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Who are the terrorists?

Three days ago Amos Harel, a correspondent for the increasingly right-wing Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, wrote an article that included the following: ‘Israel says about two-thirds of the Palestinians who were killed in the Gaza fighting were members of terror organizations who took part in the fighting…’

Harel’s article went on to cite a report by the Israeli Military Intelligence and the Co-ordinator of Israeli Government Activities in the [occupied] Territories, that claimed, ‘only 288 [of the Palestinians killed in Gaza] were innocent civilians.’

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), which is based in Gaza City, states that 1,285 Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops in Gaza during the recent offensive, including 280 children, and that 83 per cent (or 1,062) of the total victims were civilians.

There will always be major discrepancies between Israeli and Palestinian data regarding the death toll in Gaza. But Amos Harel’s quote from the Israeli Government and Military Intelligence sources perfectly encapsulates their attitude towards Palestinian civilians; 288 innocent civilians is clearly a more than acceptable death toll when Israel is fighting ‘terrorists.’

I spent this morning in the company of an innocent Gazan civilian who lost three of his sons when his house was bombed by the Israeli military during the offensive. Ziyad Il-Absi lives in a refugee camp in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. On 28 December he was at home with his wife, ’Efaf, his four sons and four daughters.

‘The war had just started and we were all frightened,’ he told me. ‘The bombing was intense, so I put my wife and children together in one room. We all went to sleep in that room at about 10pm, except for my eldest son, Mahmoud, who was in another room.’

Three hours later, just before 1am, an Israeli F16 airplane dropped a bomb on the Il-Absi house while the family was sleeping. Ziyad Il-Absi woke up to find himself being flung across his own house by the force of the explosion. ‘All I knew was that the ceiling had collapsed on top of me’ he said.

His youngest son, four-year-old Sidqi, was killed instantly, as was his 11-year-old son, Ahmed, whose mangled body was found minutes later by neighbours. The body of 12-year-old Mohamed was unearthed in the rubble of the yard outside the house. He had been flung metres from his bed by the force of the bomb.

Mahmoud Il-Absi survived the bombing because he had been in another room, slightly further from the centre of the explosion. But Ziyad, his four daughters and his wife ’Efaf were all injured. Ziyad spent several days in hospital, and his 15-year-old daughter, Zakia, still needs reconstructive surgery on her left arm. But ’Efaf was critically injured. On 11 January, she was transferred from Gaza to a hospital in Egypt, where she remains in a coma. Ziyad cannot visit her in hospital because he cannot secure a permit to cross the border into Egypt. 

After he had told us his story, Ziyad took us to see the ruins of his house. We climbed silently through the shell where he and his family used to live, with its tattered bits of clothes and shoes, toys and books wedged amidst the rubble. The room where the family slept the night they were bombed was pulverized. There is nothing left of it.

Ziyad doesn’t know why his family was targeted by Israel – and is still clearly stunned and traumatized by his loss. He and I stood in the yard where the body of his son Mohamed was found.

‘We are a family of civilians’ he told me. ‘The Israelis killed my three sons and injured my four daughters. They completely destroyed my house, my wife is now in a coma – and they say we are terrorists.’      

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