'At night we are all in one room far away from the windows'


FAMILY UNDER SIEGE:Israel's bombardment of Gaza is subjecting the people to a shocking psychological ordeal, writes Michael Jansen

JABER WISHAH, deputy director of the independent Palestine Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), is trapped by Israel's offensive in the Nuseirat refugee camp at the centre of the Gaza Strip.

"We moved from our house in Bureij on the first day of the bom- bardment. A house nearby received a recorded threat from the Israeli army to evacuate. The target was one of the family's daughters who is married to a senior member of [Hamas's] al-Qassam Brigades. The whole neighbourhood evacuated," he said.

"I left with my mother, father, wife and daughter, Hanin, who took her MA in Belfast. She came home to get married in January and planned to return to London.

"We went to my brother's home because it is less exposed than ours to bombing and shelling. We are 28 persons. Another brother and 10 members of his family, two sisters and the pregnant wife of my fourth brother who is in the States are also staying here. She is due to deliver this month."

Fortunately, Wishah's wife is a doctor and has a UN car. "But we cannot use it except for emer- gencies. There is a hospital about seven kilometres (four miles) away in Deir al-Balah," he said.

"The situation is getting worse. Only a miracle saved us from a bombardment last night. Six houses in Bureij, 150m from our building, were hit, six people were killed and 30 injured. We were afraid my pregnant sister-in-law would have a premature delivery.

"During the day we are scattered in different places in the house but at night we are all in one room far away from the windows. My wife, Amna, is acting chief of the health department at UNRWA-Gaza. When we have electricity she does her work on the phone and the computer in Nuseirat but when we don't have electricity and there is power in Bureij she goes to our house there. She has to keep in touch with the clinics and hospitals. Hanin is a volunteer in the union of health committees. She is compiling a report for WHO on al-Aqsa hospital, but she has to collect information by phone because it is too dangerous to go there.

"We had a reserve of food at my brother's house and I contacted colleagues who brought us a 50kg sack of flour.

"We kept half for us and gave the other half to another sister's family. When I was able to go to the PCHR office [on the main thoroughfare of Gaza city], I used to buy vegetables, kidney beans and other supplies from shops . . . we cook on wood I brought from my farm. We save the gas for emergencies. Many colleagues from Ireland have visited the farm. PCHR interns and visitors.

"We listen to different radio bulletins. I follow the Israeli army radio in Hebrew. We exchange news. At night when we are all in one room, we rely on the defence mechanism of jokes.

"When the Apaches start to bomb and we are very tense, someone tells jokes to release tension. My brother's family has a sweet little cat called Kirkis. She anticipates bombardments and jumps under the refrigerator to hide. My father, who is 86, and my mother, 76, play with the small cat. This is another defence mechanism. We imagine the cat and we are having a normal life."