On October 15, 2000, Abu was at home with his wife when Israeli settlers emerged on a shooting spree. He and his family fled to Khan Yunis. After four days he returned. He was hungry. There was no bread, no flour. He killed four pigeons and prepared a fire on which to grill them. The soldiers arrived suddenly, about 20 of them, and entered the house. He followed them upstairs. “Where are you going?” he asked. One smashed his head into a door, breaking his nose. They kicked him down the stairs and out of his house. They kicked half his teeth out and left him with permanent damage to his spine. “If you open your mouth we’ll shoot you,” they said. They left, returning in a bigger group an hour later, to occupy the top of his house, sealing the stairway with a metal door and razor wire. The family has lived in constant fear ever since. The soldiers urinated and defecated into empty Coke bottles and sandbags, hurling them into his courtyard. They menaced his children with their weapons. After two years of this an officer asked: “Why are you still here?” “It’s my house,” he replied.
For four years, Abu Saguer has been afraid to go out, afraid to leave his wife and children alone. He is a prisoner in his own home, just as the Palestinians are prisoners within their own borders. The facade of self-government is an absurdity. The Strip, with its 1.48m Palestinians, is a vast internment camp, the borders of which shrink as more and more demolition takes place, and within which the population rises faster than anywhere else in the world. Meanwhile, about 7,000 Israeli settlers live in oases of privileged segregation. This is a state of apartheid. It’s taken me less than a week to lose impartiality. In doing so, I may as well be throwing stones at tanks. For as MSF’s president, Jean-Hervé Bradol, has said, “The invitation to join one side or the other is accompanied by an obligation to collude with criminal forms of violence.”
The late Lieutenant-General Rafael Eitan, the former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), once likened the Palestinian people to “drugged cockroaches scurrying in a bottle”. In 1980 he told his officers: “We have to do everything to make them so miserable they will leave.” He opposed all attempts to afford them autonomy in the occupied territories. Twenty- five years on, it seems to me that his attitude and policy have been applied with great gusto. Every movement here in any of the so-called sensitive areas, which account for a large, ever-increasing proportion of the Strip (borders, settlements, checkpoints), is surveyed and reacted to by a system of watchtowers.
These sinister structures cast the shadows of malign authority across the land. On our third day, as we stood at the tattered edge of the refugee camp at Rafah, the forbidding borderland between Gaza and Egypt, bullets bit into the sand a yard and a half from where we stood. It was in this place â€” was it from the same watchtower? â€” that Iman el-Hams, a defenceless 13-year-old schoolgirl, had been shot just weeks before. She ran and tried to hide from the pitiless death that came for her. I felt her presence; the sky vibrating with the shallow, fluttering breath of her final terror.