AI Gains Access to Gaza

January 19, 2009

After weeks of Israeli and Egyptian restrictions, AI finally entered Gaza this past weekend to survey the damages caused by three weeks of Israeli strikes. But because of persistent denials by Israel to let human rights monitors enter, the AI mission was forced to enter through the border crossing of Rafah, a town that was extensively bombed in the recent air strikes. The team entered just hours before Israel’s ceasefire and then traveled via road to Gaza city. In a blog entry posted about the experience, they observed:

We saw many buildings reduced to rubble. Some had been directly targeted; others destroyed or damaged when nearby buildings were bombed. In several places, the outer walls of buildings had been blown off

We found evidence of widespread use of white phosphorus by the Israeli army in densely populated areas in and around Gaza City. In an alleyway in Gaza City, we saw barefooted children running around lumps of still smouldering phosphorus. We found more on the roof of a family’s house and still more on a busy street

In the Zaitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City, rescue workers were pulling out the bodies of members of the Sammuni family from the rubble of their home. They had been killed in Israeli strikes two weeks earlier and Israeli soldiers had subsequently bulldozed the house on top of them

One picture–left behind from an Israeli soldier–had the following words scribed on it: “1 down, 999,999 to go.

Meanwhile as US headlines drift away from the conflict in Gaza, leading European publications are running stories about how the attack on Gaza was perhaps worse than we thought. The BBC reports, that 1300 Palestinians have been killed, 4,000 buildings destroyed, 20,000 severely damaged, 50,000 live in UN shelters. In addition, 13 Israelis were killed.

But some, like Eva Bartlett of the International Solidarity Movement, find little reason to celebrate the ceasefire: “Today was the first day that medics and journalists were able to reach areas occupied by the invading Israeli troops. For some the anguish is immense: pulverised homes, killed family members, corpses unretrieved, sanctimony and all that is sacred defiled. For others, the suffering is in the tragedy of shattered dreams, of every personal item destroyed or lost. While the bombs may have stopped, for now, the terror remains. F-16s still flew low, terrifyingly low, today, so loud, so unpredictable. No one here has any reason to believe any words Israeli leaders proclaim. Only reason to believe in the worst.”