The latest figures from the Palestinian Ministry of Health indicate that, since the start of the military operation, 910 Palestinians have been killed, including 292 children and 75 women. At least 4,250 have been injured, including 1,497 children and 626 women. DCI-Palestine has already confirmed the deaths of 54 children, and is in the process of investigating a further 120 reports of child fatalities.
On Friday, 2 January 2009, at around 10:00pm, 18 members of the al-Samouni family, in the az-Zaitoun neighbourhood of Gaza city, heard the sound of a nearby helicopter. Faraj (22 years old), the eldest of the al-Samouni sons, spoke to DCI-Palestine: "My cousin, who lives 50 metres away from us, called me to say that Israeli soldiers were being landed from a helicopter onto the roof of their house. An hour or so later, we started to hear the sound of the artillery arriving amid heavy fire, as sounds of helicopters and tanks were heard everywhere". The al-Samouni family found itself in the midst of one of the bloodiest episodes of Israel’s ground incursion.
Faraj continues: "At about 11:00pm, artillery shelling began on the al-Tawheed mosque next to our house. We were terrified. We gathered ourselves in one room in the middle of the house. This is where we were at around 6:00am the next day, 3 January 2009, when we heard an explosion at the front door; only six metres away from where we were. Immediately after the explosion, a large number of soldiers entered our house, but did not deploy in it. One of the soldiers addressed us in clear Arabic saying ‘The man of the house: come out with your hands up’."
Faraj's father, Ateyya, went out; everyone else was screaming and crying. Ateyya, hands up and holding his identity card, addressed the soldiers using the few words of Hebrew he knew. The soldiers shot Ateyyain full view of the occupants of the house and he fell to the ground. The soldiers then started to fire into the room where the family was gathered.
Everyone was screaming; Faraj was yelling, "Katan...! Katan…!" which means “small” in Hebrew, a word his father had taught him a few minutes before. Despite this, the shooting did not stop until several minutes later, when everyone was lying on the floor. Faraj’s mother, and four of his brothers Mohanad (2) Ahmad (4), Kan'an (12) and Abdullah (9), had all been wounded.
The soldiers then entered the room, pointing their weapons towards them, and asked Faraj and his brother Fahed to strip naked: “Take off all your clothes even your underwear." Faraj and his brother obeyed. The soldier then asked them to stay in the room, and exited the house. Some of the soldiers remained in the courtyard and stood at the window, pointing their weapons towards them. In the meantime, smoke was filling the entire room, so after a few minutes, the family was told to go outside and sit on the ground by their dead father.
After about five minutes, the soldiers asked everyone to leave and ordered Faraj and Fahed to put their underwear back on. Everyone started walking onto the street: Fahed was carrying his brother Ahmad, who had been shot in the chest. Next to him, Fahed’s brother Fo'ad was carrying Mohanad. Fawzi, another brother, followed them carrying wounded Kan'an. Faraj was behind trying to hold his mother's hand to help her walk. Their sister Amal (8) and injured brother Abdullah (9) were in between. The soldiers were shouting at them while they were walking.
As the family approached the house of one of their relatives, Talal al-Samouni, Amal ran inside. One of the soldiers tried to follow her but retreated. They walked another 150 metres until they reached a house with soldiers positioned on the roof who shouted at Faraj and Fahed: "Take off your clothes!" The brothers complied, and the soldiers asked them to keep walking, pointing towards the south.
They walked about 50 metres and entered the house of Majed al-Samouni – another relative. Inside, they found over 50 relatives and neighbours who had fled their homes and sought refuge at Majed's. They then tried to contact the Red Cross and ambulances, but they were told repeatedly that soldiers were blocking access to the area. All the while, Ahmad and his mother were bleeding heavily from their wounds. They continued calling for medical help but kept receiving the same answer "We cannot reach you."
At 5:00pm, four-year-old Ahmad died from his injuries. He had been hallucinating as he bled to death "Faraj, turn on Tuyour Al-Janna [a children’s channel]," he said before dying.
Shortly after, Faraj received a telephone call from a cousin informing him that the soldiers had gathered Faraj's uncles, their children and grandchildren in Wael al-Samouni's house. Faraj went up one floor to look towards Wael’s house. At that moment, a warplane fired three missiles at Wael’s house. Faraj saw a number of people fleeing the house towards the north and heard the start of heavy shooting.
He went back downstairs and told everyone to flee towards az-Zaitoun neighbourhood. They walked for about 1.5 kilometres, passing by tanks. There were approximately 40 people in the group. Faraj's mother was not able to stand at this point as a result of her injuries and heavy blood loss. Faraj carried her on his back whilst Fahed carried the body of his brother Ahmad. While they were walking, a soldier shouted at Faraj: "Put her down, son of a...' [Faraj did not want to repeat the obscene word]. When they reached az-Zaitoun, ambulances took them and rushed them to Shifa hospital.
Faraj’s younger brother Ahmad and his father Ateyya were both wilfully killed by Israeli gunfire and delayed medical care. At least two houses of the al-Samouni family were directly targeted. Although media sources reported as many as 60 casualties in the al-Samouni extended family, Faraj told DCI-Palestine that a total of 20 relatives, including 10 children, were killed in this incident; and dozens had sustained injuries. DCI-Palestine has been told that Faraj’s sister Amal (8), who had escaped to a relative’s house, was admitted to hospital after the rescue teams managed to pull her out from under the rubble. The house she ran into must also have been shelled. Other relatives were still unaccounted for on the date the statement was taken on 8 January 2009.
The security situation and the fragile psychological state of the eye-witness did not allow DCI-Palestine to gather more detailed information on the fate of the other members of Faraj’s family.
This appalling death toll and the number of injured is the result of the use of disproportionate and indiscriminate military force by the Israeli army. Ahmad's death is the result of the wilful targeting of civilians and denial of urgent medical treatment.
Please consider sending an urgent appeal to your elected representatives and other relevant authorities, demanding:
For further information please go to DCI-Palestine’s Urgent Appeal and our Gaza Under Attack webpage.
Read accounts of the shelling of the al-Samouni neighbourhood in the British press:
The Guardian, 6 January - “As I ran I saw three of my children. All dead”
The Telegraph, 7 January - “Israel strike kills up to 60 members of one family”
The Telegraph, 19 January - "Gaza: Palestinian family mourns 48 dead"
Al-Haq, 21 January - "The Plight of Al Samouni Family in Gaza: in their own voices"