Ten hours after I had filmed 2 large missile craters near his home, Ayman Turban’s house was hit by two Apache missiles, he said.
I’d been there early in the morning, after a night shift with the Red Crescent. It was 3 January, the first day of the land invasion, 8th day of Israel’s attacks on Gaza. Some friends had just fled their homes and I’d come to the area to see the newest F-16 craters they’d spoken of.
Like so many conical-rendered, or completely flattened, houses in the Ezbet Abed Rabbo area, Turban’s home had been symmetrically-walled and had housed 2 families, 17 people. The family had stayed on in during the relentless, fearsome air-strikes, but a ground invasion was expected. With the experience of past Israeli army land invasions in mind, the men had left the house, feeling they were targets for interrogation, beating, abduction. The women and children, in theory safe from these acts, were together taking refuge in a room on the west side of the house, ground floor.
After the Apache strikes and shelling from tanks, the family stayed huddled another two days inside, too afraid to leave.
“I heard the cries of people inside,” his neighbour said, “and knew that people had actually survived the bombing. Because the tanks were in the area, my wife decided to go to the house instead of me. If I had gone, the Israeli soldiers would have shot me instantly,” he said.
Turban and his neighbour recount the attack as we sit on cement blocks in the makeshift tent opposite his ruined house. Even in ruined surroundings like this, Palestinians want to offer hospitality. Turban makes tea over a fire.
His neighbour goes on explaining, “She brought the children out first. They were terrified but somehow alive. When the Israeli soldiers saw them come out, they sent 3 tanks closer. But my wife returned to the house anyway, to help out the women. They waited inside around two hours before trying to leave the house. The tanks went past, and the women were able to escape.”
Israeli authorities’ well-intoned justification for the bloody attacks which killed mostly civilians and decimated civilian infrastructure is that Israeli authorities were “targeting Hamas”.
“I was a Captain in Abbas’ police (the Palestinian Authority), and my brother is a teacher at a UN school. But the Israelis hit my house. Why? This doesn’t make sense. They said they wanted to get Hamas, why did they hit my house?”
We walk around the strange angles of his home, identifying former rooms. Turban climbs up to his 2nd story, just a couple of metres off the ground, and starts picking up textbooks. English for Palestine; Textbook of Family Practice; a hefty medical volume. “My wife teaches midwifery,” he explains. “Are these Hamas texts?” he asks dryly.
Near-crawling inside the space gets tighter towards the east end of the cement tent. In a caved-in corner where all angles meet awkwardly, I see the remains of kitchen stuff: jugs, a pot, a tahina (sesame seed paste) carton.
“Look at this,” Turban calls me over. “This is Nancy, from America.” He’s holding a photo of two women, apparently friends, and a letter to Amal, his wife, signing off with ‘Love, Nancy’.
Other bits of memories are strewn amidst the rubble, treasures covered with the dust of destruction.
Like many of the other houses in the ravaged region, Turban’s house wasn’t rendered a condensed puddle by air and tank bombing alone. It was the explosives the Israeli army placed inside which leveled Turban’s home, and that of his cousin next door. “The soldiers occupied his house before they destroyed it,” he says, pointing to an equally pulverized home.
“You know, people like us, we work for years and years to make a home, and Israel destroys it in just a few minutes,” Turban comments, back outside the house.
*Turban’s cousin’s home, next to the ruins of Turban’s house.
*in the wreckage behind Turban’s house.
Less than 50 metres away is the next row of destroyed houses. From a slight raise of rubble, Moosba Ayoub’s roofless house is visible, walls still somewhat intact but everything within thrown about or destroyed.
“The roof tiles were asbestos,” I’m told. “The father was staying in the house, the 12 others in a relatives further away. After the Israelis shelled his house and caused the roof to cave in, he left it to shelter in his neighbour’s home. He didn’t have any safe place to hide, no bomb shelter, like everyone in Gaza.”
The ’shelter’ next door didn’t help much. It was shelled and hit with what’s believed to be white phosphorous bombs.
Maher Bedouan is standing outside the charred remains of where the kitchen would have been.
“I was not home,” he begins, his pained expression never leaving his face. “My mother, father and siblings were all in the kitchen when Israel began to shell the house. First they fired 3 tank missiles at the house. Then the white phosphorous bombs. They aimed at the kitchen area and killed our neighbour, Moosba Ayoub, an old man. He was completely burned.”
The intense shelling and fire bombs didn’t actually destroy the house. Bedouan says that the Israeli soldiers came, saw the bodies, laid explosives, and destroyed the house completely. Remnants of X marks on structural points next to shattered walls show where explosives were likely laid.
“My mother was injured in the initial shelling, but she didn’t die right away. She bled to death over the next few days.”
The whole of Ezbet Abed Rabbo was occupied by the Israeli soldiers who prevented ambulances and medical staff from reaching the injured. Maher believes his mother would have lived if she’d had access to medical treatment.
*Moosba Ayoub home, shelled, roof caved in.
*Maher Bedouan, next to the kitchen where his mother was critically injured, denied medical care and bled to death, and where his neighbour burned to death.