“Water, Wateréwe only want a little water for the thirsty children at home,” said Hajja Badriya Sufyan to a number of journalists able to get to her house on Nablus’ Jerusalem Street. That was on April 11, the eighth day of the Israeli invasion of the city and the strictly imposed curfew.
“We are 23 people in this house and the water has run out. There isn’t even enough to wet our throats,” she went on. Her eyes pled.
Hajja Badriya had prepared for the expected invasion. She had stored extra water in every available container in the house. But she hadn’t counted on the demolition of a nearby apartment building and its 15 homes on the fourth day of the invasion. When the residents fled the Israeli demolition, Hajja Badriya took in three more families. The additional people in her house quickly finished her carefully reserved water. They then resorted to searching the streets for pipes broken by passing Israeli tanks.
Fifty-five-year-old Sukayna Hindiya, owner of the apartment building, said the soldiers held guns to the residents to get them to leave their homes. They were held more than 200 meters away as missiles were fired at the building, then explosives set to complete the destruction. Despite watching the walls cave in on top of their furniture and personal belongings, the residents said they felt lucky compared to other Palestinians whose homes were demolished over their heads.
Three families from the Shuabi clan were nearly wiped out when Israeli forces bulldozed their house without warning. Among the mangled steel and broken concrete, 49-year-old Sameer Shuabi, his wife Nabila, who was seven months pregnant, and their three children Abdallah, 8, Azzam, 6, and Anas, 4, all lost their lives. Also among those buried alive were his aging 85-year-old father, Omar, and his sisters Fatemah, 55, and Abeer, 36.
The Shabi family lived in the Qasbah area of Nablus, in the western end of the neighborhood that saw the fiercest fighting. Due to the curfew, no search for the family commenced until eight days after their home lay in ruins. Two elderly Palestinians, Sameer’s uncle and his wife, were found and pulled barely alive from the rubble.
Omar Shuabi’s son, Mahmoud, lives in another Nablus neighborhood. He was told of the demolition of his family home, but was unable to get to the area until eight days later when the curfew was lifted for three hours for the first time.
“I was not able to call my family or their neighbors, either, because the phone lines were cut,” says Mahmoud. “People were telling me that the soldiers were taking people out of their homes before demolishing them, so I was confident that they were all right.” But when he began searching in vain for his family, it slowly dawned on him that they likely were still inside.
Mahmoud began a race against time to save the family of 10. He called everyone he knew who might be able to help him in the rescue work. For 16 hours, the search went on, despite a renewed Israeli curfew in the city. Only two members of the family were miraculously pulled out alive.
It was during the rescue work, as Palestinians pulled the bodies of women, children and elderly people out of the Shuabi home, that United States Secretary of State Colin Powell announced the postponement of a scheduled Ramallah meeting with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, after a bombing operation in Jerusalem on April 13. This family, in particular, took the news bitterly.
“The murder of my family under the rubble of their home and the way that the world handled this ugly crime only proves once again that only God will help us,” says Mahmoud.
“If Jews had been killed in this fashion, the world would have been turned upside down. But because the victims are Palestinian, the world is silent.”
Although most of the houses slated for demolition by Israeli forces were evacuated beforehand, the Shuabi family was given no warning. The neighbors believe that the Israelis had begun to demolish one part of the building, when the second half collapsed on its own.
“But this does not free the soldiers from their murder – it only reinforces it,” says Mahmoud, emphatically. “Why didn’t the [Israeli] authorities inform the Palestinian side that the building had collapsed so a search for survivors could begin?”
Some homes that were dynamited also took surrounding homes with them. The collapse of the seven-story Hindiya building overlooking the Balata Refugee Camp sent tremors throughout the entire neighborhood, evacuated by soldiers prior to the demolition. The building collapsed over a local car dealership, damaging 24 shiny new Subaru automobiles set out for display.
Initial findings show that the occupying Israeli soldiers demolished dozens of homes and buildings in Nablus City and its refugee camps, expelling the residents that had sought shelter inside during the invasion that began on April 3. Schools, shops, archeological sites, courtyards and markets were also targeted in the seemingly systematic Israeli campaign.
The Hadadin market – one of Nablus’ most famous souqs – has been erased from existence and the majority of stores and facilities in the commercial district have also been ruined. The Fatimiya preparatory school for girls, the Ras Al Ein kindergarten and the Khadra’ mosque were also demolished by rampaging Israeli troops.
But bulldozers were not the only menace to life and livelihood during the Israeli invasion. A number of people were killed in buildings and homes that collapsed over their heads after they were hit by missiles or shells fired from helicopters and tanks.
Fifty-six-year-old Sidqiya Okasha was killed and three members of her family injured when a missile from a helicopter overhead hit their home in the Old City of Nablus on the very first day of the invasion. Reports continue to circulate of people under the rubble of houses rocketed in the first six days of the Israeli attack.
One man in the Ras Al Ein neighborhood says he and his family ran terrified from their home when they saw parts of it collapsing inwards under the weight of an encroaching Israeli bulldozer. Adnan Qassem, 45, and his wife and children fled.
“When the driver of the bulldozer saw us running out, he reversed a few meters so we could pass. Then he finished his mission,” remembers Qassem. The entire front wall of the house was torn down and its furniture and belongings sit exposed to the skies, now covered in dirt and dust.
Those who lost their homes were then forced to find refuge elsewhere. On the fifth day of the invasion – the fourth in the full-scale attack on the Old City – dozens of bodies had accumulated in a mosque turned into an impromptu emergency center. Other corpses lay strewn in the Old City streets and alleys as the Israeli army occupying the area denied access to medical teams from the Red Crescent and International Red Cross. Tens of wounded went untended, some 20 of these described as critically injured.
Only on that day was a group of foreign journalists allowed to enter the Old City, where they were met by the smell of bodies decaying in the mosque and in the streets, images reminiscent of the Sabra and Shatilla massacre in Lebanon’s refugee camps 20 years ago.
Four men in the early throes of death writhed in one part of the mosque. Tens of others were wounded with injuries ranging from light to critical, said doctor Zuhra Al Wawi, who was supervising the center.
Inside the mosque, renamed the “field hospital” during the siege, the wounded told reporters how they had been subjected to fierce shelling and firing from helicopters and tanks.
“They were spraying down death from their heavy weaponry,” said one young man who had lost his left hand. Abed Taqtuq said he was hit while with friends in the Old City. The bullet tore into his hand right above the wrist, severing it completely from his body.
Those inside the mosque said that Israeli soldiers had just raided it only hours before the reporters’ arrival. The soldiers interrogated the wounded, beating them and threatening them in the process. One injured man said a soldier placed his heavy boot on his chest. “You will die here. We will not let you get to a hospital for treatment,” the soldier told him.
The 15 reporters were so moved by the horrendous tales told by the men, that they agreed to escort them out of the mosque. Dying men were then carried out of the Old City on stretchers and vegetable carts and on the shoulders of rescue workers. Decomposing bodies were also removed from the area. The day before, 14 people killed in the fighting had been buried in the only resting place available – a nearby garden.