Caught in the crossfire of Gaza’s war with Israel
BEIT LAHIA, GAZA // Arafat Adanaf’s trousers are still caked in blood from carrying his three-year-old niece to a neighbour’s car as she bled to death.
Jud was killed in a rocket strike close to the family home on Tuesday night that also injured her sister and cousin. After the attack, there was much speculation over whether a Palestinian rocket or an Israeli drone was to blame. The evidence of both is visible on a dirt track in Beit Lahia, one of Gaza’s poorest neighbourhoods. To Arafat, as he stands near the site just after dawn, it does not matter.
“There were two rockets fired from Palestine and one from Israel and I don’t know which one killed the girl,” he says, blank-faced and dismissive, clearly still processing the events of the last 12 hours.
Only a handful of families live here in the makeshift tents and houses among the dried out olive trees just one kilometre from the heavily-fortified Israeli border. Those that do say that they are too poor to move closer to the city.
Palestinian militants often use the resident’s gardens for their war with Israel. Clearly visible are two cylindrical metal holes used to launch rockets towards nearby Ashkelon in Israel, just 20 kilometres away. Often, drone fire comes soon after.
“Half an hour before the rockets were launched the militants came and told everyone to leave,” says a neighbour, Ibrahim Abu Dilal. “But the children didn’t go. They were playing,” he says.
Ibrahim had helped carry Jud and the other children to the cars of neighbours that drove them to hospital. As he speaks, a small boy plays with an empty soda bottle, absent-mindedly filling it with sand and emptying it out again.
In the hospital morgue, Jud’s body is carried out of the head-high refrigerator by a worker and placed on a large wooden table. Her face is strangely peaceful, but the white sheets in which she is wrapped are still wet with blood. Minutes later, her father Mohammed Adanaf, 33, enters the room with his brothers, one of whom picks up the girl’s limp body and carries it into an adjoining room where it is prepared for the funeral.
Mohammed, pale and still in shock, is reluctant to talk about whether Israeli or Palestinian rockets killed his daughter.
He says that his neighbourhood has always been dangerous, but that his family is too poor to move away from the front line with Israel where exchanges of fire are common. Tuesday night was no different, with 12 Israeli air strikes on Gaza after militants fired five rockets.
Outside, his friends and family stand in the sun, waiting for the body to be ready to carry to the home of his grandfather in Sheikh Radwan. There — under Palestinian funeral tradition — the women of the family are due to wait for the men. The crowd will then move to the Beer Sheva Mosque a few hundred metres away.
In the meantime, Jud’s mother Hala sits with a few family members in a tiny concrete house in Gaza City’s Beach Camp, the house of her own parents. In the narrow alleys, the sound of sombre Arabic religious music plays on a stereo and Hala sits, tears in her eyes, in the front room surrounded by children.
She recalls a girl full of life who, just minutes before going out to play, had asked her for sweets.
“When my daughter was killed everyone in the neighbourhood came to say how much they loved her,” she said.
She too is not concerned with whose rockets killed her little girl, although she blames the decade-long blockade of Gaza for creating the situation that has made such violence so commonplace. “I call on the government — both Israel and Palestine — stop this killing of children. We need to change this life.”
The husband of her sister, Tawfiq Alroul, 60, sitting on the other side of the room, is stronger still. He believes that the Palestinian militants that fire rockets from Jud’s neighbourhood need to stop so that Israeli drone strikes and shelling in response will hopefully cease as well. “We want them to stop the rockets, because Israel is too strong,” he says. “We need peace in Gaza for both Israelis and Palestinians.”
That is not a popular view, and an older woman standing towards the back of the crowd reprimands him for it. “It is Israel that kills husbands and farmers. It is Israel killing our children,” she says, and the room falls silent.
After a few minutes, Hala and the others in the room pile into a car and drive to Mohammed’s grandfather’s house in Sheikh Radwan. Twenty minutes later the men arrive — Mohammed carrying his daughter and another man firing a Kalashnikov into the air.
The flags and banners of Hamas or Islamic Jihad — as well as the thousands-strong crowds that epitomise funerals in Gaza — are lacking, betraying the fact that this is a family either too poor or too unconnected for political allegiance.
They disappear into the house, waiting for the 12.30pm Dhuhr prayer, and men and women gathered together, weeping and sharing in grief. Ten minutes before prayer, they emerge from the house with Mohammed at the head of the pack, Jud’s forehead now wrapped in a black headband of Islamic Jihad.
The political affiliation is likely one of a family member some places removed, given how late it appeared. As for Jud, she looks almost lost; her little body carried high on top of a group of angry men chanting to God for the soul of a martyr.
Updated: June 25, 2014 04:00 AM