Khaled Abed Rabbo clicks his tongue “Tsk” to indicate “no”, when he is offered a piece of chocolate. The Israeli soldiers who executed his two young daughters were eating chips and chocolate whilst they did it, he explains, quietly. So he will never eat these things again.
Khaled has told the story of the horrific day when his children were killed many times, so he is well-practised, and starts at the beginning, speaking slowly, calmly and quietly – though clearly wracked with grief.
On Wednesday 7th January, Khaled and the 40 members of his extended family were in their four storey, eight apartment, home. Israeli ground forces had entered the area four days earlier, on 3rd January, coming from the Green Line that is to the east of Izbet Abed Rabbo – a village east of Jabaliya, in the northern Gaza Strip. Within one hour the Israeli soldiers had taken control of the whole area, and advanced all the way west to Salah El Din street (the main road that runs from north to south through the centre of the Gaza Strip) – possible, Khaled explains, because there was no resistance in the area. Izbet Abed Rabbo is well-known as a border area with no rocket fire.
Whilst many residents of Gaza’s border-villages fled their homes, heading west to shelter with friends and relatives, when the Israeli onslaught began, Khaled’s family decided to stay in their home. The decision was based on their experience during the last Israeli incursion into the area, on 1st March 2008. During that incursion, Khaled’s family home was occupied by Israeli soldiers for three days. The soldiers checked all of the family’s IDs, and advised the family that none of them had “security files”. “We decided stay in our home because we knew we had nothing on us”, Khaled explains. “We thought we would be safe”.
On the afternoon of 7th January, in broad daylight, three Israeli tanks drove up to Khaled’s house from the south, parking approximately 20m from the front door. Tank tracks show where they were positioned in front of the house. One of the tanks aimed its turret at the house. At 12:50pm, the family heard soldiers yelling in broken Arabic: “Everyone come out of the house”. Of the 40 family members, it was just Khaled; his mother; his wife; and three young daughters – aged two, four and seven – who left the house, carrying four white flags. The rest of the family stayed inside on the first floor, where they felt they were safest.
Once outside, they found two Israeli soldiers, “One had red hair and two stars on his shoulder”, Khaled recalls, lolling about on either side of one of the jeeps, eating chips and chocolate – suggesting that the situation was very calm. The family waited there for between five and seven minutes, with no indication from the soldiers as to what was wanted from them.
Suddenly, a third soldier with “long sideburns” (payot – religious curls), emerged from the top of the tank and opened fire on the children. Khaled looked down at his two-year old daugher, Amal, and saw that her stomach was outside of her body. “Amal had no less than four bullets in her body. Her whole stomach came out, and she didn’t have a back”, Khaled relates. The teddy bear she was carrying was also shot through the stomach. “They martyred her teddy bear also”.
“I picked up Amal. I was bending down to pick up [four year-old] Samar and he shot her. I ran inside wth both of them”, Khaled recalls, leaving his mother and wife outside with seven year-old Su’ad, as the gunfire continued. Su’ad was shot in the chest with three bullets. Khaled’s mother, also named Su’ad, raised her arm as she called to the soldiers, to ask what they were doing – shooting at children. She was shot in her raised arm, the bullet exiting from her shoulder. Another bullet penetrated her stomach, exiting from her back. They too fled back into the home.
Inside, the whole family were screaming for help. They heard the sound of an ambulance siren for just a few seconds before it abruptly stopped. Family members who were looking from the window started screaming that a tank had run over the ambulance.
Khaled and his family waited inside their house for two hours, with two daughters dead and Samar bleeding, asking for water. Her grandmother, Su’ad, was also bleeding. Finally, Khaled “couldn’t take it anymore. I picked up Samar and took her outside, to be shot. For her to be at rest and for me to die also”.
“I stood here for two minutes, with the soldiers staring at me. One soldier went down into the tank, and then re-emerged, and made a movement with his arm, as if to say, go past”. Khaled went back into his house, and addressed his family. “We must leave. Either we stay in here and get killed, or we leave and get killed. The situation doesn’t allow us to stay in our home”.
