Australian eyewitness report from Gaza

Some of the Gaza Freedom Marchers entered Gaza a few days ago (this was a painful and politically fraught decision and here’s why).

Australian Donna Mulhearn was one of them and here’s her moving report of life in Gaza:

The boy in the rubble and Gaza’s Tour of Horror

He wasn’t like the other boys I met here in Gaza today. This boy, balanced on a piece of concrete jutting out of a high mound of rubble, had his arms folded and just looked at us.

Other boys run towards you and cry “Hallo mister” and they laugh, make funny poses for the camera and carry on. But the boy on the rubble was still. He stared in silence. His face defiant. His large, dark eyes piercing. He stood as though he was waiting. Waiting for us to do something perhaps, to say something. Just waiting.

The boy, perhaps nine or ten years old, was standing on wreckage where his house used to be. Now his family camps in a tent in the midst of the smashed concrete and tangled iron. He is no doubt waiting for his home to be rebuilt, but the siege of Gaza means his family cannot access the raw materials required to do so. “How can we rebuild when we haven’t had a sack of cement in four years?” one head of an NGO…  asked us.

Our group, a contingent of the Gaza Freedom March, was on a tour of Gaza’s neighbourhoods devastated by the Israel Defence Forces attack on Gaza this time last year. Operation Cast Lead killed about 1400 people, 288 of them children and destroyed more than 3,500 homes.

This was unlike your average city tour, today the commentary was chilling, the scenes raising more questions, creating even more tears. “You can see where three houses used to be,” our guide says pointing to a large empty space along a busy street.

“Here is the Schiffa Hospital where 700 victims were brought on the first night of the attack. Those factories over there are closed because of the siege. And up ahead a school.” He points to a massive mess of concrete and steel where 1000 children used to go to learn. “And on your right a tall apartment tower ripped in two by an Israeli missile, 15 innocents dead at this spot, and in this sports gym 50 dead, and here you can see more tents where the families are sleeping where their houses used to be and in this neighbourhood there were 200 killed.” And so it goes on and on.

As we walked through the remains of a bombed out sports/entertainment complex right on Gaza’s beachfront, Ahmed, our guide – a smartly dressed, well spoken young man – wanted to tell us the story of Houda Ralia. A girl of nine, she was swimming at the beach when missiles struck,…  Houda rushed back to her family who were on the beach. She saw them killed right in front of her. Mother, father and four brothers.

After an hour of proving this detailed account of last year’s attack, Ahmed sighed, “however long we talk about the suffering, it will never be long enough.”

It’s rainy, windy and cold here, the families in tents have a winter to endure and, because of the siege, no prospect to be in a home by next winter.

Hours after I saw him, I still feel the stare of the boy on the rubble – the boy who is not playful with us because he’s angry, he’s tired and he”˜s homeless. His stare haunts me because I know that he knows.

He knows the reason he won’t have a home by next winter is because the international community has allowed the siege of Gaza, an illegal and morally reprehensible blockade to continue with barely a comment from our political leaders. UN Human Rights Rapporteur for Palestine, Richard Falk says that because there has been no meaningful international pressure coming from Governments it is up to civil society, you and me, to step in.

There are many reasons we should step in, because of the 288 children killed last year, the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe caused by the siege, the physical and mental trauma of the population, but also for the boy in the rubble.

The boy in the rubble is waiting. Until he feels some hope he will maintain his defiant stance, his challenging stare.

He wants to be playful again, but he’s waiting for us to end the silence that has left his community in a state of constant struggle.

This little boy from Gaza city, living in a tent surrounded by the rubble where his house used to be, folds his arms and stares in our direction because he is waiting for us to act.

May his eyes haunt us until we do.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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