Father says children were carrying white flags when shot dead by Israelis

 

KHALED ABED Rabbo (30) sits in the wreckage of his house in the Abed Rabbo district in the northeast of the Gaza Strip. Each day, journalists and human rights investigators come to interview the grieving father.

“I am very tired. But I want the world to know this was a peaceful home,” he says.

Abed Rabbo then recounts how on the afternoon of January 7th, an Israeli soldier shot his three little girls, killing Amal (2), Souad (7) and critically wounding Samer (4) in the spine.

The Abed Rabbos live less than 2km from the Israeli border. Like many of the 1,300 Palestinians killed in the Israeli offensive, the girls appear to have died not because of who they were – obviously not Hamas fighters – but because of where they were – in the path of invading Israeli ground troops.

The Israelis practised a particularly brutal form of what the American military calls “recon by fire”.

The Abed Rabbos thought they were safe, because they had not been harmed in an earlier Israeli incursion. “The Israelis know what we eat in our houses,” said Souad, Khaled’s mother.

“If any of us had belonged to any faction, we could not have stayed in our homes so close to the border.” Though unemployed, Khaled still receives a salary for his former job as a bodyguard to the western-backed president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

As the Israelis advanced, a tank stopped in front of the Abed Rabbos’ building and ordered them out with a loudspeaker. “My three daughters, wife and mother went out carrying white flags,” Mr Abed Rabbo said. By sending the women out, the family sought to prove they were civilians.

Two soldiers were eating outside the tank. Mr Abed Rabbo said a third soldier emerged from the hatch and opened fire on the family with an assault rifle, hitting the girls and Khaled’s mother, after whom his eldest daughter was named.

“Amal’s insides poured out. Little Souad was cut across the middle by bullets.”

Samih al Sheikh, an ambulance driver, heard the Abed Rabbos screaming from his home, 60 metres away.

He started up the hill in his ambulance, in uniform, with the intention of helping them, but came upon two Israeli tanks.

“The Israelis told me to get out of my ambulance with my hands up. They made me strip down to my underwear. They wouldn’t let me go to the Abed Rabbos,” he said.

The Abed Rabbos retreated into their building. Two hours later, the Israelis allowed them to walk to a highway junction, carrying their dead and wounded.

In separate interviews, Khaled and Souad said the soldiers shot around their feet and over their heads as they were fleeing. Both recounted how a man with a horse-drawn cart who tried to help them was also shot dead.

Once the neighbourhood was evacuated, the Israelis blew up all the houses with detonation charges. The Israelis apparently wanted to empty the district, to deepen the buffer zone along their border.

But the Abed Rabbos are determined to hold on to their land, and are living in hastily constructed shacks on the ruins of their homes.

Amal and Souad Abed Rabbo were buried in one grave in Jabalya cemetery. An uncle accompanied Samer to Belgium, where she has undergone seven operations.

The deaths of the little girls have become known as “the white flag incident,” and could become grounds for a war crimes trial.

The human rights group Amnesty International has also received reports of at least three people killed in cold blood near Zeitoun, south of Gaza city.

In Khuza’a village, east of the central Gazan town of Khan Yunis, a woman carrying a white flag at the head of a group of civilians was also shot dead.

“The problem is that with these summary executions, there is no material proof,” says Donatella Rovera, who is leading an Amnesty investigation into what she calls “massive violations of international law and possibly war crimes” during the three-week war.

That is why, she says, “there must be a UN-mandated investigation. It might not bear fruit for 10 years, but evidence must be gathered now.”

The Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has asked the justice minister Daniel Freidman to prepare to defend Israeli officers and officials in the event of international lawsuits for war crimes.

A statement by the Israeli defence ministry said it would request a law to offer “moral and legal support” to military who participated in the offensive.

Military censors have forbidden the publication of the names of heads of the Israeli units involved.

Souad Abed Rabbo, Khaled’s mother, lies on a sofa in the unlit living room of the home of relatives, under a pile of blankets, recuperating from bullet wounds.

“I wouldn’t wish what happened to us on anyone,” she said. “Not even Jews.”