With his brother Ibrahim carrying Samar; Khaled carried Su’ad and his wife, Khowtha, carried Amal. A stretcher was made for his mother from a small child’s bed, and she was carried, as all 40 members of the family left the house together.
The family headed west, towards Jabaliya. “The whole time we were walking there was gunfire – sometimes at our feet; sometimes above our heads. Soldiers were shooting from their positions in homes and snipers were firing from tanks”. It was not just Khaled’s family who were being shot at in this way, advises local journalist, Iyad Abed Rabbo. All of the families who were advised to leave the area were reportedly fired upon in the same way “to keep them on the path”, Iyad notes.
Walking approximately one kilometre along a road with many ditches and holes, the Abed Rabbo family arrived at an intersection. A man with a cart and a white horse attempted to assist them, but, as he approached, was shot by snipers. One bullet went through the head of Adham Hamis Nassir, and another two bullets through the head of his horse. Khaled has no idea where the bullets came from – “a father who is carrying his daughter doesn’t notice these things”. But he recalls that the area was full of Israeli soldiers – approximately 700 in the neighbourhood.
The family continued walking – leaving Adham and his horse lying there. Adham was critically injured. He was transfered to Egypt for medical treatment, “but he came back four days ago, martyred”. Eventually Khaled and his family reached Court St, where there were many people gathered. His dead and injured daughters were taken from them, and taken to the nearby Kamal Aduan hospital. “I don’t know who took my girls to hospital. I just sat in the square, unable to do anything. After half an hour I got up, and went to the hospital”.
Outside the hospital, Khaled heard rumours that all of his daughters had died. Later he found out that 4 year-old Samar was, indeed, still alive. She was tranferred to al Shifa hospital in Gaza city, before being transferred to Belgium, where, paralysed from where a bullet hit her spinal cord, it is estimated she will be forced to stay for at least one year.
“Samar’s body is full of bullets; she doesn’t have a back; but God left one thing in her – her ability to talk. She is only four years old, but she remembers everything, and can tell anyone what happened to her”, Khaled says, sadly and proudly.
Standing in front of his demolished home, Khaled becomes happy when he speaks of Samar, and decides to call her. On the second attempt he gets through to the Belgian mobile phone of his brother, who is with Samar.
“Do you want me to come and bring mama?”, he asks her, cheekily.
“You don’t know where I am”, Samar answers sagely.
“Are you healed yet?”
“Do you want mama?”
He would like to show us a picture of her, but, he explains, he suffers a double tragedy – he can’t find a single photo of any of his children. Rummaging through the rubble of his home has yeilded just a destroyed computer – he doesn’t even have his own ID. It is particularly upsetting to him that he can’t find any photos of Amal and Su’ad while they were alive. Now, the only photo of them he has
is on his mobile phone, which he passes around. There, a photo of his two dead daughters – tiny, wrapped in white shrouds.
The family have no idea of what happened to their home – of how it was destroyed. “When we returned here, on the day before Obama’s inauguration, we found the house like this”. Some locals of Izbit Abed Rabbo claim that most of the demolished houses in the neighbourhood – 72 homes in total – were flattened through internal explosive devices.
As yet, there has been no official response from the Israeli Occupation Forces on the executions of the Abed Rabbo children, despite requests from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); as well as from countless journalists – including those from the BBC and Haaretz.
According to Iyad Abed Rabbo, of all of the houses destroyed in the Izbit Abed Rabbo neighbourhood, only one belonged to a Hamas member. Another belonged to a high-ranking Fatah member. Khaled describes himself as apolitical – saying that he is not even Fatah, even though he worked for the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority for ten years, until the coup in Gaza in 2007. Since then he has been unemployed, just keeping a garden.
In spite of his obvious devastation, Khaled is not vindictive. “We wouldn’t wish this on anyone in the world; not even the Israelis”. He would, however, like some kind of action taken by the Israeli government in response to his daughters’ killing. “We know that Israel is a very advanced country, and that they video [record] everything – even their military operations. I ask them to broadcast the execution of my daughters – the time and date is known”.
His over-riding desire, however, is for a long-lasting security.
“Despite everything that has happened to us – my children killed; my house demolished – we still believe in peace. Before they offer us money and aid, we ask that they offer us peace”.