As of 18 February 2009, DCI-Palestine has confirmed the deaths of 324 children, and is investigating a further 60 reports of child fatalities. This means that as many as 384 children could have been killed in Operation Cast Lead.
On 7 January 2009, Israeli forces entered and besieged the eastern part of Ezbet Abed Rabbo, east of Jabalia city in northern Gaza. In the early afternoon, around 12:30pm, Israeli tanks, bulldozers and military vehicles surrounded a five-storey building belonging to the Abed Rabbo family. The building consisted of eight apartments, which housed 28 members of the family, including 17 children.
The bulldozers razed the family’s nearby agricultural land while three Israeli tanks stationed themselves in the yard around the house. Israeli soldiers ordered the occupants to leave the building and addressing them through loudspeakers, they demanded “Everyone out!” in broken Arabic.
Khaled Abed Rabbo, his wife Kawthar, mother Suad and daughters Suad (9), Samar (4) and Amal (2) exited the building. All were carrying white flags except for Samar and Amal. Khaled’s six brothers refused to exit the building and remained inside with the rest of the extended family. The six family members who exited the building stood outside their home, Khaled and Kawthar in front, with Khaled’s mother and three daughters one metre behind. Khaled reported being surprised by the proximity of the tank standing only 10 metres away.
“I saw two soldiers standing outside of the tank. One of them was eating chips, and the other was eating chocolate. They kept looking at us, but without saying a word. A third soldier got out of the tank but stayed on it. He had a white complexion. He was wearing a gray cap, and he had his hair braided. He was carrying an M16 assault rifle. He had two or three stars on his shoulders, I can’t recall. He looked at us, pointing his gun, and then fired.”
Khaled says he heard more than 12 bullets fired at his family. His daughter Amal was struck in the chest. Suad was shot multiple times in the chest, almost ripping her small body in half. Samar too was struck in the chest and stomach, and left with two five-centimetre holes in her back where the bullets exited her body. His mother was also struck in her left arm and lower back and fell to the ground. Khaled further describes the horrific scene:
“He (the soldier) then began shooting over my head and in front of my feet. I felt he was forcing me to retreat to the house because of the bullets he was firing as if he was using them to give me directions. I retreated and quickly reached the front door of the house. Before reaching the door, I carried my daughters Samar and Amal amidst the gun fire. Feeling that he did not want to kill me, I carried them and entered the staircase, which was five metres away. My wounded and bleeding mother followed me. My wife Kawthar pulled herself together and carried Suad and brought her to the staircase. I opened the door of the apartment on the first floor that is used as a guest house, and we all entered and then closed the front door of the building.”
Khaled’s six brothers rushed down to the first floor apartment to assist the injured and call for help.
“We tried calling an ambulance to save mother and my daughter Samar, who was still alive because she had a pulse when I checked, but I had no reception. I covered my three daughters, and my brothers and I began placing cotton on their wounds. My brothers Ahmad and Mahmoud were trying to treat mother and my daughter Samar, but we couldn’t because the two holes in her back were large; about five centimetres diameter. I couldn’t bear looking at my daughters. I sat inside the house for two hours or more, while everybody was crying out for help by calling ambulances and the neighbours. One of our neighbours, who worked as an ambulance driver and medic, tried to help us. He lives 70 meters away from our house but couldn’t leave the area because the whole area was besieged by the Israeli troops. Anyway, he tried to help us, but the tank shelled his ambulance and destroyed it.”
Almost three hours later, at around 3:40pm, a three-hour lull in hostilities was announced on the radio. Khaled exited the house, carrying his dead daughter Suad in his arms.
“Tanks were still stationed outside the house. Another soldier who I didn’t see before looked at me. He was blonde and wearing glasses, and a green uniform. He looked at me for two minutes and then entered the tank. Three minutes later, the same soldier came out and pointed at me with his hands. I realized that he was signaling to me that I could go where I want. I entered the house and told my brothers to get out. We all went out; I carried Suad, my wife carried Amal, my brother Ibrahim carried Samar, and the rest of my brothers carried my wounded mother using a mattress.”
Despite the lull in hostilities, Khaled reported that the family came under gun fire from Israeli soldiers as they walked through the streets in search of help. They walked approximately two and half kilometres before finding people with private cars to evacuate the dead and injured. Traumatized and exhausted, Khaled went to his cousin’s house nearby where he rested for an hour. “I had this feeling that my three daughters had died, as well as my mother,” he said. When Khaled arrived at Kamal Edwan Hospital, he learned that his daughters Suad and Amal were in the morgue and Samar had been transferred to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. His mother underwent surgery at Kamal Edwan Hospital and survived her injuries.
Three days later, Samar was transferred to Egypt and then eventually to Belgium for further medical treatment due to the serious nature of her injuries. Khaled’s brother Faraj accompanied Samar and remains with her in Belgium at the time of writing. Khaled first learned from Faraj on 21 January that his daughter was paralyzed and may never walk again. Faraj continues to provide his brother with updates on Samar’s medical condition. It is yet uncertain whether her paralysis is permanent and what her long-term rehabilitation needs may be.
After the attack, the surviving members of the Abed Rabbo family left their home and stayed with relatives for the duration of the Israeli military operation. When Israeli troops finally withdrew following Israel’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire, the family returned to find a pile of rubble where their home once stood. The building had been completely levelled to the ground.
The wilful killing of civilians not taking direct part in hostilities is a war crime and a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention for which individuals can be held criminally responsible. All High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention are under legal obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed, or ordered to be committed, such grave breaches, and to bring them in front of their domestic courts or to exercise universal jurisdiction and hand them over for trial to another High Contracting Party (Article 146).
DCI-Palestine continues to call for:
- An independent investigation into incidents involving civilian fatalities during Operation Cast Lead, and prompt prosecution in accordance with international law of those found responsible for ordering, planning and carrying out war crimes;
- The official suspension of the upgrade of EU-Israel bi-lateral relations pending the investigation; and the annulment of the upgrade should Israel be found guilty of war crimes.
Read a related report in the British press on the Abed Rabbo family.
Watch a video on the BBC.
[Photo credit: BBC and DCI]