x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

One year on, Gaza attack still a fresh and painful memory

Two weeks after the first missile fell, Mohammed Abu Zaid and his family were forced to flee their home as Israeli ground forces moved deeper into the Gaza Strip.

Mohammed Abu Zaid is now living with his brother, Jihad, in Abu Dhabi.
Mohammed Abu Zaid is now living with his brother, Jihad, in Abu Dhabi.

Mohammed Abu Zaid was at home when he heard the first explosions. He rushed out of the house in Gaza City's Al Karama district to join others in the street as smoke rose from locations around the city. "At first we weren't scared," he said, recalling the opening day of the 22-day Israeli offensive that began around 11am on December 27, 2008. "We didn't know what was going on."

One year on, the details are still fresh in the mind of Mr Abu Zaid, who recently moved to Abu Dhabi to look for a job. Shortly after learning that a co-ordinated strike had been launched on Gaza, he made his way to Al Shifa, the main hospital in the area. He was not prepared for what he saw there. "I saw maybe 200 bodies in the first three hours," he said. "I felt so angry." Among the first day's dead was Nooh al Sharafi, a 28-year-old policeman who was a close friend of Mr Abu Zaid.

Unsure of where the next strike would land, Mr Abu Zaid and his family his parents, two brothers and a sister remained largely indoors for the three weeks. They would venture out to recharge their phones at a local mosque or in a hospital, wherever there was a generator, or to gather food. Some of the women would prepare bread dough at home and take it to the hospitals to bake. Mr Abu Zaid, 25, said he would rush with other young men to the sites of the most recent bombings to check for survivors and take them to hospital. He felt helpless, but was convinced that only one party had the ability to end the violence.

"For those 22 days I felt like no one can stop the war only Israel, because they don't listen to anyone else," he said. Two weeks after the first missile fell, Mr Abu Zaid and his family were forced to flee their home as Israeli ground forces moved deeper into the Gaza Strip. When the tanks were just 200 metres from their home, the family packed what they could and went to stay with a relative in Sheikh Radwan, a neighbourhood in another part of the city.

They were not the only ones who sought refuge in the four-story home. Soon there were 170 extended members of the family camping out. He recalled the day when a school was attacked close to where one of his friends lived, Mr Abu Zaid rushed to the hospital only to find dozens of dead and injured children. His friend's brother also died in the attack. "I felt like the bombs would not stop," he said quietly, seated at a cafe on Abu Dhabi's Corniche. "I saw war before, but nothing like this, ever."

While his home managed to escape substantial damage, other families in the area were not as lucky. The home of Mr Abu Zaid's cousin, just 100 metres away, was destroyed, although the family had already sought refuge elsewhere. "When I think of those three weeks, I feel very bad and very angry," he said. "Still today, some areas are completely destroyed." Mr Abu Zaid came to Abu Dhabi to join his elder brother Jihad, who has lived here for three years.

According to Jihad, many young Gazans are trying to leave the Strip, in search of work to support their families. Mr Abu Zaid was able to find a job, which he will start in the new year. "I want people to know that the war has still not stopped till now," Mr Abu Zaid said. "Maybe the bombs have stopped but not the war. Life in Gaza is still so hard, with only a few hours of electricity a day, no gas and without electricity there is no water."

With nothing but a trickle of goods allowed to enter the strip, much of the food is smuggled in through the tunnels along the southern Gaza-Egypt border. But, a proposed underground wall along the border could sever that link, he said. "There is no future there, just sitting at home with no work," he said. "I want to live." @Email:zconstantine@thenational.ae