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From the field

Testimony: A-Shteiwi family besieged in their house under shelling for 12 days, Jan '09

Jaber a-Shteiwi, farmer

Jaber a-Shteiwi

Our house is made of asbestos. On Saturday, 3 January, we moved to my son Sami's house because of the shelling by the Israeli army. His house, which is in the a-Zeitun neighborhood, is made of concrete. There were 25 of us in the house, including 12 small children. In the afternoon, massive shelling began. There was smoke everywhere, and fires broke out. A combat helicopter fired at the houses we had left.

The house we were in shook. The panes of the doors and windows broke, and the children didn't stop yelling. They didn't quiet down from the moment that the bombing began. Our water tanks were destroyed. It was horrible. We were afraid we'd be killed. I was especially worried about the children. My three-year-old granddaughter clung to me and didn't stop shouting. We all went down to the bottom floor. A little while later, we heard tanks approaching. They came from all directions and fired in our direction. We saw soldiers go onto the roofs of neighbors' houses.

The next day, I heard on the radio that the army had announced a three hour cease-fire. I was afraid to go far from the house because I knew our area was very dangerous. I was afraid they wouldn't let me return, but we had very little water left, so I decided to go to my plot, which has a water tank I use for farming. The water is not good for drinking, but it can be used for laundry and for the bathroom, so I went to bring it. We were also out of cooking gas and fuel, and we didn't have electricity. We used earth instead of water to wash for prayers. We cooked on bonfires. All the adults, men and women, decided to eat only once a day, so there'd be food for the children. We didn't know how long the situation would last.

Ruins of the a-Shteiwi family's house. Photo: Khaled 'Azayzeh, 20 January 2009
Ruins of the a-Shteiwi family's house. Photo: Khaled 'Azayzeh, 20 January 2009/>

On the third day after the army entered the neighborhood, Sami called the Red Cross from a relative's house and asked them to check on our condition. He was especially worried about us because some of us were in poor health. There was one paralyzed man and several diabetics, and my mother has all kinds of medical problems, including with her blood pressure. Some of the women were panicking.

It took 12 days for the Red Cross to get to us. When they arrived, they wanted us to be evacuated. The women and children left. The other men and I remained because we were afraid they would destroy our houses. We've invested our lives in these houses.

After the Red Cross people left, the army bombed even closer to our houses, and we decided to leave. We grabbed white flags and walked between the tanks. We walked about five kilometers, until we got to the house of relatives. It was full of people. The next day, we split up between the houses of various relatives', even though their situation was already difficult too.

When the war ended and we heard that the army had withdrawn from the area, we returned to our houses. We were in shock when we saw that our fears had been realized. I had a house with four rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom, 200 square meters all in all. It was completely destroyed. Two rooms of Sami's house and the entire house of my brother Jibril, which totaled 300 square meters, were also destroyed. The army also destroyed my olive groves and lemon orchards, which were my livelihood.

Jaber 'Abd Muhammad a-Shteiwi, 52, married with twelve children, is a farmer and a resident of a-Zeitun neighborhood in Gaza City. His testimony was given to Khaled 'Azayzeh in a-Zeitun on 19 Jan. '09.