Writing by Patrick Keddie
Mahmoud Ahmed Abu Sitta had left his two-storey house to harvest olives on his land. By the time he had returned, an Israeli airstrike had turned his home into a crater nearly two storeys deep, full of the smashed remnants of his life.
I met Mahmoud two weeks after the attack, which occurred during Pillar of Defence – the name given to the recent 8-day Israeli bombardment of Gaza. He was still surveying the piled-up wreckage of his house in disbelief; he had little idea of what to do next.
The 62 year old farmer had worked on his land in the village of Jahar al-Deek in Gaza since 1976, harvesting olives and growing vegetables. His property had also contained a water well and pump that had irrigated his 200 dunams of land. They had also been destroyed in the airstrike and Mahmoud couldn’t see how he could save his crops without the precious water supply.
Mahmoud had received no help from the authorities as yet – only vague promises to visit that hadn’t been fulfilled. The family had no other home. Whilst his wife, son and two sisters were able to stay at a family member’s house, there was no space for Mahmoud. With winter fast approaching, he had slept under a tree next to his property since the attack.
As his family had been working with him in their fields at the time of the airstrike, they had all escaped injury. His neighbour Um Mahmoud Sawarka, 40, was not so fortunate. She had been milking cows in the nearby cattle-shed when the missile landed. Shrapnel had lacerated her stomach and shoulders and a 4cm long nail had been embedded in her back. She had survived and was expected to make a good recovery.
When we met her she was lying in bed, swaddled in blankets. Um Mahmoud told us that she was recovering but remained scared. “I always feel fear, I wonder if they will come back” she told us. She was quiet for a moment, before adding “The most difficult wounds to heal are the mental and psychological ones.”
Back at Mahmoud’s house he told us he had no idea why his family were targeted. “I don’t know. I’m a normal civilian. None of my family is in the resistance” he claimed, “We are farmers and we take care of our lands. I have never been in an Israeli prison in my life!”
Mahmoud’s village of Jahar al-Deek is less than 2kms from the border with Israel. Many years ago the border had been open and residents of the village went into Israel to work. There they encountered ordinary Israeli families, worked alongside them and made friends with them, despite the occupation.
But the border had long been closed and for 12 years a ‘buffer zone’ was enforced by live fire, preventing Palestinian farmers from reaching much of their land. All contact with Israelis now was strictly martial – often at the receiving end of a bullet or bomb.
“I used to work in Israel. I had friends there” Mahmoud told me. Was he still in contact with any of them I wondered? He laughed abruptly and said “No! We were separated a long time ago.”