Faulty Intelligence, Wanton Recklessness, or a Combination of the Two

(As originally posted to Livewire)

1 February 2009: A 13-year-old girl who was asleep in her bed; three primary school-age boys who were carrying sugar canes; two young women on their way to a shelter in search of safety; a 13-year-old boy on his bicycle; eight secondary school students who were waiting for the school bus to take them home; an entire family sitting outside their home – these are among the many victims of missiles fired from Israeli UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), commonly known as drones.

Here in Gaza people call the drones “zannana”, an onomatopoeic description reflecting the buzzing sound that they emit as they fly overhead. Their main function is surveillance, but, in recent years, Israeli forces have also used them to fire missiles, often to assassinate “wanted” Palestinians.

An Israeli journalist told us that the military censor does not permit Israeli media to publish any reference to strikes by drones. These missiles seem to be very precise, with a relatively small but concentrated radius. Yet, they have killed or injured hundreds of civilians, including many children, though the reason for this – whether due to faulty intelligence, wanton recklessness, or a combination of the two – is unclear.

In many of the cases we investigated, we found a consistent pattern: each missile is packed with tiny metal cubes that increase its lethal effect. These are blasted with extreme force, penetrating through metal doors and steel pylons and embedding deep into concrete walls.

Today, we visited the place where a missile fired from a drone killed two women and three children from the same family on the morning of 15 January. It was in a Bedouin village on the outskirts of Beit Lahiya, in north Gaza. Those killed were three children, their mother and their grandmother.

The family’s home had been destroyed some 10 days earlier by the blast from a powerful air strike that apparently targeted a nearby tunnel. After this, the family had gone to stay with relatives across the road. The two women and three children were killed by the missile when they returned to the remains of their home to retrieve some of their possessions.

Earlier, we investigated several other cases in the Khan Yunis area, in the south of the Gaza Strip. There, the latest drone attack had occurred on 29 January, despite the 11-day-old ceasefire, in the centre of Khan Yunis.

The target, it seems, were two suspected Palestinian militants who were riding a motorcycle. They were hit and injured, but so too were 16 civilians, almost all of them children, as might have been predicted considering the location and time of the missile strike.

It was launched at a point opposite the hospital, only a few metres distant from the entrance to a UN primary school and directly in front of a row of food stalls. The attack was launched at 11.30am, just as children were leaving school at the end of the morning lessons.

On 2 January, three boys from the al-Astal family – eight-year-old Abderrabbo, his brother Mohammed, aged 11, and Abd-al-Sattar al-Astal, also just 11 – were killed by a missile fired from a drone while collecting sugar cane in al-Qarara, north-east of Khan Yunis. At the scene, we again found metal posts peppered with the signature square holes from the shrapnel blasted from the drone missile.

Another characteristic of these missiles is a small hole that penetrates deep into the ground, leaving few remains. We asked to borrow a shovel from local farmers in order to dig down and try to recover any remains from the missile. At this, some village youths stepped up enthusiastically and began to dig into the sandy ground.

Some six feet down, they recovered small parts of the circuit board and other shards of the missile. We urged the children’s family to hold on to these and keep them safe, as possible evidence to be considered in any future investigation.

Originally posted to Livewire by Donatella Rovera, Middle East & North Africa Researcher at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International in London

UN Pledges $613 Million in Aid for Gaza

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appealed in an interview at the World Economic Forum for the international community to contribute aid for food, water, sanitation, shelter, infrastructure support, and health care for Gaza:

“As you know, I recently visited Gaza. The civilian population has suffered greatly during three weeks of military operations. More than a third of the 6,600 dead and injured were children and women. As a father of three, I was especially troubled by their suffering and the psychological trauma so many families went through.

Help is indeed needed urgently: food, clean water, shelter, medicine, restoration of basic services. Everywhere I went, I saw the evidence of critical humanitarian needs. The population were already vulnerable because of so many months of severely restricted supplies. That is why the Humanitarian Flash Appeal for Gaza that we are announcing today is so timely and so important. With the help of this $ 613 million appeal, the United Nations and other aid agencies can jump into action to help the 1.4 million civilians in the Gaza Strip to recover.”

