A portrait of life and death in Gaza

Palestinians shout slogans as they demonstrate to demand Israel lift its crippling blockade of the impoverished Palestinian territory (AFP)

So vivid was the light and so dramatic the shell-damaged Jeep backdrop that you could almost hear the boy’s scream. Look closely at the second figure’s white shirt and its bloom of crimson red might even be growing in front of your eyes.
But while pictures might be worth a thousand words, this one - taken by an agency photographer who arrived at the scene minutes after the blast - told you nothing of who the boys were, how they came to be there and what subsequently happened to them.

To piece that together took days trawling ill-equipped hospital wards, false leads, interviews with traumatised mortuary assistants, and luck. The incident took place in Gaza last Wednesday.

The issue of “who shot first” has long become academic in this troubled corner of the Holy Land. Around 1.5 million Palestinians, about a third of whom were driven from their homes in what is now Israel, when the Jewish state was founded 60 years ago, are crammed into a scruffy sliver of Mediterranean littoral known as the Gaza Strip.

Without a meaningful economy, meekly dependent on aid and with a creaking infrastructure providing piecemeal power, sewage and water, it is a festering Petri dish for Palestinian resentment. And it is no surprise where that resentment is aimed. The strip has a short land border with Egypt, but the rest of its frontier, airspace and marine approaches are under Israeli control.

Violence between the two sides has been going on for decades. Put crudely, Palestinian militants launch attacks against targets inside Israel - often using primitive rockets aimed at civilians - and Israel responds hard and heavy.
The Jewish state insists it fires only at confirmed military targets, but the death toll among Gazan civilians dwarfs the number of civilian Israelis killed.

Mahmoud abu Khobayze, 16, heard the sounds of pre-dawn clashes when he woke up in the tatty breezeblock home he shares with his navvy father, Ibrahim, 40, mother, five brothers and two sisters in the village of Mughraqe.

The village is home to some of Gaza’s oldest population, the once nomadic desert Bedouin. It is dirt poor, with domestic animals fenced in not by wire but by hurdles of desert scrub.

Mahmoud had to get up early as he faced a long walk to the Ain el Hilwa secondary school on the outskirts of Gaza City. Days of border skirmishes had led Israel to shut off fuel supplies and there was no school bus.

“It was just a routine day. I could hear some firing, but it was a long, long way off, so I just went to school,” he said. “I cannot even remember what we studied - English and Arabic, I think.”

In a much smarter part of Gaza City, the Sabra suburb near the centre, 19-year-old Khalil Dogmoush was preparing for work.
The oldest of eight children, he had followed his father, Ismail, into the stonemasonry trade and ran a granite-cutting workshop to the south of the city. “He was a clever boy and could have done anything,” said Ismail. “But he showed great skill as a businessman.

No one could believe he was only 19, he was so like a more experienced man. And he employed seven people at his own factory, at a time when work is very rare here in Gaza.”

The Dogmoush family is one of Gaza’s largest. Some of its more extreme elements were responsible for last year’s kidnapping of Alan Johnston, the BBC journalist, but Khalil clearly belonged to the mainstream part of the family.

He was so successful that not only did he own a small car pimped out with tinted windows and go-faster stripes, he also had enough money to afford fuel (cooking gas for an engine that had converted because of petrol shortages) at inflated prices. Listening to music as he tooled down Salahadin Street, Gaza’s main north-south axis, he might not even have heard the sound of fighting.

Mahmoud and Khalil came from starkly different backgrounds, but the Israeli war machine is no respecter of class. It was the sight of a press Jeep near Mughraqe that first caught Mahmoud’s attention.

He had walked home from school and eaten a late salad lunch before strolling over to the eastern edge of the village where it is bordered by Salahadin Street. He was with a friend, Mohammed abu Shalouf, 18, who had an old mountain bike that he used to ride to school. Mohammed was hanging back a bit, perhaps sensing something was wrong, happy for Mahmoud to wheel the bike.

The Jeep was owned by Reuters. Clearly marked as a press car, they were seeking a vantage point from which to film Israeli forces.

“I saw the Jeep stop where there is a view over the fields and the guys got out and set up their tripod and their camera,” said Mahmoud. “A couple of boys from the village walked right up to the cameraman, but I was still about 50 metres away.”

