Testimony: Army forces neighborhood residents from their homes, Jan. '09

'Abd al-Mu'ti 'Abd Rabo, father of nine

Last Sunday [4 January], at 1:30 P.M., the Israeli army came to our area. Soldiers forced us to leave our houses. About 1,000  people from the neighborhood were in the street. The only families that the soldiers let stay in their houses were the ones with sick people. They lined us up. We were very frightened, and the children were crying. Planes were flying in the air, bombing places nearby.

The soldiers sorted us into two groups. Small children and adults aged 40 or 50 and over on one side, and young people on the other side. From the group of young people, the army chose about 40 persons, among them my sons Rami, 21, and Sa'ad, 18, and seven nephews of mine. The soldiers ordered them to undress, and they searched them.

About two hours later, the soldiers walked us toward the city of Jabalya. They told us not to look to the sides and said they would shoot anybody who looked back. We did as they told us. The group of 40 young men remained behind, including my two sons.

We left everything behind. I didn't take anything. Even women with babies didn't take food or clothing. Our group included people who were sick, small children, and disabled persons. We helped each other. It was a long distance to walk, three kilometers. On the way, we saw the destruction that the Israeli army had caused. In the end, they put us in schools in Jabalya. Whoever had relatives in the city went to them.

My family and I went to my cousin's house. It has two floors, with three rooms and a bathroom on each floor. Usually, 12 people live in the house. Including us, there were about 100 people: the regular occupants and many other people whom the army had forced from their homes, like us.

My two sons were released the next day, and they came to where we were staying. They told us that soldiers had made them, at gun point, open doors and enter houses to search for Hamas members.

Three families of my relatives stayed home in ‘Izbat ‘Abd Rabo. My brother, Muhammad ‘Abdallah ‘Abd Rabo, 65, his wife, his daughter-in-law, and her seven children; my cousin, Muhammad Mustafa ‘Abd Rabo, 60, and his family of eleven; and my brother Zaki, 54, and his three children. One of his children, who is 17, is disabled. These families remained at home because they had members who were sick, or disabled, or small children, who couldn't go by foot. We still don't know what happened to everybody who remained.

My niece, Wajdan Muhammad Mustafa ‘Abd Rabo, 28, told me that she only managed to leave her house on Saturday [9 January]. She said she waved a white flag and walked out into the street, in front of the army. There are lots of army snipers and they fire at anything that moves. She asked them to let her go and get milk for her baby daughter. One of the soldiers took pity on her and let her go with her daughter. She joined us and told us that the army had bombed and burned houses.

Every day, more people from ‘Izbat ‘Abd Rabo join us. They've told us that the army is forcing all the residents to get out. People are still coming to us from neighborhoods there, from al-Mahkameh Street, from al-‘Atatrah, and from a-Salatin. There wasn't room for everyone in this house, so some people are looking for relatives. Others are looking for schools. It's like living in a can of sardines.

One of the people who came yesterday [10.1.09] was ‘Akram ‘Ayyash ‘Abd Rabbo, 40. He told us that the army gradually released most of the people. He was among the last that the army forced to remain, together with three other young men, Hamed Faraj ‘Abd Rabo, 28, Rami Mesbah ‘Abd Rabo, 28, and Raji Mesbah ‘Abd Rabo, 23. They were still being held when he was released. He told us that their hands were cuffed all the time and that they weren't given anything to eat or drink. There was bombing and exchanges of gunfire very close by, and it was extremely dangerous.

The house we are in is very crowded, and the situation here is horrible. It's like an army camp. We are religious, so the men and women live separately. There are about 60 men and 40 women. The men and women don't see other much, and small children pass notes between them. The men sleep in the storage room, on the stairs, in the living room, all over. There aren't enough blankets for everyone, and four or five people share a blanket. Those who don't have a blanket cover themselves with any other material available. Lots of us are unable to sleep. We can hardly even doze off because of all the bombing and the planes.

We have nothing to eat. There's hardly any flour. Each morning, every man gets a ration of bread or potatoes, which has to last the whole day. Small children and pregnant women receive more food. There isn't any milk for babies or medicine for the ill. To cook, we have to burn wood, or cloth, or nylons.

It's too dangerous to leave the house. The bombing is going on all the time. I heard that the army said it stops operations three hours every day, but we don't feel it. Anyway, there's no food in the market. They say Gaza has been supplied with food and aid, but we haven't gotten anything, we barely even get water. Since the land incursion began, I haven't showered, or even washed my face for prayers. The army bombed the water tanks and we can hardly get bottles of water.

I called UNWRA, the International Red Cross, and the Red Crescent. I asked them to bring us food and bedding, but we got nothing. The situation is deteriorating. Soon we won't have any food. The water we have won't last more than two or three days. If the situation continues as it is, small children might die from dehydration due to lack of water and milk. They are hungry all the time, and they are already very thin.

'Abd al-Mu'ti 'Abd Rabo, 54, married with nine children, is a resident of 'Izbat 'Abd Rabo, east of Gaza City. His testimony was given to Iyad Haddad by telephone on 11 Jan. '09.