Sunday, January 25, 2009

When paradise turned to hell

Night after night for the past two weeks, Noordin Samouni wakes up screaming: “They shoot us. They kill us.”

Noordin is just six years old. He saw his father getting shot in the head at close range by Israeli soldiers. More than 30 shots were fired.

“We saw the blood and we saw him die. We couldn’t do anything. We were very scared,” said Noordin’s elder brother, Fahed.

His other brother, Muhammad, who is one-and-half years old, also witnessed the killing but he is too young to fathom it.

Haunted: Noordin saw his father shot in the head by Israeli soldiers.

Fahed said Noordin could only sleep for about two hours each night before the nightmare would come.

“How would you feel if it happened to you? If you saw your father shot in the head just like that?” Fahed, 19, asked me.

Newly married Hadil Samouni finds it hard to come back to what used to be her home in Zaitoon. Wherever she looks, the 21-year-old remembers the sight of her dead relatives lying on the streets and the Israeli soldiers who kept 120 of them confined in one house before bombing them.

“Before the war, this place was like paradise with so many trees,” she said softly, pointing to the flattened area and piles of rubble and destroyed homes.

“Now it’s like hell. It gives me nightmares. I am shaking all the time. I am afraid of everything. Even the sound of someone opening a door makes me jump.

I saw everything. The shootings, the bombings and the screams. And the dead people.”

“After I got out, I was deaf for a week as the explosions were so loud. I still can’t see with my left eye as some fragments got inside,” she said. The Samouni family story is a tragic one. And there are many like them in Gaza.

On Jan 4, Israeli tanks moved in and attacked the area the following day. Many were injured and people managed to telephone for help but the soldiers would not let ambulances come close.

It was only days later that ambulances were allowed in and they pulled out many dead bodies from the area.

The Samouni’s alone lost 29 of their extended family members — 11 of them children and six women. Hadil said she was in her house on that fateful Jan 4 morning, when the soldiers told them to come out and made them go into a house belonging to Wael Samouni.

Hadil tries to shake off the image of her dead relatives. Her left eyesight is impaired from fragments from the bomb.

“There were 120 of us. We stayed there until the next morning. There were children and women inside and they were getting hungry and thirsty as there was no food or water.”

“So four men decided to go out to bring in some water, food and wood for us. But the soldiers shot them. Two died and two were injured.

“We managed to get the injured inside and hoped the Israeli soldiers would leave. But about a minute later, they bombed the house twice. We were all screaming. There were about 20 dead.

“My husband decided to get out and I followed him and the rest of the people followed behind. We carried white flags and raised our hands and the Israelis let us go. But they wouldn’t let us take any of the injured. They said they would shoot us if we tried. So we had to leave them there,” she said.

Hadil is so terrified that she wants to leave Gaza for good. “Those people are barbarians. They lied when they said they do not attack civilians. We had no weapons but still they attacked us,” she said.

Majid Samouni said the women were not even allowed to scream. “One woman was so scared that she couldn’t stop screaming. The soldiers told her to stop but she couldn’t. So they shot her and her two-year-old child dead,” he said.

He said the Samouni family were all farmers and had nothing to do with Hamas.

In one of the homes still standing, Israeli soldiers had scribbled disturbing graffiti on the walls — “Arabs Need to Die,” “Die You All,” “You Can Run But You Can’t Hide,” “1 Down, 999,999 to Go” — these were just some of the scary ones.

On a tombstone, there was this chilling inscription: “Arabs 1948–2009.”