Mohammed points to a pair of shoes and says “there were four of them, my friends and colleagues, sitting on the wall looking out at the sea.” Like Mohammed, the men he mourns worked as policemen along the sea road.
“It was during the first strikes, the morning of December 27th,” he recalls. “There were 3 F-16 bombs, all at once. I wasn’t with my friends, I was a little ways away. The blast threw me about 30 m.”
He’s a youngish man, mid-20s, and his injuries have healed, unlike so many.
“After I was able to get to my feet, I ran towards the spot where they’d been sitting,” he continues. Pointing to the mass of torn concrete and twisted metal, he explains “I couldn’t see anything here, there was so much debris in the air. I ran around, behind the wall.”
The ‘wall’ is a series of large concrete blocks left over from Israel’s physical occupation of Gaza. Once serving as roadblocks, the slabs of concrete now line the cliff, behind the police station remains.
“As I approached the wall, an Apache fired a missile in my direction. I jumped behind one of the concrete blocks (which had been blown aside onto the path on which Mohammed had been). I’m lucky the block was there, because the missile exploded some metres away. It was full of nails.”
Israel’s use of ‘flechette’ bombs is no new story; Israel soldiers were shooting the deadly nail-bombs even before the April 2008 attack which shredded Fadel Shanaa. During the next 22 days of the war on Gaza, Israeli soldiers repeatedly used nail bombs, in central Gaza, in northern Gaza, killing at least 6 and injuring many more with the flechette bombing alone, including a clearly Red Crescent medic. Arafa abd el Dayem leaves behind a wife, children, and a career of bravery in the face of such assaults.
Just recently, on the evening of June 3rd, Israeli soldiers fired at least 3 flechette bombs at the northern village of Um an Nasser, injuring 2 youths, including one with darts to the neck, shoulder and calf, all of which remain lodged.
Mohammed tells of how the Apaches, 6 in total, according to him, then fired another 5 bombs in his direction. “They landed further away, over there,” he says pointing across the crushed building site.
When he was able to reach the location where the 4 men had been sitting, Mohammed found them gone, along with some of the concrete blocks.
“They flew, landed down there,” he explains, pointing to the fishermen’s rooms below.
Four of the concrete slabs flew as far as the sea.
In addition to the 4 martyred, there were many injured in the blasts, including fishermen on the beach.
“We carried 4 injured people to a jeep, to take them to hospital. The Apaches shot more missiles at us, 4 of them. They hit the land nearby.”
As he tells his story, Mohammed is visibly moved, remembering friends, remembering the horror of the strikes.
We walk back towards the building ruins, and Mohammed remembers some more martyrs.
“There was a female cat and her 8 kittens. I used to bring her fish to eat. They slept over by the wall,” he smiles wistfully. “Stashhad,” he says. “Martyred.”
I’m surprised when Mohammed talks a little about his life a few years ago.
“I was a football player,” he tells me proudly. “I went to Norway 4 times. I loved it! I love meeting people from outside Palestine,” he grins.
I ask why he gave that up, why he returned to Gaza.
“It’s my country. I couldn’t live outside when my people are suffering.”
A friend joins us. Mohammed tells him about the kittens.