Fleeing death to… death

Thousands of Palestinians, who fled heavy Israeli bombardment in Gaza and took refuge in United Nations schools, never imagined that these schools would become targets of Israeli warplanes.
A Palestinian woman sits amid belongings after Israeli air strike on her home in Rafah, January 9, 2009. © REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

GAZA, January 9, 2008 (MENASSAT)- On January 6, the 11th day of the Israeli attack on Gaza, Israel fired missiles and tank shells at three United Nations schools shattering the general belief of Palestinians in the Strip that the a school flying a UN flag was safe from Israel’s bombs.

Four days ago on January 5, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) opened 27 schools to welcome thousands of Palestinians fleeing their hometowns which Israel had become de facto conflict zones, or their homes, which were partially or completely destroyed in .

UNRWA administers aid and social services in the Palestinian Territories, and to avoid being targeted, UNRWA officials informed the Israeli army of the locations of its centers.

Despite UNRWA's warnings, Israeli tanks fired tank shells at an UNRWA school at Jabaliya camp in north Gaza killing 43 people, including children, who took refuge there.  

On Thursday the United Nations was forced to suspend all activities in the Gaza Strip after Israeli soldiers fired on a marked UN vehicle during a three-hour humanitarian cease-fire initiated by Israel.

A contract worker was killed in the attack while on his way to deliver essential supplies to Gaza residents.

UN schools become targets

MENASSAT visited a number of these schools, including Banat Jabalia C school and the Asma’ mixed school, to find hundreds of Palestinians still suffering from the shock that Israel had attacked these supposed safe-havens.

The UN has placed two families in each classroom, providing them with water, food, mattresses and blankets. It's normal to see 20 to 30 people in each room.

Hajj Abu Zouheir al-Amassi, 55, told MENASSAT, “Our house in Al-Saifi northern Gaza was destroyed and the Israeli army forced us to flee. They dropped fliers asking us to leave our homes within hours.”

He added, “I came to Asma’ school in Al Shat refugee camp with my family to take cover from the Israeli bombing, thinking this place was safe; the UN flag was on the building. What happened was the exact opposite. We were surprised by the Israeli warplanes bombing the school. Three men were killed, while heading towards the toilet area. It planted fear in our hearts.”

Despite the attacks, 30-year-old Mohammad Al Souda, a citizen of Beit Hanoun, told MENASSAT that at least the UN schools are less dangerous than the streets – though not by much. 

“Where are we supposed to go? We can’t run outside Gaza. The borders are closed and we don’t know where to go. We are surrounded by death in our homes, and death follows us into UNRWA schools. But the streets are more dangerous than the school.”

Hajja Oum Ibrahim Shahine only went to the UN school because she had nothing else left. The Israeli army destroyed her house and her agriculture lands.

“We have nothing left anymore. The army destroyed everything,” she said.

Nothing to return to

Nawal, a 35-year-old mother of seven, said, “Life and death are two faces of one coin. I don’t recall one day passing without us being bombed. But I never imagined they would bomb us in UNRWA schools.”

“Even if we go back home, we would have no life, except to pay the price of war. Why would I go to what I once called my home? It is no longer a home, but simply walls.”

Rim al-Madhoun, a ten-year old student at the Asma’ school shouted when she heard MENASSAT talking nearby about the bombing of her school. “Oh my god, people fled the bombs just to face more bombs.”

“How could they bomb my school, and how will I go back? I can’t go back to my school anymore. The Israeli planes could bomb us and we would die. Thank god our house was not bombed," she said.

Moments later, having barely finished her sentence she was interrupted by Israeli warplanes firing missiles at a nearby location.

She ran to the site, and came back in shock. “They bombed my house; we are all going to die,” she yelled.

A series of schools bombed

UNRWA spokesperson, Adnan Abu Hasna, told MENASSAT that the Israeli army had targeted several UN schools.

Al-Shawka school in Rafah refugee camp was damaged due to the Israeli bombing, and seven UNRWA-affiliated workers in Al-Braij refugee camp were wounded, two of them with severe injuries.

Al-Fakhoura school in the northern city of Jabalia was targeted on Wednesday. Forty-two Palestinian civilians were killed and several injured.

Abu Hasna said that the Israeli warplanes fired three missiles, which landed just outside the school, leading to the death of dozens of Palestinians and three injuries.

He said that his organization demanded the establishment of an independent international investigation committee to look into the targeting of UN and UNRWA.

Israel has consistently denied that it deliberately targeted any of the UN schools.