By LARA MARLOWE
Inside the world’s biggest prison
Evidence is mounting that the Israeli defence forces used the Gaza assault as a testing ground for new, horrific weapons that have confounded doctors’ attempts to save the wounded, writes LARA MARLOWE in Gaza.
THERE WERE MANY ways to die during the Israeli offensive on Gaza.
From their hospital beds at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital, Atallah Saad, 13, and Yussef Salem, 17, told me how “zananas” – remotely piloted drones that fire missiles – wounded them and killed Atallah’s mother and pregnant sister-in-law, and two of Yussef’s school friends. The drones were given the nickname because they make a loud z-z-z-z-z sound. But the most shocking thing about them is that an Israeli operator watches his target – in these cases, all civilians – through a surveillance camera before launching the missile. Death by remote control.
White phosphorous was another, much publicised means of death. Each M82581 artillery shell, manufactured by General Dynamics in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, bears the initials PB. It provides cover for advancing troops, but it also burns houses and people. If one of the felt pads lands on your skin, it burns until all the fuel is consumed, creating deep, wide, chemical burns, often to the bone.
Dr Nafiz Abu Shabaan pulls a plastic bag from under his desk. It is filled with white phosphorous, buried in sand. The brown pieces look like dog dirt, and re-ignite if broken open. Mahmoud al Jamal, 18, sits in the doctor’s office, his right ear congealed, his fingers and part of his chest eaten away by white phosphorous. The unsightly wounds make him look like a leper.
Al Jamal was walking at dawn when he saw the white jellyfish in the sky. “Everything was set on fire around me. I felt my body burning. I fell down and I asked the man lying next to me to help me, but he was dead. Then I lost consciousness.” Al Jamal’s brother later told him how smoke poured from his body in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
The Israeli’s use of white phosphorous is amply documented. Dr Abu Shabaan is more concerned by evidence of new, mysterious weapons and appeals for an impartial international investigation into Israel’s use of new weapons.
“We’ve seen many, many cases of amputation – like a cauterised wound, with no bleeding,” he recounts.
Palestinian and foreign doctors who’ have treated the war-wounded at Shifa suspect the injuries may be caused by Dense Inert Metal Explosive, also known as Focus Lethality Munition, a weapon invented through Israeli-American cooperation.
“Some have minor chest injuries, but the X-rays show nothing and they die suddenly, without explanation.”
“We are guinea pigs to the Americans and Israelis,” says Dr Abu Shabaan. “The Americans give the Israelis new weapons, and they try them out on us.”
“They are definitely testing weapons on us,” says Dr Sobhi Skaik, a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh and the head of the surgery department at Shifa. “The amount of damage done by these weapons is not commensurate to the wounds. We found computer chips, magnetic pieces and transistors in wounds. Sometimes there are only minute pin-point punctures to the abdomen and chest, but you see huge damage to internal organs. One patient had his liver burned black, as if it had been grilled. We think there must be something embedded in the human body that is releasing poison and killing.”
YET FOR ALL the high-tech and Frankenstein weaponry, perhaps Israel’s most vicious arm against the Palestinians has been “al-hissar”, the siege, imposed on the Gaza Strip 19 months ago when Hamas, after winning a democratic election that the world refused to recognise, seized power from the Fatah Palestinian Authority.
The world turned a blind eye as Gazans languished in the world’s biggest prison, unable to travel, import, export or interact with anyone or anything beyond their borders. And the world largely ignored the rockets Hamas fired in anger and frustration from within the siege.
For 19 months, Gaza has endured shortages of fuel, food, medicine and building materials.
The siege of Gaza lies at the heart of the conflict. “If the Israelis want the war to end, they must open all the borders and end the siege,” says Hamas government spokesman Tahir al-Nounou. “Because the siege is war; the siege is killing our people.”
The only lifeline for Gaza are some 1,300 tunnels beneath the Gaza-Egyptian border. Because Hamas is believed to import weapons through the tunnels, Israel carpet-bombed them during the offensive.
But the return to a semblance of normality cannot efface the three-week nightmare. Whole families were wiped out. Abu Mohamed Balousha, who lost five daughters, and the Samounis of Zeitoun, where a four-year-old boy was the only survivor in a family of 30, have become causes célèbres.
Dr Mahmoud al Khozendar, a chest physician, tells of a colleague whose Russian wife was cut in half when an Israeli missile hit their home. It also killed their six-month-old child. “He took the two parts of his wife and put her on the bed with the baby. He escaped with a wounded son and daughter, and asked the Red Crescent to go back for the bodies.”
Halima Radwan, 60, seemed particularly symbolic to me. […] she and her husband Ahmad, a PLO official, decided to move back to “Palestine”.
On January 6th, an Israeli tank fired a shell at the Radwans’ house. Ahmad was wounded in the head and walked out with a white flag. He begged the Israelis to allow the Red Crescent to rescue his wife Halima, who was buried alive in her kitchen. The Israelis said no. Halima lived for four days under the debris of her house, which the Israelis then dynamited.
“They knew she was there and they saw her, because they searched the house before they destroyed it,” says Maher.
As soon as the ceasefire took effect last Sunday, he went with friends and relatives to dig his mother out. “I had the tiniest hope she might still be alive.” But Halima’s legs, shoulder and head had been crushed by concrete.