The emphasis on psychological trauma is particularly interesting, especially considering the civilian devastation, destruction of schools and the 2,267 children who were injured or killed in the conflict.  Psychological trauma in post conflict situations does not solely affect children. Men in Gaza also face long term psychological trauma following the violence and lack of opportunity.

In the light of the World Economic Forum and the global economic crisis, perhaps the largest long term threat to human rights and humanitarian aid is economic:

“The systemic and perpetual economic hindrances imposed upon the Palestinian economy by the Israeli occupation are viewed by most experts to be the primary impediment to allowing the Palestinian economy to reach its full potential. The World Bank has identified three principal “paralytic effects” of Israeli policies on the Palestinian economy: access to economies of scale, access to natural resources and access to an investment horizon. It also cited physical impediments — road blocks, closures, earth mounds and the ongoing construction of the wall on West Bank land […] — as a ‘paralysis confronting the Palestinian economy’.”

The paralysis, as UN humanitarian chief John Holmes suggests, is on the border:

“Unless all of them [border crossings] are effectively opened, we’re never going to be able to get enough supplies to Gaza.”

Attacks on Ambulance Workers

(As originally Posted to Livewire)

gaza-ambulance-missileTuesday, 27 January: Under the Geneva Conventions, medical personnel searching, collecting, transporting or treating the wounded should be protected and respected in all circumstances. Common Article 3 of the Conventions says that the wounded should be collected and cared for, including combatants who are hors de combat.

These provisions of international law have not been respected during the recent three-week conflict in the Gaza Strip. Emergency medical rescue workers, including doctors, paramedics and ambulance drivers, repeatedly came under fire from Israeli forces while they were carrying out their duties. At least seven were killed and more than 20 were injured while they were transporting or attempting to collect the wounded and the dead.

In one case Arafa Hani Abd-al-Dayam, a paramedic, was killed by flechettes, tiny metal darts packed 5-8,000 to a shell, which should never be used in civilian areas (see yesterday’s post).

On 4 January 2009, an ambulance arrived about 15 minutes after a missile strike in Beit Lahiya that apparently targeted five unarmed young men. It was hit a few minutes later by a tank shell filled with flechettes.

Two paramedics were seriously wounded in the incident. One of them, Arafa Hani Abd-al-Dayam, later died. Examining the wall of the shop beside where the ambulance had been, we found it pierced by hundreds of these darts.

In another case, three paramedics in their mid 20s – Anas Fadhel Na’im, Yaser Kamal Shbeir, and Raf’at Abd al-‘Al – were killed in the early afternoon of 4 January in Gaza City as they walked through a small field on their way to rescue two wounded men in a nearby orchard. A 12-year-old boy, Omar Ahmad al-Barade’e, who was standing near his home indicating to the paramedic the place where the wounded were, was also killed in the same strike.

Label on the remains of a missile that killed three paramedics and a child ©Amnesty International
We went to the scene of the incident with the two ambulance drivers who had accompanied the paramedics and who had witnessed the attack. There we met the child’s distraught mother and we found the remains of the missile that killed the three paramedics and the child. The label reads “guided missile, surface attack” and the USA is mentioned as the weapon’s country of provenance.

After the four were killed in the missile strike, their bodies could not be removed for two days as the ambulances crews who tried to approach the site again came under fire from Israeli forces and could not approach.gaza-missile-label

In yet another case, on 12 January, several ambulances arrived rapidly after a six-storey apartment building had been hit by two missiles. Local residents were already trying to evacuate bodies of wounded and dead from the upper floors.

Dr Issa Abdel Rahim Saleh and a paramedic, Ahmad Abdel Bari Abu Foul, were the first emergency medical workers at the scene and started evacuating the wounded. However, as they climbed down the stairs between the sixth and fifth floor an Israeli tank shell came through a window, slicing through the head and body of Dr Saleh who was standing on the landing.

With several ambulances in the street below, and paramedics plainly visible by their phosphorescent jackets, it must have been clear to the Israeli surveillance drones hovering above the area and the tank crews a few kilometres away in the Jabal Raiss area that there were medics in the house, yet they fired nevertheless.

Originally posted to Livewire by Donatella Rovera, Middle East & North Africa Researcher at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International in London

A Bloodstained Wall Full of Flechettes

(Originally posted on Livewire)

Monday January 26: The Israeli army’s use of white phosphorus in densely populated civilian areas of Gaza has captured much of the world’s media interest. However, the Israeli forces also used a variety of other weapons against civilian residential built-up areas throughout the Gaza Strip in the three-week conflict that began on 27 December.

