I was working around the clock to document the “cases” as they happened, but I remember them vividly: a young medic who was killed while loading victims onto an ambulance, a family who lost three sons on an attack near an UNRWA shelter, and men who were used as human shields by Israeli soldiers during home raids. I remember the Al-Qirem family, whose home was hit by an air strike. Fifteen-year-old Amira Al-Qirem, injured and unable to move, spent the night in the cold next to her father’s corpse; her brother and sister were killed by an explosion when they left to find help. I slept little during the assault; but I remember the nightmares. Amira’s face still haunts me.
I was often afraid that I would be killed, but I felt compelled to keep a record of the names of the dead, in the hope that their stories would be told, and one day justice could be achieved.
Two years later, almost no sign of recovery or reconstruction can be seen in the Gaza Strip. Israel’s continuing policy of closure denies the necessary materials to rebuild destroyed buildings and infrastructure. Gaza lacks the resources to properly treat sewage, which flows directly into the sea. Most people are prevented from leaving Gaza for work, study, or medical treatment, isolating us from the world. Rubble collectors and farmers risk their lives in pursuit of a livelihood in an undefined “buffer zone” that covers up to thirty percent of Gaza’s agricultural land, where people are routinely injured and killed by Israeli fire. We have been taken back to what feels like the dark ages.
The initial reaction to Operation Cast Lead by people around the world, combined with the many reports that documented the crimes committed, made me feel that my work during the assault had not been in vain. Two years later, justice is yet to come and Israel has been effectively granted impunity. As we try our best to rebuild from the rubble around us, this impunity is not a matter of anger – it is a matter of fear. After all that happened to us, Israel has sentenced just one soldier to jail, for stealing a credit card. What is to prevent “Cast Lead” from happening again?
As I write this, incursions into the Gaza Strip by the Israeli military are intensifying by the day, and most Palestinians believe that there will be another large-scale attack on Gaza. We feel forgotten.
Al Haq has publicly argued that no attacks on civilians are justified, and condemned Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians. But rockets by armed groups do not justify Israel’s retributive punishment of every man, woman and child in Gaza, including by the ongoing siege. There should be accountability for all crimes. This is not an abstract statement of principle. It is a statement of concern, two years later, for the safety of my family, my friends, myself, and the dignity of Gaza’s people.
Al-Haq‘s field researcher – the Gaza Strip
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