Gaza: the ceasefire begins

The following is a firsthand account by Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Adviser, reporting from Gaza. The ceasefire came into effect at 9pm on November 21 November.

The children are playing outside again, despite the torrential rain. They were stuck indoors during eight days of relentless Israeli bombardments.

By the time that ended in excess of 160 people were dead – including more than 30 children and scores of other unarmed civilians.

For the duration of the onslaught they were stuck indoors – at home, seeking refuge with relatives or in schools which the UN refugee agency turned into temporary shelters for thousands of families forced from their houses by the bombings.

Not that staying indoors was necessarily safe either. Many died or were injured in their homes or those of their neighbours when the bombs fell.

In Gaza City I found grieving members of the al-Dalu family digging through rubble looking for the bodies of relatives killed four days earlier when an Israeli fighter jet bombed their home.

No-one in their house survived the attack during which claimed a total of 12 lives including all the 10 members of the al-Dalu family present at the time.

Five children, four women and the father of four of the children.

The grief-stricken owner of the house, a soft-spoken man in his mid-50s, told me of his loss, listing the names of those he’d lost.

“My wife, Tahani, 52, my two daughters, Ranin, 25 and Yara, 16, my son Mohamed, 29 and his 25-year-old wife Samah and their four children – a seven-year-old girl called Sara and three boys, Jamal, Yousef, and Ibrahim, aged five and four years and nine months; and my 75-year-old sister Suhaila who was in a wheelchair,” he said.

“I left the house in the morning with my son Abdallah and went to my supermarket, as we had run out of food. My wife later called me and told me also to bring some toys for the children to take their minds off the bombing.

“In the early afternoon I was praying before heading back home and when I finished praying I found my son in tears; he said neighbours had called saying our home had been bombed. We rushed back and found a pile of rubble where our house had been.

“There were no survivors. I lost everything that was dearest to me. Why? Were my wife, my children and my grandchildren and my paralyzed sister terrorists? Did they harm Israel in any way? I want to see justice done; I don’t want anything else; only justice. The International Criminal Court should do its duty so that those responsible for these crimes are brought to justice.”

Next door, two neighbours – a 79-year-old woman and her grandson – were crushed to death by the collapsing walls of the al-Dalu family house. Others in their family were injured.

In another neighbourhood five-year-old Mohammed Abu Zur and two of his aunts were killed and 25 other relatives, 15 of them children, injured when their neighbours’ house was bombed. They are the victims of so called “collateral damage” caused by reckless bombardments which the Israeli army launched against densely populated residential areas.

They knew that they were almost certain to kill and injure unarmed civilians not involved in the conflict and to cause destruction and damage far beyond their actual targets.

And these cases are not exceptional. In the few days I’ve been here in Gaza I’ve investigated many more cases of children and other unarmed civilians killed and injured in Israeli bombardment between 14 and 21 November.

Once again civilians bore the brunt. The impunity afforded to those responsible for similar attacks in the past has no doubt contributed to their recurrence during this latest escalation of the conflict. What is needed now is an independent investigation to ensure that victims are not once again denied justice and reparation.