Among these are flechettes – tiny metal darts (4cm long, sharply pointed at the front and with four fins at the rear) that are packed into120mm shells. These shells, generally fired from tanks, explode in the air and scatter some 5,000 to 8,000 flechettes in a conical pattern over an area around 300 metres wide and 100 metres long.

Flechettes are an anti-personnel weapon designed to penetrate dense vegetation and to strike a large number of enemy soldiers. They should never be used in built-up civilian areas.

The Israeli Army has used flechettes in Gaza periodically for several years. In most reported cases, their use has resulted in civilians being killed or injured. The last reported case was in April 2008, when Israeli soldiers fired a flechette shell at Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana while he was filming in Gaza, killing him.

He was filming the tank at the time and caught its firing of the flechette shell on camera in the split second before he was killed. Other civilians, including children, were killed and injured by the same flechette shell.

The Israeli Army said later that it had investigated the incident and concluded that its troops’ actions were justified – although the film footage of the incident showed clearly shows that Fadel Shana and others who were killed and injured were posing no threat to the soldiers in the tank when they fired the flechette shell, or to anyone else.

We first heard about the use of flechettes in the conflict that began on 27 December some 10 days ago. The father of one of the victims showed us a flechette that had been taken out of his son’s body.

Then, when we went to a Bedouin village in north Gaza, we saw several flechettes embedded in the walls of houses and residents told us that the street had been littered with them after the attack. Today, we found more hard evidence of their use in two other villages.

In ‘Izbat Beit Hanoun, to the south-west of the town of Beit Hanoun, several flechette shells were fired into the main road, killing two people and injuring several others on the morning of 5 January. Wafa’ Nabil Abu Jarad, a 21-year-old pregnant mother of two, was one of those killed.

Her husband and her mother-in-law told us that the family had just had breakfast and were outside the house drinking tea in the sun. Wafa’ and her husband were standing by the corner of the house when they heard a noise, followed by screams.

They turned to go back into their house, but, at that moment, Wafa’ and several other members of the family were hit by flechettes. Wafa’ was killed outright. Her two-year-old son, who was in the house, was struck by a flechette which became embedded in his right knee.

Wafa’s husband, Mohamed Khalil Abu Jarad, and his father were both injured in the back and other parts of the body. One of the flechettes that hit Mohamed Khalil Abu Jarad is still lodged in his back, close to his spinal cord. It was clearly visible in an X-ray that he showed to us. Doctors have not attempted to remove it as they fear that he could be left paralyzed.

At the other end of the same street, we visited the house of 16-year-old Islam Jaber Abd-al-Dayem, who was hit on the same day by a flechette that struck him in the neck. He was taken to the hospital’s ICU (intensive care unit) but died three days later.

Mizar, his brother, was injured in the same attack and still has a flechette lodged in his back. We found flechettes embedded in the walls of these and several other houses nearby – the tiny darts explode out of their shell with such force that sometimes only the fins at the back are left sticking out when they become embedded in walls.

In the village of al-Mughraqa, a few kilometres south of Gaza City, dozens of houses were destroyed or damaged by Israeli bombardments and shelling. Most residents of the area fled from their homes when the Israeli ground incursion began on 3 January. But some did not, with tragic consequences.

They included Atta Hassan Aref Azzam, who feared that if he left his home it would be destroyed. He decided to stay. He and his family remained inside their house because there was frequent shelling and shooting in the area, only going out to fetch water.

At 8.30 am on 7 January, a shell struck the room in which Atta Azzam was sitting with two of his children, Mohammed, aged 13, and Hassan, aged two and a half, killing all three of them. The six other members of the family who were in the house fled to the nearest school for shelter. When we examined the bloodstained wall by which the three were killed, we saw that it was full of flechettes.

