Peter Beaumont reports from Jabal Rayas, describing the plight of the children of Gaza, whose fate has been, perhaps irredeemably, compromised by the BBC management’s spineless decision not be broadcast the humanitarian appeal.
Safaa Salam is scared and cold. Last night the 10-year-old girl slept in the ruins of her family house in the Jabal Rayas area of eastern Gaza. So did her four-year-old niece Ghavad. It is not so much a ruin as a cave, the top a tented slab of crumbling concrete, cracked and buckling in the middle.
Safaa’s brother, Salman, aged 30 – Ghavad’s father – jumps down from the roof that he is clearing, throwing the tail fin from an Israeli bomb. “I found four of these,” he says.
“It was cold last night,” says Safaa. “And I’m scared of the packs of dogs.”
Salman agrees. “All of the women are frightened. They are worried the Israelis might come back. And they are scared of the dogs.”
The dogs come to feed on the bodies of the family’s sheep, lying stinking in the rubble, 20 feet from where the family sleeps. There is a toddler on a filthy mattress in the gloom. It is Salman’s daughter. “She’s sick. And she still can’t sleep. But I don’t know who to talk to about this.”
I visit Jabal Rayas twice, walking among the craters, scrambling among the broken concrete into homes that – while ruined – are again in occupation. It is into such places that aid agencies wish to pour resources, raised in part by charitable appeals around the world like the one launched in Britain by the Disasters Emergency Committee that has been rejected for broadcast by the BBC.
On Friday evening, I come across the Khader family, who have set up a makeshift structure on the roof of their ruins. Mohammed Khader, father of eight girls, and his brother Zaid and his family, have found somewhere for the youngest to sleep. But they stay in the wreckage of their home. They pray and wash and cook in what is just a shanty with cloth walls. When the rain falls it hammers on the corrugated-iron roof.
Yesterday evening there were more families among the ruins, dotted among the flattened buildings, crushed by bombs and smashed by the Israeli bulldozers that carved up the sheep pastures as they built high berms. It is from here that rockets were fired into Israel. But it was a place where people also used to live and work and is now utterly destroyed.
Two women in one “cave”, whose widest opening was three feet high, crawl out to hang up their washing. Other members of the Salam family bustle around the shelters they built in the churned-up earth, baking bread and tending their chickens, sitting by feeble fires.
They are here for two reasons. Yesterday the schools in which many had been sheltering re-opened. The UN says that people were offered money to find alternative accommodation or directed to new shelters. These families insist they had nowhere else to go and no one had spoken to them.
They are living in the open for another reason, too. These people are all farmers, afraid that, if they do not sit on their ruined lands, they will lose them.
When a small convoy from the UN does arrive in Al-Karim, the heart of the devastation, they cannot reach the Salam families’ ruined houses. It is too close to the border with Israel – one kilometre distant. Their rules say they are not allowed to approach this far without permission, although they want to help.
Jabal Rayas is one of the worst places. But because the people could escape when the tanks came in, they did, and did not perish like those who were trapped in areas such as Zaitoun. But it is a sight familiar across the Gaza Strip. A disaster has occurred. And one that many – not least the children – have not chosen.
The Salams and those like them need aid. They do not care where it comes from: whether from Hamas, which has begun its own distributions from warehouses across the Gaza Strip, or from the international community and aid agencies. What those living in Jabal Rayas require desperately is shelter and medicine and food. They need help to rebuild their lives and restore their lands.
Last week in Jerusalem, as the news of the decision not to broadcast the DEC appeal first broke, a British aid worker confided her private and angry opinion. “It is just politics. That’s all. We spoke to the BBC. They said they were getting rather bored with these appeals. Then, we were told the real reason. That the decision was political. They should be ashamed.”
Last night, as she prepared to go to sleep, Safaa Salam was clutching her bedding in a plastic cover.
“Will you ask someone to help us?” said her brother as we left.
• If you want to donate online to the DEC’s Gaza Crisis, visit dec.org.uk/item/200