A portrait of life and death in Gaza
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
The Jeep was owned by Reuters. Clearly marked as a press car,
they were seeking a vantage point from which to film Israeli
“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
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
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
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
What’s the matter with Tibet?
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
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
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
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.