– Originally posted to Livewire by Donatella Rovera, Middle East & North Africa Researcher at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International in London

AIUSA Letter to George Mitchell

In a letter posted today to newly dispatched Middle East Envoy, AIUSA made the following recommendations:

Amnesty International urges the US to support the establishment of a comprehensive independent international inquiry set up by the UN and preferably by the Security Council  into all allegations of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups participating in the conflict. An international fact-finding team of qualified experts should carry out its investigations on the basis of the highest international standards. It must have powers to gain access to all relevant documents, other evidence and persons, and its report and findings must be public so that follow-action can be taken. The US must not fail to respond to domestic and worldwide expressions of concern that international humanitarian and human rights law must be upheld in Gaza, that accountability for violations be established and that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

In other news, President Barack Obama gave his first televised interview since entering office with the Dubai based TV station Al Arabiya. In his interview, he spoke directly to citizens of Muslim majority countries, and highlighted the importance of resolving the Israeli Palestinian conflict. For a complete transcript of his interview, please see here

Silence Is Betrayal

Over 10 years ago, I worked in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. As a legal advisor, I researched Israeli policy and practice of demolishing the homes of Palestinians. In the night, bulldozers would appear before a Palestinian home and raze it to the ground. Often, the occupants were able to flee in their nightclothes. Sometimes, they could not. I stood in countless piles of rubble during my time there, witness to inhumane and senseless destruction. One of my most harrowing visits to the crumbled ruins of a 92 year-old woman’s home haunted me for many nights. In dreams, as she had in life, she clung to me sobbing, “Please help us. Please help us. Please.”

I was there as part of an interfaith peace initiative that placed budding lawyers in the OPT, with the hope that by bearing witness to the human rights atrocities, we would return to the U.S. and shed light on shaded perception. It was an optimistic initiative, counting on us Jews, Muslims and Christians to reach beyond our identities into our shared responsibility for justice. Where this happens, I find the greatest hope.

After the past weeks, hope in the OPT is in short supply, but it came again when I received an email from my dear friend, Michael Ratner. It is not a message from a Jew to a Muslim about a holiday honoring a Christian. It is a message about the deep principles of justice and mutual obligation to shed loyalties to labels and honor that which is fundamentally human. Human rights have no tribe, no religion, no skin color, no ethnicity and no price tag. Its only loyalty is to the principle that we are each owed the dignity of an even, humane standard.

In these days, the situation in the OPT can sometimes feel overwhelmingly bleak, if you need a little hope, listen to King’s speech and read Michael’s words.

A note from Michael Ratner:

On the celebration of King’s birth I often read or listen to the anti-war speech that he gave at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967—A Time to Break the Silence. It was a powerful statement of his opposition to the Vietnam War. He spoke of how he was told to not oppose the war because his opposition would anger President Johnson and harm the civil rights movement. He was warned that “Peace and Civil rights don’t mix.” King admitted he held back because of this possible consequence for too long and failed to speak out earlier.

I bring this up today when I think about Israel’s recent invasion of Gaza. While we are celebrating King’s birth and the inauguration of Barack Obama, Israel invaded Gaza killing over 1200 people, men women and children, and injured thousands. It targeted UN buildings, homes, mosques, police stations, universities and media outlets. Thirteen Israeli soldiers were killed—a ratio of one hundred Palestinians for each Israeli. The international law violations have been well documented: disproportionate military force, attacks on civilian targets, collective punishment. The killings of the three daughters of a Palestinian doctor gave a face to those killed in way that numbers could not. Members of my broader family knew the doctor, had visited him in Gaza and heard from during the Israeli onslaught. He was terrified for his family, but had no way out.

When I heard the news of the murders of the doctor’s children I was at the Sundance film festival and had just viewed an amazing and moving film about radical lawyer Bill Kunstler called Disturbing the Universe. The film shows Bill in Chicago during the 1969 Chicago 8 trial. During the time of the trial Black Panther leader Fred Hampton was murdered by the Chicago police. Bill was appalled by the murder, but he did not just blame the Chicago police. He blamed himself and all white Americans. For it was white Americans that for too long had remained silent and accepted the pervasive racism and the murder of Blacks in our society.
This brings me to Gaza and role of American Jews and, in fact, of almost all Americans. For too long, and I do not exempt myself, most of us have stood silently by or made only a marginal protests about the massive violations of Palestinian rights carried out by Israel. I recall a conversation I had some years ago with the political artist Leon Golub, famous for his outsized oil paintings of torture carried out by American mercenaries in Central America. Leon told me that he had been invited to attend a panel to address what it meant to be a Jewish political artist. He said he had never thought of himself as a “Jewish political artist” but only as a “political artist.” Then he thought some more. Of the works of art he had made, none concerned Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. And then he knew, at least for himself and probably many others: to be a “Jewish political artist” was to be an artist who avoided depicting the horrors inflicted on Palestinians. Of course, that is true for more than just artists. Many Jews who are very involved in human rights, ending poverty and war, and fighting for the underdog avoid criticism of Israel. They wrongly think that human rights are divisible; or that like ostriches they can hide their heads and pretend not to see what is clearly staring them in the face and makes them uncomfortable: the inhuman treatment of Palestinians.

