The daily routine nowadays for every Palestinian in Gaza or in the West Bank, is made up of an unending series of calamities, their present ramifications, and the certain fear of new ones to come.
One night, the life of the Al Hilo family from Gaza’s Tufah neighborhood, fell apart. As part of the IDF’s routine actions against Qassam rocket manufacturers, last Tuesday, February 18, at 10 P.M., armored personnel carriers rolled into east Gaza City. Later, the routine IDF account would say, 11 armed Palestinians were killed.
The force came accompanied by helicopters and with heavy fire. About an hour later, soldiers in one of the helicopters fired a missile at a car carrying three members of the Palestinian General Intelligence forces; later, Palestinian sources would say the three were chasing some other Palestinians who apparently were on their way to fire Qassams.
Meanwhile, an armored force, including tanks, was closing in on the home of the Al Kata family in Tufah. The head of the household owned a metalwork shop on the first floor of the building. The soldiers called for everyone inside to come out. A few soldiers went into the next door house, owned by Nahed Al Hilo, and ordered his 22-year-old son, Ala, to accompany them on a room to room search to make sure nobody else was in the building.
The soldiers then ordered the family, which is related by marriage to the Al Kata’s, to leave their home and together with the Al Katas and another neighboring family, they were sent into a nearby orchard, to wait. Despite the bitter cold, the soldiers did not allow them to go to a nearby relatives’ house, to keep warm.
During the next four and a half hours, some 35 people, including women and children cowered in the orchard, while fifty meters away, explosions went off inside the metalwork factory. Around 3 A.M., the troops began to pull out. Everything fell quiet. The people in the orchard reckoned they could go home. No soldier warned them not to go back.
Sa’id Al Hilo, a 25-year-old, and Ala, his brother, were football players. They once even played opposite an Israeli side, in the early days of the peace process, in Norway. They ran a grocery store their father bought for them out of his savings as a floorer in Israel. Along with their cousin Tamar Darwish, they ran ahead of everyone back to the house. At 3:45 A.M. they were standing in front of the metal works shop. There was an enormous explosion. They were buried under the rubble of the demolished building, in front of their parents and relatives, some of whom, including children, were wounded by that blast.
Rescue vehicles and other cars could not reach the area quickly because the IDF had dug trenches in the roads, which anyway aren’t paved. The father, himself wounded, together with his youngest son Sami, began digging by hand in the rubble, searching for the bodies. He didn’t pay attention to the fact that his own house was semi-destroyed by the enormous explosion.
The metalwork shop owner had returned that same day from a trip to Saudi Arabia and came in through Rafah. If there was information that he manufactures Qassam rockets, why wasn’t he arrested, to get valuable information about the identity of those who order the rockets from him? Or maybe there wasn’t any specific information, of the kind the IDF always claims to have, but only general information about a metal workshop?
This is only one example, taken practically at random, of the routine of calamity. Along with the metal work shop, life savings and years of hard work went down the drain. Thousands of families have seen their livelihoods destroyed this way. If not a direct demolition of their home, then through indirect damage caused by the demolition of a neighboring house. If not a lathe, then a field or a greenhouse.
The Kata and Hilo families didn’t even have time to apprehend the meaning of the destruction of their homes, before the three youths lost their lives. Not in a battle. Not trying to sneak into a settlement or in a suicide bombing, but just a few meters from their homes. Thus, the IDF continues the killing of civilians every day. Thus, young people are pushed into choosing death in an attempt to take vengeance on Israelis. And in the vicious cycle, the troops come back and demolish their homes and arrest their relatives.
Calamities – when the lives of a person, a family, a society are turned upside down – are enormous, unusual, once-in-a-lifetime events. The opposite of routine. But the nature of the Palestinian effort to cope with the series of IDF raids means adapting to a routine of disaster after disaster. There’s no time to get used to the results of one disaster before the next one comes. And every day, that routine gets worse. But as routine, it doesn’t draw much attention.
In Israel, people are convinced this is how to fight terror and defeat it, as the army has been promising for 28 months. But during that period, some 3.5 million people have paid for it with enormous material, economic and emotional distress, with neither relief nor a lull. The constant expectation is that a blow ten-fold worse than the previous one is on its way, and if not today, then tomorrow, an even-worse one will come to ruin their lives.