since I arrived in Gaza in late November 2010, nearly 30 Palestinians have been shot in the “buffer zone” near the border. These people, many children, were not involved in any threatening activity; they were collecting rocks in order to eek out a living. They were shot in a way that makes one thing clear, shooting Palestinians is nothing more than a game for many Israeli soldiers.
During Operation Cast Lead top commanders approved white phosphorus for use in densely populated civilian areas, so shooting a boy in the head from seven metres away and riddling his dead body with bullets is par for the course really.
Is Israel synonymous with Judaism? This is a serious and relevant question with serious repercussions. Do Israeli’s/Jews consider Palestinian life is equal to Israeli/Jewish life? In all honesty, those who live in Palestine know the answer, and it is an emphatic no. And so the following is a legitimate question as well, what percentage of Israeli’s even consider Palestinians to be human beings?
Based on what I have read and witnessed, on the Mavi Marmara and otherwise, what has been shared with me from first hand accounts, I believe that significant numbers of Israeli’s consider Palestinians to be sub-human.
I think it is time to compare the “decent Germans” of Hitler’s Germany to the silent Jewish and American people of today. As we sit on the verge of Cast Lead II, being Jewish and American carries a burden of massive proportions.
No sane society would argue that ignorance is a defence. It may be forgiven, if the injured party is so inclined, but it is not a defence. Americans are guilty, and if Israel is synonymous with Judaism, then the Jewish people are guilty as well. I honestly hope that more and more Americans and Jewish people speak out, indeed they have a unique ability and responsibility if you ask me.
Silence at this stage, is indeed complicity.
Regardless of all the darkness and complicity I remain of the absolute belief that we, people of conscience, can “be the change we wish to see in the world” and ultimately effect a better world. Never mind what anybody else is doing, if we get it together we will transform insanity onto justice and dare I say it, peace will break out. Even if it does not, I cannot imagine anything better to fight for, if not for ourselves, for our children, everyone’s children. TJP
Ken is a former U.S. Marine who served in the 1991 Gulf War and subsequently spoke out about the use of depleted uranium as a “crime against humanity” and the US military using soldiers as “human guinea pigs” with experimental drugs that were directly linked to Gulf War syndrome. He is also a social entrepreneur utilizing direct action marine conservation, he is more widely known for leading the human shield action to Iraq and as a survivor of the Israeli attack on the MV Mavi Marmara in which he participated in “defending the ship” and “disarming two Israeli Commandos”.
On January 7, 2004, O’Keefe burned his US passport in protest of “American Imperialism” and called for US troops to immediately withdrawal from Iraq. He replaced his US passport with a “World Passport”, subsequently proclaiming himself a “Citizen of the World” with “ultimate allegiance to my entire human family and to planet Earth.” His is also legal citizen of Ireland and Palestine citizenship. Read Full O’Keefe Biography>>>