Article published: Monday, November 19th 2012
Many in Manchester will know Adie Mormech as the friendly guy that worked on the Oxford Road bookstall, always quick with a smile regardless of the Manchester rain. He’s a long way from our streets now, preoccupied with Gaza’s far more dangerous skies.
Adie has been in Gaza since June, as a human rights activist and university lecturer. Last night, as the fifth day of Israel’s most recent assault on the territory drew to a close, Adie sounded tired and distracted. “Its at night when they bomb the most”, he said.
I’d been piecing together events in the region from the usual variety of irreconcilable sources, but nothing brought home the chilling, calculated brutality like the snippets of stories Adie recounted.
“They’ve started to target families – big family homes”, he told me. “I’ve just been to Nasser Street in Gaza city, where they bombed the Al Dalu house directly, with no warning. An estimated 15 people were inside; eight had been pulled out by the time we arrived. While we were there another body was pulled out.
“It was a big scene with crowds of people, but then people started running, and a young guy was shouting from behind the ambulances. People in a house close by had received a text message, saying ‘We’re going to bomb your home in five minutes’. We got out of there. The crowd was in danger.”
Israel is, once again, at the vanguard of a new type of warfare, where the arms of the attacker touch mobile phone inboxes before they unleash bloody carnage. Or not. Adie wasn’t sure if the house had been hit. But the psychological intimidation is vicious regardless. “There are drones above us all the time, and the F16s are flying much lower now,” Adie said.
Last night a relative of a friend of Adie’s was at home when a sonic boom struck. These thunderous noises occur when planes pass the sound barrier and, although no bombs or ammunition are involved, can cause shattered windows and other damage. The residents of the building took the boom as a warning and evacuated. The building was hit and demolished, followed by a nearby mosque.
Adie explained that attacks against civilians have increased today, with the targets apparently being civil servants working for the Hamas administration and their families. Hamas is not only a designated terrorist organisation, but the elected government of the Gaza Strip, providing ordinary government services. Evidently, Israel makes no distinction between the fighters in their ranks and non-militants – or their children.
“With this kind of bombing, you feel like you’re in the hands of the Gods”, said Adie, “The extent of the ammunition is so unimaginable that you just don’t know if you’re going to survive or not. You’re living like a fly, to be swatted. So you think, OK, there’s no reason to get too stressed about this…” This attitude is just so typical of Adie that I almost smile.
“But then of course, there’s the moment of panic when the planes are flying low above you. They’re fucking huge, they shake your whole senses, you’re like a cat in lights, your brain goes numb…”
The horrific shadow of ‘Operation Cast Lead’ hangs over Gaza tonight as it has every night since the attacks four years ago, which left 1,400 Gazans dead, including 350 children. Adie tells me that every time Israel launches a new offensive people wonder if the killing will be repeated on the same scale. In March this year around 20 people were killed, in June the same again; both times the population of Gaza braced itself for a similar onslaught. Tonight the prospects are bleak.
In a speech yesterday President Obama talked of the unacceptability of threats to Israeli civilians with no apparent trace of irony. He described the recent violence as being “precipitated” by Palestinian rocket fire. Perhaps he was unaware of the deaths in March and June, or of the Israeli attack on a football playground on 10 November, which instantly killed two children, and a further two civilians when they rushed to the scene. Perhaps, in this vile numbers game, Palestinian lives simply have little currency. So the war of words wages on.
I ask Adie if there is any evidence of white phosphorous being used. This deadly chemical, which continues to burn through flesh and muscle long after initial contact, was repeatedly fired on the Palestinian people during Cast Lead, in violation of international law. Adie tells me that they don’t know yet, and won’t know for a few days. But what is known in the hearts and minds of Palestinian medics is that Israel has a tendency to use new weapons with each new offensive against the Palestinian people. As Director of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society Khalil Abu Foul told Adie, “there’s always been strange new injuries”.
Acutely aware of their apparent status as a weapons testing ground, Gazans do not know what is raining on them, or whether they are likely to be able to treat the injured. But high-tech weaponry or not, hospitals are running out of basic supplies as a result of the five-year blockade of Gaza’s borders. Adie says that in the last week, a three-month supply of bandages has been used.
Another repeated feature of Israeli attacks on Gaza is the targeting of medics. Adie tells me that so far four Red Crescent workers have been injured whilst rescuing people and another two because the building adjacent to the Red Crescent, the Islamic arm of the Red Cross, was hit. The windows of the intensive care unit in Al Quds hospital have also been smashed due to nearby shelling. “It’s prohibited,” Adie insists. “Bombing near health centres is against international humanitarian law.”
Adie has spent a lot of time in intensive care, today visiting one of six journalists that were injured following attacks on media buildings. In the unit where 20-year old cameraman Khader al-Zahhar was recovering from having his leg blown off was a 15 year old girl, Islam Dessy, who had suffered massive brain injuries. “I don’t think she’s going to make it”, Adie said.
These are the people behind the numbers, hidden by farcical political posturing. The Palestinian Ministry of Health is reported to have estimated 70 Palestinian lives lost so far and more than 680 injured. Three Israeli deaths have been reported. Obama pledges US support for Israel’s right to defend itself, claiming to have spoken to all parties in the region – Israel, Egypt, Turkey – to try to resolve the crisis. His failure to mention contact with Palestinian representatives is unexplained but perhaps speaks ominous volumes.
Adie says that, given all the Hamas officials that have just been killed, it’s difficult to imagine that Palestinians will stop the rockets now. But he is hopeful that mass mobililsation from civil society across the world could “stop these attacks quadrupling… Let’s keep it at a slaughter as opposed to the kind of mad numbers of the Cast Lead attack.”
Adie’s message is clear: “Get on the streets, get on to your MP, spread the message on social media – the Palestinians are using it in a way now that they haven’t before – continuously mobilise… The kind of possibilities that Israel has are boundless in terms of the damage it could inflict on the population here, but I think all these things together could really limit the carnage.”
It hasn’t been confirmed, but Adie expects to be going out with the ambulances tomorrow. “I’m fine”, he tells me. I know he’s got an article to write and only had three hours sleep last night, the most he’s had for the last few days, but it’s hard to put the phone down.
For updates from within the Gaza strip we recommend you follow human rights advocate Adie Mormech @adiemormech and freelance journalist Ruth Michaelson @_Ms_R