An Attack too Close to Home

More from Safa Joudeh who describes the targeting of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Headquarters and the evacuation of her home.

We WON’T be victimized: An attack too close to home

La Repubblica, January 17th 2009

I thought I was dreaming, or still hearing explosions. After all I’d only been asleep for an hour and a half, and it wasn’t far fetched that the tanks may be firing from outside our front door. Wednesday night into Thursday morning had seen the most intense bombardment of Gaza city so far, and last I’d heard before drifting off was that the Israeli forces had advanced as far as the end of our streets, into the Tel al Hawa neighborhood. They’d already seized buildings there, so what’s to prevent them from making their way a little further in.

I wandered, as reality began to come into focus, who it was banging on my bedroom door, and even before regaining full consciousness, made my way out to the living room. The house was in disarray, my family and my relatives ran back and forth collecting things, putting things on, carrying things. It was about 8:00 am

My cousin, who works as a Cameraman, and whom I haven’t seen since the attacks began was standing at the door. “I have an armored press vehicle downstairs” he said, as I glanced at him questioningly. He was wearing a PRESS vest and helmet “You have two minutes, I’m here to take you all away”.

I got ready before asking any more questions, and we all left the apartment, not having time to lock the doors. Most of the residents had already left and a few were gathered at the inside entrance of the building. As we approached them we were asked to stay there for a few moments by the doorman, during which I learned why we had to evacuate immediately.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Headquarters, right across the streets, had received notification from the Israeli military that it would be bombed within the hour. This was unprecedented, but our shock had to be put on hold. The buildings surrounding the headquarters, including mine, had also received a warning. They would all be targeted 20 minutes later.

We finally got the ok to cross the street to the car. We ran one at a time and got in, and were off. My cousin drove frantically. We didn’t know where we were going but we had to move out of the area. We began hearing the bombs fall behind us, and we kept moving forward. The car shook left and right, maybe it was the explosions, maybe the speeding, I didn’t know, and all I could think about was my home.

We decided to go to the house of distant relatives, we didn’t know them very well but at a time like this every home in Gaza is open to relatives and strangers alike. We got to their door and my cousin drove off to take care of other relatives.

Shortly afterwards we heard that the top floors of my building and neighboring buildings had been struck by missiles. We were relieved that they hadn’t been big enough to cause damage to the rest of the building, and we guessed that at worst, the damage to our home might be confined to broken windows and debris entering through the openings (the ceiling and some walls had cracked too). Later we heard that the UNRWA complex had been bombed. The entire supply of diesel had caught fire, which lead to the explosion of parts of the building. We were about a mile away and we could see the massive thick black cloud rising into the air.

We spent the night trying to get information on the whereabouts of my brother, whose home was raided by Israeli troops. He had been detained and his wife was left at home with Israeli soldiers pointing their rifles at her head till late in the evening. When she finally called us after the soldiers left she was frantic with worry. It wasn’t until the next morning, Friday, at six am that we were relieved of our fear for him. The Israeli soldiers had held him all night, blindfolded and handcuffed in the cold, and interrogated him, along with 5 other men. My brother and 2 of them were finally released. The other two were transferred to a yet unknown location and my brother was able to find his way out of the closed off military zone, his neighborhood.

We returned to our apartment today, Friday morning. We weren’t deterred by warnings that our area was still not safe. We weren’t hindered by reports that after retreating, Israeli forces had once more advanced into the area at the end of our streets. It was a unanimous decision by all of us, and we would let nothing drive us out of our home, victimize us, debase and displace us ever again. It was too personal an attack and we had to draw the line even if it was with our own blood. Arriving at the entrance we saw many of our neighbors pulling up in cars and walking in with their children. We all looked at each other, smiling, embracing, knowing, and experiencing emotions of elation, solidarity and pride.

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