Some of our willful blindness and refusal to act is a result of our ambivalence about condemning the actions of a people that have experienced pervasive antisemitism and the holocaust. Some of our hesitation to act results from the condemnation and opprobrium anyone, but especially Jews, encounter with even mild criticisms of Israel. Organizations that take a position against Israeli actions subject themselves to a loss of funding from foundations and individuals. Few can afford to do so. As long as this silence continues, so will the U.S. billions in aid and arms that facilitates the killings of Palestinians. As long as this silence continues, more and more settlements will be built. As long as this silence continues, there will be more and more Gazas and more and more children murdered.

The lesson here is simple, but difficult to act on. We are, each of us, responsible for the murders in Gaza. Our silence is betrayal. Each time we hesitate to speak out; each time we moderate our condemnation we become accomplices in killing. The time, if there ever was one, to show courage is now. Yes it will be difficult for many. As King said about the reluctance of some to oppose the Vietnam War:

“Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainly; but we must move on.

We must take King’s words to heart. We, each of us, “must move on.” We must begin somewhere even if it just means saying the issue is not off our agenda. Begin the discussion; begin to act; show that you care. And remember, “A Time Comes When Silence is Betrayal.” That time has come.

"Come on Auntie Beeb…Get on With It!

The BBC continues to draw sharp criticism for its refusal to air a charity event for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The famed UK station refused to air an emergency appeal put on by the Disaster Emergency Appeal (DEC) stating that it did not want to appear to be “backing one side over the other,” in the words of BBC director Mark Thompson. In a blog entry on the BBC site, Thompson wrote, “The danger for the BBC is that this could be interpreted as taking a political stance on an ongoing story.”

More than 50 MPs have written to the BBC urging it to reverse its decision and to air the fundraiser by DEC, an umbrella group that includes notable charities such as Oxfam, Save the Children, and the Red Cross. Criticism has also poured in celebrities such as Oscar nominee Samantha Morton who, according to the BBC, said “she was embarrassed to earn money from a corporation that would take such a ‘horrific’ and ‘disgusting’ decision.” Joining this chorus of criticism was Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York who recently said “Come on Auntie Beeb. Wake up and get on with it.”

Protests outside the BBC have been held and the BBC has recieved over 10,000 emails urging the BBC to air the program. Two prominent journalists unions in England called the decision “cowardly and in danger of being seen as politically motivated” and added “far from avoiding the compromise of the BBC’s impartiality, this move has breached those same BBC rules by showing a bias in favour of Israel at the expense of 1.5 million Palestinian civilians suffering an acute humanitarian crisis.”

The Guardian reports that “fury” is building at the BBC over this decision and quoted one annoymous BBC staffer as saying, “Feelings are running extremely high and there is widespread disgust at the BBC’s top management. There is widespread anger and frustration at the BBC’s refusal to allow people to speak out about it.”

Meanwhilte Sky News has come to the BBC’s defense and refused to air the charity appeal for Gaza as well. John Ryley, the head of Sky News, defended their decision, saying “That is why, after very careful consideration, we have concluded that broadcasting an appeal for Gaza at this time is incompatible with our role in providing balanced and objective reporting of this continuing situation to our audiences in the UK and around the world.”

The BBC’s decision is bound to disappoint the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the largest humanitarian actor in Gaza, who described the “huge and overwhelming need” for aid in Gaza. Chris Gunness, UNRWA spokesman, said the estimated cost of “rehabilitation and repair” was $345m, with $230m unfunded. “We are massively underfunded, and I think the figures involve illustrate the sheer scale of the need involved here,” he said.

