Bulldozers crush Gaza children’s dreams and build its martyrs

Young made homeless as Israel widens its buffer zone

Lindsey Hilsum in Gaza
Sunday May 30, 2004
The Observer

Ahmed was only 12, but he wanted to be a militant. A skinny kid with a ready giggle, he hung out with the masked men in the labyrinthine alleyways of Rafah refugee camp, trying to impress them by posing with a metal tube, pretending it was a shoulder-launched missile.

He and his friend Mohammed played shooting games and then went on the streets to do the real thing, fashioning home-made hand-grenades from nails, sulphur, sugar and charcoal to lob at Israeli soldiers and settlers.

Najla, 16, a white headscarf framing her round face, was studying hard, dreaming of becoming a lawyer ‘so I can give justice to people’.

Six of her young relatives had been killed during her life, as Israeli troops periodically swept through Rafah. ‘They all died sad,’ she said.

That was last year, when Ahmed and Najla featured in the documentary Death in Gaza, shown on Channel 4 last Tuesday, about children living under Israeli occupation. In the last few weeks, as Israel launched its biggest operation in Rafah for decades, both children have endured a new trauma: being made homeless.

As the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon tries to push through his plan for a phased withdrawal from the 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza, he first sent the Israeli Defence Force to Rafah to capture Palestinian militants, find smuggling tunnels and widen a buffer zone along the border with Egypt, which Israel will control even after pulling back from the settlements.

Ahmed and Najla are among the estimated 2,000 Palestinians who lost their homes in the course of Israel’s Operation Rainbow. United Nations staff say the Israeli force has demolished 167 houses so far this month.

Ahmed’s family now sleeps in a school; Najla is staying with her uncle. Everything in their recent experience has reinforced the propaganda messages of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the groups which send suicide bombers into Israel. ‘The Jews love destruction and killing people,’ said Najla.
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