A testimony the world needs to hear

Amira Hass had a searing report in Thursday’s Haaretz. It’s about the killing and slow death during last winter’s Gaza war of Ahmed Samouni, age 4, and his father Atiyeh.
Amira, a secular saint from Israel, interviewed Ahmed’s mother Zeinat in May in a Gaza City neighborhood.
Here’s what Hass wrote that Zeinat Samouni told her about the events of Sunday, January 4:

    “We didn’t sleep all night, not even the children. There were 18 of us in one room, we and our children [from 15 days up to 12 years], as well my husband’s first wife, Zahwa, and her seven children [the oldest is 23]. They had come the previous evening because they were afraid to stay in their tin hut. We heard my sister-in-law shouting outside when a fire broke out in her home after a shell hit it. That was around 6 A.M. I was afraid from her shouts alone.”
    Samouni continued: “The soldiers began moving between the houses and shooting. We heard them speaking Hebrew. We all started screaming and crying. My husband only said that we shouldn’t be afraid and that we should read the Koran. We left the front door open so they wouldn’t break it down with explosives and so they would see that there are children here. They came straight into the living room; we were in the children’s room, across the way. [The soldiers] looked frightening. Their faces were blackened with charcoal and they had big helmets with branches in them. We were so afraid we shouted.”
    Mahmoud Samouni, 12: “They were from Givati” – an infantry battalion.
    Zeinat Samouni: “We all shouted. Atiyeh stood up to approach the soldiers and talk to them. He knows Hebrew. Ahmed followed him, crying: Daddy, Daddy. Atiyeh told him, Don’t be afraid.
    “My husband walked toward the soldiers with his hands up. ‘Here I am, Khawaja [term for a non-Muslim]. He barely said a word and they shot him. It wasn’t just one who fired. Atiyeh was at the door of the children’s room, [the soldiers] were maybe a meter away. They kept shooting into the room where we were. Ahmed was hit in the head and the chest, Zahwa in the back. Her sons Faraj and Qanan were also hurt, and my Abdallah [10] was hit in the head and the hip, also Amal [his twin sister].
    “We all lay down on the floor. After maybe a quarter of an hour I shouted to the soldiers, ‘Ktanim, Khawajam, ktanim’ [“little ones,” in Hebrew], and they stopped shooting. I saw one soldier spit twice on my husband. Then they came into the children’s room and in my bedroom they began destroying the furniture and threw something [probably a stun grenade], so the room filled up with smoke and a fire started and everything in the room – clothes, documents, money – was lost.
    “Because of all the smoke and fire we started shouting again, and again said ‘Ktanim, ktanim,’ and we prayed and read the Koran and coughed. I couldn’t see the children because of all the smoke. The soldiers put on gas masks and lit up the place with the lights on their rifles, and spoke Hebrew. We’re crying and the children are peeing their pants and the soldiers are laughing. In the end, they said, ‘Come on, come on,’ and took us out. They spat on my husband again. I look at the pool of blood under his head and a soldier aims his rifle at me. Outside there were soldiers who fired. My children and I went out barefoot, our arms raised. Fahed, Zahwa’s son, carried Ahmed. I told a soldier I wanted to take my husband. He said no. Outside I saw many soldiers.
    “Amal ran to the house of [Uncle] Talal, but the soldiers wouldn’t let us follow her. We walked on the paved road [eastward, toward Salah al-Din Street]. I didn’t notice anything, and suddenly everyone stopped. It turned out that there was a snipers’ post in Sawafiri’s house. They ordered my husband’s [older] sons to pull up their shirts and turn around, and then they ordered them to go to Rafah [south]. We continued and entered the home of Majed [Samouni, another relative]. I looked at Ahmed; his clothes were covered with blood and I saw the two big holes in his head. I gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, I screamed, I asked for an ambulance. His mouth was dry. I moistened his lips with saliva, and then with water that Majed brought me.
    “We tore a sheet for white flags, so we could go out. Majed’s wife was pregnant and began going into labor. His mother and I helped her give birth. There were about 40 or 50 of us. The children were hungry. Majed brought pita and olives and tomatoes that were in the house. I asked Ahmed if he wanted to eat and he whispered, ‘Yeah . . . Mommy,’ and I gave him a little bread in water. I fed him like a baby bird. All the time blood was running, everything was covered in it. In the evening he told me, ‘I want to take you and Dad to Paradise.’ I kept bringing towels to absorb the blood and I thought about Amal and about my husband’s dead body.
    “Ahmed died at about or 4:30 or 5 A.M. [on January 5]. I screamed and I closed his eyes. Salah’s girl came and said a shell landed on the home of Wa’el [a relative] and that the roof fell in and everyone was screaming and covered in blood. She said everyone had fled to the city. I said that in that case we’d all leave the neighborhood.
    “We left, the big ones holding the little ones, Fahed carrying Ahmed’s body, all of us holding white flags. The soldiers on the roof of Sawafiri’s house started shooting just as we went out, and there was also shooting from a helicopter and from a tank [on Salah al-Din Street]. We were screaming and crying. We kept walking, barefoot, until the Star Cola factory. An ambulance came a little later. They asked if there were wounded. I said there were some behind us, who could barely walk.
    “We were about 300 people, everyone with white flags and some with plastic bags because they couldn’t find white cloth. The ambulance people apologized for not being able to come, because the soldiers shot at the ambulances. They took us to Shifa Hospital. They put Ahmed next to the others who were killed, and there I saw Talal’s family, all of them crying. Then I noticed the dead and I started to recognize them. I wandered around Shifa like a madwoman, looking for Amal. They told me, ‘We were all in Talal’s house and the soldiers took us to Wa’el’s and a shell hit and we were all wounded and killed.’
    I couldn’t find Amal. My aunt came and started crying and said, ‘Rashad is dead and Talal is dead and Rahma is dead and Safa is dead and Mohammed is dead and Hilmi is dead and Leila is dead and Tawfiq is dead, and Walid and Rebab – and I hugged her and we screamed together. Men and women gathered around, crying with us.
    “They took my son Ahmed from the bed and put him into the refrigerator, and I’m behind them, screaming. The young people are holding me and I’m saying that I want to go into the refrigerator with him. The refrigerator was full. There were so many dead that they didn’t even put Ahmed in a separate compartment, but on the floor. With Mu’athazam and Mohammed. Then a relative came and took us in his car. I didn’t yet know that I had no home to go back to [the IDF demolished it before pulling out]. I didn’t yet know where Amal was and what had happened to her.”