UPDATE: Click here to watch the video that the BBC and Sky News refused to show

60 Minutes: Are Israelis and Palestinians giving up on two state solution?

In a moving piece on 60 Minutes last night, CBS correspondent Bob Simon interviewed both Israelis and Palestinians and asked if hope was fading for a two state solution.

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, a former candidate for Palestinian president, said his optimism was waning. “While my heart still wants to believe that the two-state solution is possible, my brain keeps telling me the opposite because of what I see in terms of the building of settlements. So, these settlers are destroying the potential peace for both people that would have been created if we had a two-state solution,” he said.

A central contention concerns the building of settlements–many on land formerly held by Palestinians–which has fragmented and reduced Palestinian land owernship.  Daniella Weiss moved to the West Bank from Israel 33 years ago and now serves as the may of a large settlement.  Saying she was determined to “to hold strong to the soil of the Holy Land,” Weiss acknowledged that part of the reason for the settlements was in blocking a Palestinian state from emerging.  “I think that settlements prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state in the land of Israel.  This is the goal. And this is the reality,” she said.

For Barghouti, the settlements represent a way to control–and even humiliate–Palestinians. 60 Minutes reported:

Israel’s invasion of Gaza – all the death and destruction – convinces him that Israel does not want a two-state solution. “My heart is deeply broken, and I am very worried that what Israel has done has furthered us much further from the possibility of [a] two-state solution.”

Palestinians had hoped to establish their state on the West Bank, an area the size of Delaware. But Israelis have split it up with scores of settlements, and hundreds of miles of new highways that only settlers can use. Palestinians have to drive – or ride – on the older roads.

When they want to travel from one town to another, they have to submit to humiliating delays at checkpoints and roadblocks. There are more than 600 of them on the West Bank.

Asked why there are so many checkpoints, Dr. Barghouti said, “I think the main goal is to fragment the West Bank. Maybe a little bit of them can be justified because they say it’s for security. But I think the vast majority of them are basically to block the movement of people from one place to another.”

Here’s how they block Barghouti: he was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Jerusalem and worked in a hospital there for 14 years. Four years ago he moved to a town just 10 miles away, but now, because he no longer lives in Jerusalem, he can’t get back in – ever.

He says he can’t get a permit to go. “I asked for a permit to go to Jerusalem during the last year, the last years about 16 times. And 16 times they were rejected. Like most Palestinians, I don’t have a permit to go to the city I was born in, to the city I used to work in, to the city where my sister lives.

But even where Palestinians do have control over their homes and land, Israeli soldiers often take over these sites to conduct their operations. In the recent conflict in Gaza, Amnesty International criticized the Israeli government–and Hamas–for using human shields.  AI said that Israel often forced families to remain in their homes while Israeli soldiers used the these civilian sites as a sniper base. This may constitute a war crime because it deliberately puts civilians at risk. Simon exposes how this practice occurs even outside of the context of combat.  AI stated in a January 8, 2009 press release

“Our sources in Gaza report that Israeli soldiers have entered and taken up positions in a number of Palestinian homes, forcing families to stay in a ground floor room while they use the rest of their house as a military base and sniper position. This clearly increases the risk to the Palestinian families concerned and means they are effectively being used as human shields.”

60 Minutes echoes a similar story.

One house for example is the highest house on the highest hill overlooking the town of Nablus. 60 Minutes learned that Israeli soldiers often corral the four families who live there and take over the house to monitor movement down below.

Simon and the 60 Minutes team went to an apartment owned by a Mr. Nassif. That morning, Israeli soldiers had apparently entered the apartment, without notice, and remained there when Simon knocked on the door.

“We cannot speak with you, there are soldiers,” Nassif told Simon. “We are in prison here.”

Asked what was happening, Nassif says, “They are keeping us here and the soldiers are upstairs, we cannot move. We cannot speak with you.”

Nassif said he couldn’t leave the house and didn’t know how long he’d have to stay in place. Asked if they were paying him any money, he told Simon, “You are kidding?”

Abdul Nassif, a bank manager said he had to get to his bank to open the safe, but one of the soldiers wouldn’t let him go. He told 60 Minutes whenever the soldiers come they wake everybody up, and herd them into a kitchen for hours while soldiers sleep in their beds. They can’t leave or use the phone, or let 60 Minutes in.

