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From Italy to Palestine: Vittorio Arrigoni writes from Gaza

Vittorio Arrigoni with a young girl in Gaza

Vittorio Arrigoni is an Italian human rights activist who is currently in Gaza, one of a number of activists who arrived with the Free Gaza movement. Vittorio (Vik) blogs at Guerrilla Radio [it], and also writes for the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto. His posts vividly describe what the people of Gaza are experiencing right now. In one, a doctor describes the effects of the white phosphorus shells Israel is accused of using: “He said that what was totally inexplicable was the total absence of eyeballs, which even in the case of trauma of that magnitude should stay in place, at least traces of them.”

In a post on January 8, also published at Il Manifesto, Vittorio writes:

“Prendi dei gattini, dei teneri micetti e mettili dentro una scatola” mi dice Jamal, chirurgo dell'ospedale Al Shifa, il principale di Gaza, mentre un infermiere pone per terra dinnanzi a noi proprio un paio di scatoloni di cartone, coperti di chiazze di sangue. “Sigilla la scatola, quindi con tutto il tuo peso e la tua forza saltaci sopra sino a quando senti scricchiolare gli ossicini, e l'ultimo miagolio soffocato.” Fisso gli scatoloni attonito, il dottore continua “Cerca ora di immaginare cosa accadrebbe subito dopo la diffusione di una scena del genere, la reazione giustamente sdegnata dell'opinione pubblica mondiale, le denunce delle organizzazioni animaliste…” il dottore continua il suo racconto e io non riesco a spostare un attimo gli occhi da quelle scatole poggiate dinnanzi ai miei piedi. “Israele ha rinchiuso centinaia di civili in una scuola come in una scatola, decine di bambini, e poi la schiacciata con tutto il peso delle sue bombe. E quale sono state le reazioni nel mondo? Quasi nulla. Tanto valeva nascere animali, piuttosto che palestinesi, saremmo stati più tutelati.”

A questo punto il dottore si china verso una scatola, e me la scoperchia dinnanzi. Dentro ci sono contenuti gli arti mutilati, braccia e gambe, dal ginocchio in giù o interi femori, amputati ai feriti provenienti dalla scuola delle Nazioni Unite Al Fakhura di Jabalia, più di cinquanta finora le vittime. Fingo una telefonata urgente, mi congedo da Jamal, in realtà mi dirigo verso i servizi igienici, mi piego in due e vomito.

“Take some kittens, some soft little pussycats, and put them in a box,” says Jamal, a surgeon at Al Shifa hospital, the main one in Gaza, while a nurse places a couple of cardboard boxes just in front of us, covered with spots of blood. “Seal the box, and with all your weight and your strength jump on it until you hear the bones crack, and the last miaow is choked.” As I stare at the boxes dumbfounded, the doctor continues, “Now try to imagine what would happen immediately after a scenario like that was publicised: the justified outrage of the world, complaints by animal welfare organisations…” The doctor continues his story, and I cannot remove my eyes for a moment from those boxes placed at my feet. “Israel has locked up hundreds of civilians in a school as if in a box, dozens of children, and then crushed it with the full brunt of its bombs. And what were the reactions of the world? Almost nothing. It would have been better to be born animals, rather than Palestinians; we would have been better protected.”

At this point, the doctor bends towards one of the boxes, and opens it in front of me. Inside are mutilated limbs, arms and legs from the knee down or entire femurs, amputated from the injured who had come from the UN Fakhura School in Jabalia, more than 50 victims until now. Pretending I had an urgent phone call, I take my leave of Jamal; in fact, I head to the toilet, double up, and vomit.

Poco prima mi ero intrattenuto in una discussione con il dottor Abdel, oftalmologo, circa i rumors, le voci incontrollate che da giorni circolano lungo tutta la Striscia secondo le quali l'esercito israeliano ci starebbe tirando addosso una pioggia di armi non convenzionali, vietate dalla Convenzione di Ginevra. Cluster bombs e bombe al fosforo bianco. Esattamente le stesse che l'esercito di Tsahal utilizzò nell'ultima guerra in Libano, e l'aviazione USA a Falluja, in violazione delle le norme internazionali. Dinnanzi all'ospedale Al Auda siamo stati testimoni e abbiamo filmato dell'utilizzo di bombe al fosforo bianco, a circa cinquecento metri da dove ci trovavamo, troppo lontano per essere certi che sotto gli Apache israeliani ci fossero dei civili, ma troppo tremendamente vicino a noi.

