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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Who is destroying Gaza/

Last update - 09:35 20/01/2008    
 In Gaza, life destroyed by the Qassams

By Catrin Ormestad 
The Qassam crew arrived in the late afternoon. The two men were in their mid-twenties, both from Hamas, and probably from Beit Hanun. The place they had chosen was perfect: an orange grove, only a few kilometers from the border with Israel. The roofs of the houses in Sderot are clearly visible between the palm trees.
In the small house behind the orange grove, Khadra Wahdan, 52, was making pita when she suddenly spotted the militants. It was not the first time they had fired Qassams from the fields around the house, but they had never come so close before. She ran out to tell them to leave.
"What are you doing here? Go away! There are children in the house!" she yelled.
At that moment, an Israeli shell exploded at the entrance to the house. Khadra died instantly, as did a 15-year-old boy who was collecting firewood in the groves. The militants were unharmed and fled.
One week later we visit the Wahdans, one of many families in Gaza who are trapped in the war of attrition between the Israel Defense Forces and the Palestinian militants. Khadra's sons Muhammed and Daoud show us the spot where their mother died. The steel gates are perforated by tiny square holes. The shell was filled with hundreds of sharp pellets to maximize damage.
We walk across the fields, but the boys cautiously stay by the house. Under an orange tree, we find part of a rocket that was never fired, an empty steel pipe with tail fins, but without the rocket head and the explosives. In the grass are the launchers, aimed at Sderot. On the sandy road in front of the house we find another Qassam, a rusty pipe with a split open head. In the yard is a big hole, the result of a failed launch.
"We hate the rockets!" says Daoud. "They destroy everything. We can't even work anymore."
The Wahdans are a family of farmers, but they longer dare to work the vegetable fields around their house. They also used to have fruit trees, but they cut them all down after Khadra's death, in a desperate attempt to keep the militants away. But they keep coming back.
In the morning, before we arrived, militants launched four Qassams from the hill behind the house. Daoud shows us a piece of shrapnel from the Israeli response. In the garage they keep a piece of a whole missile, with writing in Hebrew, perhaps as a reminder of who their real enemy is. Their mother was killed the same day as Bush and Olmert were making their lofty speeches about the imminent peace.
"It is only words," says Muhammed. "It will lead nowhere. We have had so many shaheeds (martyrs) since Annapolis."
One of them was Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar's son. On Thursday the Gazans were still coming to the huge green mourning tent to pay their condolences with the grieving father. In a more modest setting, the Kassem family in Beit Hanun was also receiving visitors to mourn the death of their son Muhammed, the child who was killed alongside Khadra.
His mother Salwa is still crying. Her husband Maher has been out of work since the intifada began in 2000. Since then, the family has relied on "God and the UNDP's food coupons," and their eldest sons have been helping with the breadwinning. That is what Muhammed was doing when he was killed - collecting twigs and leaves to sell for a few shekels. Since Israel started cutting the power supply to Gaza, people have been making fires to stay warm in the winter cold.
"The cold makes the children sick," says Muhammed's aunt Tahane, gently rocking the baby in her arms, Shahed, 6 months. "We don't have money to buy medicines, and warm clothes have become so expensive in the market."
The sanctions have sent prices soaring in Gaza. Basic commodities like rice, olive oil and tehina have almost doubled in price. They also have emptied the supermarket shelves, closed shops and factories and halted all construction, since Israel no longer allows the import of cement. This has also made it impossible to bury the dead properly, since there is no cement for the headstones. Rocks or lumps of concrete are now used to mark new graves.
The closure has stopped not only the import of goods but also the export, which affects the farmers. In Beit Lahia it is time to harvest strawberries. Saddam and Alia Maruf and their six children are working in the fields, loading boxes of succulent red berries onto donkey carts. But instead of being exported to Europe for a good profit, they will be sold at the local market, where the farmers will barely earn a fraction of the tens of thousands of shekels they have invested in the crop.
"This year we will lose everything," says Saddam Maruf.
Suddenly, a huge explosion. A Qassam has been fired from a grove nearby. The strawberry pickers look at the white smoke and continue to harvest. That is all they can do, pick their strawberries and wait - for the Israeli response, and for the border to open.

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