Fear and death in equal measure for Gazans

Fear and death in equal measure for Gazans

Fehim Taştekin GAZA / Hürriyet
Fear and death in equal measure for Gazans

Relatives of four Palestinian boys, all from the Bakr family, mourns over the body of one of the boys at the morgue of al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, July 16. AFP Photo / Mahmud Hams

As Israel faced resistance in its ground incursion into Gaza Strip on the 11th day of its operation, fear and death go hand in hand for Gazans.

The casualties rose yesterday in Gaza where Seyyid Ramiz, the brother of 11-year-old Muhammad, who was killed on a beach while playing football on July 16, spoke to daily Hürriyet.

“The ball had gone to the sea. A missile struck when Mohammad and his friends went to retrieve it. Four children died, four others were wounded,” Seyyid Ramiz said in a state of shock.

Selva Subhi, their mother, accepted condolences with a poster of Mohammad on the wall.

“Israel confiscated two of my fishing boats. They haven’t let me send one of my sons to Israel for heart treatment,” Ramiz Bakir, the father, told Hürriyet at their home in the Mina neighborhood.

Relatives of the three remaining victims were at the same house at another house in the next street when I visited on July 17, just after iftar. Attat Ahid, who lost his 11-year-old brother Zekeriya and his 10-year-old son Ahid in the same attack, is mournful. “There was no rocket fire from where the children were playing. Israel hits any group that it deems too crowded,” he utters.

“Where can these people go? Everywhere is being bombed. They can’t go to Israel and the Egyptian border is also closed. There is nowhere to run,” says a Red Cross official who has been working in Gaza for the past six months.

Stores in the territory are closed, but there was still movement on the main street on July 17, as rockets have failed to prevent children from playing on the streets. No one seems to fear the Israeli rockets that are destined to fall within just a few minutes.

In Gaza, I wanted to take pictures of some places that were shot, but I faced a restriction whose reason I could not understand.

Three rockets were sent to Israel from Gaza when I was there. Ten minutes later, Israel replied with rockets fired by warships. We watched the red traces left by the mortars for minutes. The sounds of waves on the beach, the sound of the call to prayer in the air, the sounds of children in the streets and the sound of bombs next to us…

Three explosions came one after another. After the truce, a rough night awaited Gaza. Israel’s Defense Ministry sent word that hotels were not safe for journalists anymore and wanted us to evacuate the lodgings. We evacuated the danger zone and went to the Şifa Hospital, but the scene we encountered was horrible. Ambulances were transporting injured people nearly every 10 minutes. The operation decreased in intensity later in the night, but the sound of drones never went away. It was just like a predator searching for prey – frightening and horrifying.

Gaza is a place that the expelled Palestinians hold on to. It is the last resort of people that were exiled from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It reminds one of an open prison that 1.5 million people live in. There is only a thin curtain between them and death. Misery is cultivated in every part of Gaza because of poverty, the siege…

Just as I got into a cab after arriving in Tel Aviv, the taxi driver received a warning via his phone that a rocket was launched toward Ashdod.

“This is the last artillery fire before the truce that will start at 10 p.m. After this warning, you have 45 seconds to get into the bunkers,” he told me.

The Governmental Press Office in Jerusalem advised me to pass into Gaza via the Erez border by 3 p.m., the time when the cease-fire, which was passed to allow in humanitarian aid, ends.

Visitors are required to inform Israel that they will pass into Gaza so that they can coordinate it with the Israeli Defense Ministry. I reported my name to the ministry, but it can take a day for a name to be delivered to the necessary places. But I tried my luck. At a checkpoint 85 kilometers away from the Gaza border, the soldier checked the list and told me that my name wasn’t there. I showed him the e-mail I sent and he got a confirmation through a phone call and let me pass. Upon arriving at the Erez border, the official tried to send me back with the same kind of attitude.

I called the press office and ensured my name was delivered to the officials. Just then a soldier came running toward us and requested that we get into the main building. “What about my passport?” I asked, and he replied, shouting that a rocket was coming toward us and that we had to get into the bunker immediately.

In the main building, I waited in the safe zone, alongside a couple of elderly Palestinians. After the danger passed I got my passport back and went to the border, but this time because of my visa, they told me that if I passed I could not return. Even though the press office told me that there would not be no problems concerning this, it happened. Again I called the press office and they let me press through the border with special permission.

Just as I was going toward the Gaza border, a missile that was launched from Gaza exploded 50 meters behind me. We accelerated. We arrived at the Gaza border, the customs office consisting of just a couple of tables and chairs. The customs officer asked me if I had any guarantors in Gaza; I gave my guarantor’s phone number and they called him and got the confirmation. The officer noted down my name on the list. And this was Hamas’ visa! Just across the table, stood a building shot by Israeli missiles...