This is one of the many episodes that the Goldstone Commission will be reporting on.

2 thoughts on “A testimony the world needs to hear

  1. LR

    Tragic story indeed, Helena, but… is it true?
    You remember of course the story of Abd Rabbo family, from HRW ‘White Flag’ report, whose girls were shooted by IDF soldier after they waved white flag for more than 7 min.?
    Now take a look here:
    Do you know that the same story in Amnesty report has some crucial discrepancies from HRW’s version?
    I’m not saying that this story is a lie by default. But one has to be very cautios with them. Think about it.

  2. Helena

    LR, which part of the testimony I reproduced do you challenge, and on the basis of what evidence?
    Just raising a generalized concern about the veracity of the testimony without providing counter-evidence is, in the context of this appalling human tragedy, a quite unacceptable smear tactic. Think about it. If the shoe were on the other foot and people were raising general “questions”, without adducing any evidence at all, about the veracity of Jewish survivors’ testimonies of past suffering, what would your reaction be?
    I have certainly seen enough images and testimony of what the Gazans suffered during last winter’s IDF assault to be convinced of the overall truthfulness of this testimony, which Amira obtained in person and while being able, obviously, to check out many supporting details like the birth and death certificates of those killed, maybe the gravesites in which they were buried, signs of the physical destruction in and around the family’s house, etc. Unless you could adduce some equally convincing evidence, your allegation is a vile and inhumane smear both on the suffering of this family and on Amira’s truthfulness as a reporter.
    Also, the news article to which you linked was a Google translation of another Gaza survivor testimony which did nothing– NOTHING!– to back up your claim of “discrepancies” or inaccuracies.
    Please don’t come back here with such completely unsubstantiated and inhumane arguments again.

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