Parents across Gaza tire of telling their children not to go outside during fighting, but they also tire of their children ignoring them. What else could be as interesting as watching fighting from a safe distance, say the kids. The problem is that with the tactics used by Israel in the cramped conditions of Gaza, there is rarely a truly safe distance.

The Reuters cameraman, Fadel Shana, 24, filmed the tank that killed him.
On his film you can clearly see the muzzle flash from the tank about 1,500 yards away. And two seconds later, just before the film dies, you can see something dark exploding above Fadel. He died instantly. The two boys who Mahmoud saw next to the tripod were also killed in the blast.

“I heard the first explosion, dropped the bicycle and fell to the ground,” said Mahmoud. “I had cuts on my neck and chest, but I could move, so I started crawling away.”

It was just as he passed Mahmoud crawling back along the asphalt that the second tank shell exploded.
Blood can be seen on the front of his white shirt in the photograph that was taken in the seconds after the second tank shell detonated. Mahmoud was also hit by a flechette.

Doctors managed to remove two pieces of shrapnel from Mahmoud’s neck and chest that night. An orthopaedic specialist, Dr Ahmed Akram, said the flechette had already caused extensive nerve damage and if Mahmoud walks again he would do so with a limp.

They buried Khalil on Thursday after midday prayers. Hundreds of Dogmoush family members gathered outside the five-storey apartment building where his family have lived for decades.

His 90-year-old grandfather, for whom the boy was named, has lived through three foreign occupations of Gaza, two wars and decades of violent insurgency and he used to boast that he had never cried in public. At the sight of his grandson’s corpse, he fell to the ground and wailed.

Last Wednesday’s incident might just be a footnote in the bloody history of Gaza, but for those affected it was the day their lives changed for ever. -Daily Telegraph


Gazans caught in crossfire

GAZA(AFP) - People in the besieged Gaza Strip are trapped in the crossfire of a fuel war between Israel and the Islamist movement Hamas, which rules the impoverished Palestinian territory, analysts say.

On Thursday, a lack of petrol led the UN agency for Palestinian refugees to suspend distribution of aid, on which a majority of the 1.5 million population relies, as Israel maintains a crippling blockade aimed at forcing militants to stop firing rockets on the country.

Israel and Hamas blame each other for the worsening humanitarian crisis.
Hamas claims the siege is intended to break the back of the movement, which seized power in June after ousting forces loyal to moderate Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Israel claims that Hamas is orchestrating fuel shortages for propaganda reasons.


      What’s the matter with Tibet?     

Canadian writer Lisa Carducci wrote an article entitled “What’s the matter with Tibet?” for China Daily, a Beijing-based English newspaper, explaining why people outside China usually have a prejudice against Tibet. Here is the full text of the article, which was published on April 22:

It is one thing to be interested in Tibet, as most of my acquaintances are. It is another to have totally prejudiced views, which unfortunately is the case with most of them.

Only a handful are honest enough to hold their opinions until they visit Tibet and see things with their own eyes. Some others hear only what they want to hear and what doesn’t disturb their “Tibetan imagination”.

Here is an example. A Canadian friend of mine, a university professor, went to Tibet in May 1997. He later told me that his group had been sent away from a Tibetan restaurant by the police and directed to a Han establishment.

The reason, according to him, was racism, an attempt to “break” the “Tibetan nation”. His immediate analysis - before he understood a word of what was going on - was obviously based on prejudice.

I was not there and didn’t see what happened. But after discussing the fact with Han and Tibetan people who knew better, we all concluded that the real cause might have been one or more of the following: the owner of the Tibetan restaurant had no permit; he had not paid his taxes; the place was not hygienic enough for foreigners; the owner and the policeman had a personal dispute; or the owner was trafficking ancient tangka, a kind of Tibetan painting.

We also tend to assume that all Tibetans are the same and feel and act the same way. Far from it. Those I met in Tibet or in Xiahe county of Gansu province seem not interested in politics. They live happily and quietly, and have no complaints about the central government as long as their lives continue to prosper year after year.

At the village of Tashiling in Nepal, instead, the Tibetan women I chatted with for two hours at the market had different stories to tell.

The major difference between them and the Tibetans living in China is that the Tibetans in Nepal think that “the Hans invaded Tibet and forced them to flee the country”.

