I have a friend from Shuja’iya.* Not a Facebook acquaintance. Not an anonymous Tweeter on my Twitter feed. An honest to goodness flesh and bones friend who I consider as close as my own family. His mother is about my age. His wife could be my daughter. His younger brother lost an eye when he was shot by an Israeli sniper. Together we visited the Pyramids outside of Cairo in September 2012, where he was seeking medical attention for his eye.
When I visited the family at their home in Shuja’iya in the Fall of 2012, I was struck by the neighborhood’s very high density. Tall concrete buildings (4-5 floors) sitting side-by-side, along very narrow sandy roads. No trees, lawns, parks or open space. Even by Gaza-standards, Shuja’iya was very densely populated.
I never would have found my friend’s home without the aid of a young friend who knew where he was going. To my untrained eyes, all of the buildings looked the same, all of the roads looked the same. No signs or house numbers.
Shuja’iya sits on the eastern border of the Gaza Strip, near the no-man’s zone which Israel has arbitrarily designated as a “shoot-to-kill” perimeter around the Gaza Strip. Farmers’ lives are at risk if they go into their fields in this no-man’s zone. The Israeli military keeps guard from watchtowers along the perimeter fence.
I walked up several flights of stairs to my friend’s home. As is typical in Gaza, extended families live on different floors in the same building. (I would love to have my granddaughter living upstairs from me!)
They greeted me with open arms, the younger children looking at me with great fascination. They served me tea and sweets, and we chatted. I don’t recall what we talked about in that first meeting but I remember it was easy because my friend’s wife spoke English. (I don’t speak Arabic.)
One thing in the room caught my eye. A piece of rock sitting on the table next to me. The wife told me it was from the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, of special significance to Muslims.
SUNDAY – JULY 20, 2014
I suppose Israeli military commanders didn’t think their buffer zone was large enough. On the 14th day of Israel’s so-called Operation Protective Edge, the IDF decided to flatten Shuja’iya. No precision bombing. No strategic targets. Just flatten the entire neighborhood.
The U.N. committee charged with investigating the war in Gaza concluded that the “IDF followed a pre-calculated pattern of widespread razing of neighborhoods” and the “vast scale of destruction [in Shuja’iya] may have been adopted as tactics of war.” The Guardian — ‘Death and horror’ in Gaza as thousands flee Israeli bombardment.
419. Article 23 of the 1907 Hague Regulations prohibits the destruction of property unless such destruction is required by imperative military necessity. A similar provision in Geneva Convention IV prohibits an occupying power from destroying private or public property. The extensive destruction carried out by the IDF in Shuja’iya, Khuza’a and other localities situated in proximity to the Green Line, in particular the razing of entire areas of these localities by artillery fire, air strikes and bulldozers indicates that the IDF carried out destructions that may not have been strictly required by military necessity. Article 147 of the Geneva Convention IV qualifies the extensive destruction of property “not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly” as a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions. The wholesale levelling of certain areas of Gaza by the IDF, should it qualify as “unlawful” and ”wanton”, may amount to a war crime.
My friend’s brother lost his life that day, killed in his home. The story of his life and death still bring me to tears. The family fled with thousands of others, their home was flattened. Among their possessions destroyed that day was my friend’s personal library. Books and books and books collected over many years. He will replace his books, but his brother will always be a hole in his heart.
I’m meeting with my Congresswoman later this week in her DC Office. I’m going to remind her of the massacre in Shuja’iya, and my friend and my friend’s brother.
* Many different spellings for Shuja’iya. Shijaia, Shujaya, Shojaya, Shujaeya, Shejaiya etc. I’m using Shuja’iya because that’s how the U.N. Independent Commission of Inquiry spells it in its report investigating the war last summer.