Chaos in Gaza: A family’s story

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Life in Gaza has become intolerable for many families, as factional fighting worsens and Israel follows Palestinian rocket fire with a series of deadly air raids.

Al Jazeera spoke to a Palestinian-American family about what they have faced in recent weeks, including a kidnapping and an air raid metres from their home.

Shelly Smith lives in Zeytoun, a suburb of Gaza City, and works as an English teacher and in support of Palestinian refugee rights.

She has seven children, of whom several remain with her in Gaza, including her son Aladean, 16, and her 13-year-old daughter, who are both pupils in local schools.

Aladean, 16, student

I was outside with my friends [during the recent clashes] and we were going to see another friend in Gaza City.

“There was a whole bunch of guys wearing Fatah clothes but I realised they were actually Hamas… they started asking ‘who are you with?'”

Aladean, Palestinian studentOn the way there a car came and picked us up and took us to a building.

When I looked inside there was a whole bunch of guys wearing Fatah clothes but I realised they were actually Hamas.

They started asking me and my friends: “Who do you work with, who are you with?”

I said: “I’m not with anyone”, but one guy asked me: “Why not?”

Then one friend of mine, who looked at their uniforms and thought they must be Fatah, said he was with Fatah, and they started beating him up.

One man asked me again, are you with Fatah?

I said no again, and he told me to wait, then he went inside [another room] to talk to one of his leaders. I saw the leader look at me and say: “Go.”

Then the man comes back, gets his gun, puts a bullet in the chamber and says: “Run.”

I didn’t want to run so I walked, and as soon I turned the corner I ran to a phone to call my parents.

Civil war?

I don’t have too many problems here, as people know me – but it is a problem that I am American. Both myself and my brother – who has since left – have been kidnapped before.

The [Israeli] air attacks are nerve-racking, when a rocket falls it feels like the whole house is going to fall down and the whole street is full of smoke

Yesterday one fell on the street nearby, we heard the ambulances and people were wounded. I feel like I want to get out of here.

Gaza doesn’t have a good future. Can we have one united government? Never, there’s too much corruption. People are starving here – you go to a neighbour’s home for help, but they themselves have nothing.

I think it’s going to be a civil war here. Every country has had one and afterwards a country can get stronger, like America. But it looks like there won’t be one here as the Israelis will stop it.

Shelly Smith, 42, teacher

The house that the Israelis struck last night [Sunday] was simply a house – not a factory or a militant meeting place. It was a neighbour at the end of my street.

Children, the parents and teenagers were injured – not militants.

The [local] Shifah Hospital was packed and conditions are horrible. They appear to me to be understaffed and the sanitation of the place is extremely poor, the smell sickening.

Some of the cleaning and nursing staff feel let down because salaries promised to them haven’t been paid.

They continue to work out of the sense of duty towards their fellow countrymen no matter which side they were on. The hospital has been lucky enough to get blood donations from friends and families of the injured.

Emergency plans

My 13-year-old daughter is at school – she walks there with a small group with other neighborhood girls. When things were normal they would buy an ice cream on the way home.

But when I asked her what worries her most about all that is going on and she said that maybe one of us won’t come home and she wouldn’t know how to find us.

I told her that Gaza is small and if anything happened someone would call here or her aunt … [but] I worry about her at school now because of the bombings.

Most schools are clearly identifiable from the air and ground as schools, but that didn’t stop the bombing of a school in 2005. We have talked about what things we would do if something bad happened at our school, work and home and have made emergency plans.

This whole week I have not been to work, hopefully tomorrow I can return. We’ve been staying inside, but my son keeps sneaking out to see what’s going on.

Kidnapping fears
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Before the air raids the helicopters would come and you wonder – is it our building or the next? They hover and go around the targets. If not these, you hear the jets fly over once or twice before releasing their payload.

The anticipation is the worst, even though you know [it] will happen. You think – is it someone you know?

My nerves are shot from this. I would like to be back in the States but have reasons for being here.

I worry about kidnappings, but everyone knows me, I’ve been here two years, am not involved in the government and want to help people, so they leave me alone.

Since we have come here the Israelis began using unmanned drones, then there was the Lebanese war … it seems like a cycle of violence and something needs to be done.

Now [Palestinians here] are fighting against their own, whether they have a red or a green flag, against their cousins and their friends.
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Source: Al Jazeera


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