Just before that I was engaged in a discussion with Dr Abdel, an ophthalmologist, about the rumours, the uncontrolled reports which for days have been moving up and down the Strip, according to which the Israeli military have been using a hail of non-conventional weapons, prohibited by the Geneva Convention. Cluster bombs and white phosphorus bombs. Exactly the same as the Tsahal [IDF] used in the last war in Lebanon, and U.S. Air Force used in Fallujah, in breach of international laws. In front of Al Awda hospital we witnessed and filmed the use of white phosphorus bombs, about five hundred metres from where we were, too far away to be sure that under the Israeli Apaches there were civilians, but far too close to us.

Il Trattato di Ginevra del 1980 prevede che il fosforo bianco non debba essere usato direttamente come arma di guerra nelle aree civili, ma solo come fumogeno o per l'illuminazione. Non c'è dubbio che utilizzare quest'arma sopra Gaza, una striscia di terra dove si concentra la più alta densità abitativa del mondo, è già un crimine a priori. Il dottor Abdel mi ha riferito che all'ospedale Al Shifa non hanno la competenza militare e medica, per comprendere se alcune ferite di cadaveri che hanno esaminato siano state prodotte effettivamente da proiettili al fosforo bianco. A detta sua però, in venti anni di mestiere, non ha mai visto casi di decessi come quelli portati all'ospedale nelle ultime ore. Mi ha spiegato di traumi al cranio, con fratture a vomere, mandibola, osso zigomatico, osso lacrimale, osso nasale e osso palatino che indicherebbero l'impatto di una forza immensa con il volto della vittima. Quello che ha detta sua è totalmente inspiegabile, è la totale assenza di globi oculari, che anche in presenza di traumi di tale entità dovrebbe rimanere al loro posto, almeno in tracce, all'interno del cranio. Invece stanno arrivando negli ospedali palestinesi cadaveri senza più occhi, come se qualcuno li avesse rimossi chirurgicamente prima di consegnarli al coroner.

The Geneva Treaty of 1980 stipulates that white phosphorus should not be used directly as a weapon of war in civilian areas, but only as a smoke screen or for lighting. There is no doubt that using this weapon over Gaza, a strip of land which has the highest population density in the world, is already a crime. Dr Abdel told me that Al Shifa hospital did not have the military and medical competence to see if some of the wounds of the corpses they had examined were actually produced by white phosphorus shells. But according to him, in twenty years of working, he had never seen cases of death such as those brought to the hospital in recent hours. He described trauma to the skull, with fractures of the vomer bone, jaw, cheekbone, lacrimal bone, nasal bone and palatal bone that would indicate the impact of an immense force to the face of the victim. He said that what was totally inexplicable was the total absence of eyeballs, which even in the case of trauma of that magnitude should stay in place, at least traces of them, inside the skull. However, in Palestinian hospitals corpses without eyes are arriving, as if someone had surgically removed them before delivering them to the coroner.

At the end of the post he says:

Recandomi verso l'ospedale di Al Quds dove sarò di servizio sulle ambulanze tutta la notte, correndo su uno dei pochi taxi temerari che zigzagando ancora sfidano il tiro a segno delle bombe, ho visto fermi ad una angola di una strada un gruppo di ragazzini sporchi, coi vestiti rattoppati, tali e quali i nostri sciuscià del dopoguerra italiano, che con delle fionde lanciavano pietre verso il cielo, in direzione di un nemico lontanissimo e inavvicinabile che si fa gioco delle loro vite. La metafora impazzita che fotografa l'assurdità di questa di tempi e di questi luoghi.

I headed back to Al Quds hospital where I would be with the ambulance service throughout the night. Riding in one of the few reckless taxis that still zigzag, defying the target shooting of the bombs, I saw a group of filthy kids with patched clothes standing at a street corner, just like the shoeshine boys in post-war Italy, who with slingshots were throwing stones towards the sky in the direction of a distant and unapproachable enemy that is playing a game with their lives. A crazy metaphor that captured the absurdity of this time and place.

In a post on Janury 10, also published at Il Manifesto, Vittorio writes about visiting the hospital again:

All'ospedale Al Shifa ieri sono andato a trovare Tamim, reporter sopravvissuto ad un bombardamento aereo. Mi ha spiegato come secondo lui Israele sta adottando le stesse identiche tecniche terroristiche di Al Al-Qaeda, bombarda un edificio, attende l'arrivo dei giornalisti e dei soccorsi, quindi fa cadere un'altra bomba che fa strage di quest'ultimi. Per questo motivo a suo avviso si sono registrate molte vittime fra i paramedici e i reporters, gli infermieri attorno al suo letto facevano cenni di consenso. Tamim mi ha mostrando sorridendo, i suoi moncherini. Ha perso le gambe, ma è felice d’ essersela cavata, il suo collega Mohammed è morto con in mano la macchina fotografica, la secondo esplosione lo ha ucciso.