UPDATE: If you wish to write to 60 Minutes to thank them for their story, you can email them at this address: 60m@cbsnews.com

On the ground in Gaza

An Amnesty International delegation recently entered Gaza shortly before Israeli attacks ended to document the true scale of devastation wrought on civilians.  Amnesty researcher Donatella Rovera has been keeping a dairy of their findings.  Here is a excerpt from an entry she posted earlier this week to Livewire:

Today, Tuesday, it seemed as though Gaza was beginning to draw a collective breath after the shock of the past three weeks of Israeli bombardments. The streets, previously deserted, filled up again and tens of thousands of people who had fled their homes for fear of Israeli attacks began returning to them. But thousands have no homes to which to return because so many were destroyed by Israeli forces.

In Gaza City’s Zaitoun neighbourhood, where scores of homes were flattened by Israeli air strikes and bulldozers women and children were rummaging through the rubble of their homes, trying to recover the little that could be salvaged.

At a mourning tent amidst the rubble the surviving member of the Sammouni family received condolences and recited prayers for their 29 relatives killed by Israeli forces. Salah Sammouni told us that Israeli soldiers had evicted them from their home, which they then used as a military base, and told them to stay in their relatives’ house across the road, only to bomb it the following day.

Some died on the spot, they said, while others were left to die, as the Israeli army did not allow the ambulances to approach the house to evacuate the wounded for several days.

We then visited the Qishqu and al-Daya families whose homes were both destroyed by Israeli bombardments. ‘Abdallah Qishqu, whose house was destroyed by an Israeli air strike on 28 December, told us that his wife, who was seriously injured in the attack, still does not know that their eight-year-old daughter, Ibtihal, was killed in the explosion together with their daughter-in-law, Maisa.

At the Shifa hospital, Gaza’s main hospital, the head of the Burns Unit told us that when the first patients with phosphorus burns were brought in, doctors in the Burns Unit did not realise what had caused the injuries.

“The first thing we noticed were cases with orange burns, different from the burns we are used to dealing with. They started with patches and after a while they would become deeper with an offensive odour and after several hours smoke started coming from the wound,” the doctor said.

“We had a child of three years with a head injury. After three hours we changed the dressing and saw smoke coming out of the wound. We opened the wound and brought out this wedge. We had not seen it before. Later on, some colleagues, doctors from Egypt and Norway, were able to enter Gaza and told us that this was white phosphorus.

“We noticed various things about this: the burn does not heal; the phosphorus may remain inside the body and goes on burning there, and the general condition of the patient deteriorates – normally with 10-15% burns, you would expect a cure, now many such patients die,” he said.

Other doctors from the hospital said they had seen patients with strange injuries that appeared to have been caused by unusual weapons (there is speculation that this may include Deep Inert Metal Explosive – DIME weapons) and which they did not know how to deal with. Patients who should be getting better were getting worse.

The Killing of Children in Gaza

Sir John Holmes, the UN humanitarian chief, said he was said he was shocked by “the systematic nature of the destruction” in Gaza.

Equally troubling are the reports about shooting and killing of children by Israel during the conflict. The BBC reports:

One of the most alarming features of the conflict in Gaza is the number of child casualties. More than 400 were killed. Many had shrapnel or blast injuries sustained as the Israeli army battled Hamas militants in Gaza’s densely populated civilian areas. But the head of neurosurgery at the El-Arish hospital, Dr Ahmed Yahia, told me that brain scans made it clear that a number of the child victims had been shot at close range. Samar’s uncle said the soldier who had shot his niece was just 15m (49ft) away. ”How could they not see they were shooting at children?”

There are othere reports that suggest that some parents were lined up and shot in front of their children. The Telegraph writes

One nine-year-old boy said his father had been shot dead in front of him despite surrendering to Israeli soldiers with his hands in the air.

Another youngster described witnessing the deaths of his mother, three brothers and uncle after the house they were in was shelled.

He said his mother and one of his siblings had been killed instantly, while the others bled to death over a period of days.

A psychiatrist treating children in the village of Zeitoun on the outskirts of Gaza City, where the alleged incidents took place, described the deaths as a “massacre”.

In a powerful video, the Guardian documents some of the horror experienced by children in Gaza. Clip here to watch the video.