The woman who spoke better Chinese and served as an interpreter for the group said: “When our country is free, we’ll go back immediately and get good jobs! Do you think this is a life, what we do here? Commerce!”

I took pity on her because she seemed to have been completely swayed by anti-China propaganda. I told her that all the Tibetans I had met earlier knew very well what the central government of China had done for them and appreciated it.

“I’m sorry to tell you,” I said, “that you fool yourself if you think that your Tibetan fellows inside the country think the same way you do and support your efforts for independence.”
She stared at me, her eyes wide open. “Have you ever been to Tibet?”

“Of course! If not, how could I speak like this?” She remained silent a moment, then said: “Every year on March 10, the Tibetans of the world march for independence. If you go to Tibet on that day, you’ll see the Chinese army killing so many people in the streets.”

If there was any truth in her words, I thought, I must have been transported to another planet.
“We have seen photos, and videos,” she continued. “Every year we see them.”

“Who took these photos?”
“Foreigners. From other places.”
I calmed down, before asking: “Are you sure these photos and films were taken recently? They may be from the ‘cultural revolution’ period when Tibetans just as other Chinese suffered and were treated badly. Or during the civil rebellion in 1959? Might you not have been deceived? Maybe they show you the same pictures year after year? Maybe the photos were altered?”
As a spokesperson of her group, she turned around, and said: “It’s possible, but we have no means of checking.”

“Might these activist friends of the Dalai Lama,” I continued, “be the authors of the photocopied letters on the board at the village entrance, issued by ‘His Holiness Dalai Lama’s office’? And the inscription ‘Chinese, leave’, who do you think wrote it?”

I explained to them all the changes that had happened in Tibet and talked about all the money invested by the central government into reconstruction and development, the progress in education, the religious freedom, the improvement of health, society, life, and they were astonished. Apparently, no one had ever spoken to them like this.
“Do you believe me?” I asked.

“I believe you because you are a foreigner,” said the woman, “not a member of the communist party. Are you?”
“You can trust me. I tell you only what I have seen. Tibet is a beautiful and peaceful place where people sing while they work, where people smile and enjoy life.”

The younger ones among them were born in Nepal; others had fled Tibet to go to Nepal in the 1950s and never returned to Tibet. They have no passports; of course they cannot enter China.

I then visited a temple where a young 17-year-old monk said that his greatest aspiration was to see Tibet. He thought monks were arrested, jailed or even killed in China, his thought based on the fact that his friend went there and never returned.

“I’ll tell you something, young man. Your friend may have been arrested because he entered a country illegally. But if you never heard from him after that, don’t you think he might have accomplished his great desire: to see Tibet. He may be living in a monastery there!”

He bowed his head and said, “I wish I had such a chance!”
Finally, I realized that the Tibetans outside Tibet are the victims not only of ignorance but of a well-organized campaign of misinformation. And it struck me that it may be the same for the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama, who left the country when he was still very young and under the influence of a group, and never saw Tibet with his own eyes later in life to be able to judge things for himself, is also a poor victim - much like the woman at the village market.
Source: Xinhua


                China keeps up Dalai Lama attacks despite talks pledge           

BEIJING (AFP) - China’s media kept up its attacks on the Dalai Lama on Saturday, with state press accusing him of destabilising Tibet just a day after Beijing agreed to open talks with his aides.

The country’s official Xinhua news agency announced on Friday that government officials would meet “in coming days” with an envoy of Tibet’s spiritual leader.

The announcement drew praise from the United States and around the world amid hope it could lead to a solution to recent Tibetan unrest.

But the People’s Daily, which ran only a brief item on the announcement, gave no indication that China had softened its stance, running several scathing pieces on the Dalai Lama.

“The Dalai Lama clique has used all means possible to wreck the stability and development of Tibet,” the People’s Daily, the ruling Communist Party’s main mouthpiece, said in an article headlined “Their actions seriously violate Buddhist teachings.”

It went on to say: “The Dalai Lama, the self-proclaimed ‘religious leader’, is actually the chief ringleader of activities to sabotage the normal religious order of Tibet.”

The paper also accused him and his supporters of spreading the “false rumour” that China oppresses Tibetan Buddhism and of conspiring to turn world opinion against China.