Yesterday at Al Shifa hospital I went to visit Tamim, a reporter who survived an air bombardment. He told me that he thinks Israel has adopted the same terrorist techniques as Al Qaeda, by bombing a building, awaiting the arrival of journalists and rescue services, and then dropping another bomb that slaughters them. In his opinion that is why there have been many casualties amongst paramedics and reporters; the nurses around his bed nodded in agreement. Smiling, Tamim showed me his stumps. He lost his legs, but is happy to have made it out alive; his colleague Mohammed died holding his camera. The second explosion killed him.

In a post published on January 9, he explains the importance of the Rafah tunnels:

Il dentifricio, lo spazzolino, le lamette e la mia schiuma da barba. I vestiti che indosso, lo sciroppo per curarmi una brutta tosse che mi affligge da settimane, le sigarette comprate per Ahmed, il tabacco per il mio arghile. Il mio telefono cellulare, Il computer portatile su cui batto ebefrenico per tramandare una testimonianza dell'inferno circostante. Tutto il necessario per una vita umile e dignitosa a Gaza, proviene dall'Egitto, ed è arrivato sugli scaffali dei negozi del centro passando attraverso i tunnel. Gli stessi tunnel che caccia F16 israeliani hanno continuato a bombardare massicciamente nelle ultime 12 ore, coinvolgendo nelle distruzioni le migliaia di case di Rafah vicini al confine. Un paio di mesi fa mi sono fatto sistemare tre denti malconci, alla fine dell'intervento ricordo che ho chiesto al mio dentista palestinese dove si procurava tutto il materiale odontotecnico, anestetico, siringhe, corone in ceramica e ferri del mestiere, sornione, il dentista mi aveva fatto un cenno con le mani: da sotto terra. Non vi è alcun dubbio che attraverso i cunicoli sotto Rafah passavano anche esplosivo e armi, le stesse che la resistenza sta impiegando oggi per cercare di arginare le temibile avanzata dei mortiferi blindati israeliani, ma è poca cosa rispetto alle tonnellate di beni di consumo che confluivano in una Gaza ridotta alla fame da un criminale assedio.

My toothpaste, toothbrush, razor blades and shaving foam. The clothes I am wearing, the syrup to treat a bad cough that has afflicted me for weeks, the cigarettes bought for Ahmed, the tobacco for my arghile. My cell phone, the laptop computer on which I schizophrenically fight to get out a testimony of the hell surrounding me. Everything needed for a humble and dignified life in Gaza came from Egypt, and arrived on the shop shelves downtown by passing through the tunnels. The same tunnels that Israeli F16 fighters have continued to bomb heavily in the last 12 hours, resulting in the destruction of thousands of homes near the Rafah border. A couple of months ago I had three bad teeth fixed. At the end of the operation I remember that I asked my Palestinian dentist where he obtained all the dental equipment, anaesthetic, syringes, ceramic crowns, and the tools of the trade. Slyly, the dentist made a gesture with his hands: from under the earth. There is no doubt that explosives and arms also passed through the tunnels of Rafah, the same that the resistance is using today to try to stem the fearful advance of the deadly Israeli armoured vehicles; but this is small compared to the tons of consumer goods that flowed into a Gaza reduced to hunger by a criminal siege.

He concludes the post by saying:

Gaza è tristemente avvolta nell'oscurità da dieci giorni, solo negli ospedali ci è concesso ricaricare computer e cellulari, e guardare la televisione con i dottori e i paramedici in attesa di una chiamata di soccorso. Ascoltiamo i boati in lontananza, dopo qualche minuto le reti satellitare arabe riferiscono esattamente dove è avvenuta l'esplosione. Spesso ci riguardiamo sullo schermo trarre fuori dalle macerie corpi, come se non bastasse averli visti in diretta. Ieri sera col telecomando ho scanalato sono una televisione israeliana. Davano un festival di musica tradizionale, con tanto di soubrette in vestiti succinti e fuochi artificiali finali. Siamo tornati al nostro orrore, non sullo schermo, ma sulle ambulanze. Israele ha tutti i diritti di ridere e cantare anche mentre massacra il suo vicino di casa. I palestinesi chiedono solo di morire di una morte diversa, che so, di vecchiaia.

Gaza has been shrouded sadly in darkness for ten days; only in hospitals is it possible to recharge computers and cell phones, and watch TV with the doctors and paramedics waiting for an emergency call. We hear the roars in the distance, and after some minutes the Arab satellite networks report exactly where the explosion occurred. We often watch the pulling of the bodies from the rubble on the screen, as if it were not enough to have seen it directly. Last night, scanning with the remote control I came across an Israeli channel. They were showing a festival of traditional music, with lots of girls in short dresses, and fireworks at the end. We turned back to our horror, not on the screen, but in the ambulances. Israel has every right to laugh and sing, even while it massacres its neighbour. Palestinians are only asking to die a different death, one of old age.

The photograph above is courtesy of  Free Gaza.

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  • jinny

    these poor innocent Gazans were dancing in the streets on 911 when their murderous cowardly cousins killed 6000+ truly innocent americans. These poor innocent Gazans elected the worst terrorist organization in the world to be their leaders. maybe they are not so innocent.

  • http://NYYankee Richard Miola

    Dear Vittorio,
    Why don’t you ask Hamas to stop firing rockets at Israel and to stop hiding behind women and children like the cowards that they are? Why do you “do goodders” fail to see the obvious, that Hamas is a TERRORIST organization totally devoted to the destruction of Israel?

  • Dörte

    and now it’s Jinny and Richard who are dancing in the streets and feeling morales are on their side.

  • Maha

    this could be interesting as well, take a look…
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/08/opinion/08khalidi.html

  • Pingback: Rima Abdelkader » Blog Archive » The Al Jazeera Effect

  • Richard Miola

    Dorte,
    It wasn’t Canada who destroyed the Twin Towers, it was ARAB TERRORISTS. I guess from your point of view, they were nothing more than freedom fighters. You and yours are blind!! Israel is the ONLY democracy in that putrid part of the world. Are Syria, Iran, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Saudia Arabia, Yemen, Qatar, UAR, Kuwait, Sudan democracies elected by the consent of the governed? Are these aformentioned countries tolerant of other religions other than Islam? Israel gave up Gaza and West Bank to the Palestinians. Those idiots HAVE there own state! It seems that they still have to attack Israel to cover up there own deficiancies, and have the ultimate gall to tell Israel to stop defending itself!

    • http://ubermoe.com Mohammad Badi

      Why the hell you think that muslims/arab are supporting such actions? We’re against this and we’re united to fight those criminals.

      I think you should check Youtube to watch Palestinians in Gaza crying on their friend and activist. We know that this is awful but did we know about that?!

      I’m sorry!

  • Maxtor

    Jinny and Richard same bla bla bla Israel apologist spread all over the media.

    What about the blockade for three years? What about the land that was stolen for the refugees in Gaza to build Sedrot and other Israeli cities in place of Palestinian villages.

    Jinny maybe you need to check the history to see that it is the Israelis are the ones who elected terrorists as their leaders since 1948. Or maybe you are happy to see hundreds of children who were not born when 911 happened getting killed because 10-15 Palestinians were “dancing”, but am sure you don’t give a damn. Look at the peace and prosperity people like you brought to Iraqis.

    Richard, Palestinians do not have a country or an army to go and fight in the open give them tanks and airplanes and am sure they will be more than happy to go in the open. Palestinians are civilians whom their country was occupied by the Jews and they fight for their freedom, read about the French resistance during WWII before start talking about who is terrorist.

    Israel is an occupation force under international law resisting this occupation is a right and is a self-defense, Israel on the other hand is an aggressor committing war crimes.

    It is Israel who is using Palestinians as human shield when they force them to walk in front of their tanks or when they use their homes to fire on the Palestinians resistance. And this is just one of many war crimes Israel committed in Gaza.

    Who about shooting children from few meters distance? What justifications can you give for that?

    It is because of people like you both the world is going crazy.

    Hate will bread hate, and violence will bread violence. And what IsrHell did in Gaza will be remember for generations to come not only in Palestinians but also in minds of every Arab every Muslim, and every human being (with heart) in this world.

    • Shai

      It is not Israel who target in purpose civilian cities,
      it is not Israel who is firing anti-tanks rockets on a school bus,

      it is Israel who phone called to palestinians which their houses were in areas which were about to be attacked.

      Is it Israel who risked its soldiers in order to minimize the palestinians civilians casualties.

      And please refresh YOUR history knowledge: Sderot and all of Israel’s major cities such as Ashkelon, Ashdod and beer-sheba which all were attacked by Hamas are located in Israeli territories as defined in the international law, most if not all are part of the UN resolution from 1948.

      I agree that hate will bread hate and violence will break violence and that a peace between the two nations, the Israeli and Palestinians is needed asap.
      Israel uses its military to prevent terror attacks and defend it citizens.

      What country would tolerate 8 years of rockets fire on its cities before taking an action?

      Do you know that more than 300 Israelis were killed by terror attacks in non disputed cities such as Tel-Aviv until Israel took an action in the west-bank ?

      Israel takes actions only when it is needed, it is so more powerful than its neighbors that it could occupy all of the middle east if it wanted to or if it was as aggression as you describe it.

      I assure you that the Israeli people wants peace as I am sure some of the palestinians wants is. but the international community must not be blind and recognize that in this conflict, Israel is not the aggression.

      Have a nice day

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