"We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians." – Nelson Mandela

Zeitoun incident- The Samouni family

The Zeitoun incident refers to the Israeli military incursion into the Zeitoun district of Gaza as part of the three week 2008-2009 Israel-Gaza conflict. Other names for the Zeitoun Incident are the Gaza War, the Gaza Massacre, and Operation Cast Lead.

About 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in this three-week conflict.

Throughout the Arab world the name Zeitoun District Massacre is used to refer to any of the incidents which took place in the Zeitoun district of Gaza. A majority of those killed during the Zeitoun incident were women, children, and elderly. Along with those deaths 27 homes, a mosque, and a number of farms were destroyed by Israeli military forces.

The most hearbreaking story of all.

On January 4th, 2009, the first day of the Israeli incursion in the Zeitoun district, the Samouni family were ordered out of their houses by Israeli solderied and told to gather in a nearby home. They were then forced to move again to another building, with over 100 members in one home. On January 5th, Israelis then proceeded to demolish the walls of the house. An eyewitness states that one of the occupants went to alert the Israeli soldiers that people were inside the house, including women and children, the soldiers then subsequently begain to shoot at the house. After a short while the house was then shelled and hit by missiles which were fired by the Israeli Air Force, severely damagine the building and killing and injuring the occupants of the house.

Another attack on Samouni family members was reported to have occured in the house across the street on January 4th. According to a local resident Israeli soldiers came to her house, where she and 18 other family members had taken shelter from the fighting outside, and deliberately shot at her family members. A report from Newsweek stated that Zahwa Samouni, and her son Faraj, said that prior to the shootings her husband presented his ID to the Israeli Military and identified himself as the owner of the house. After he told them he has children and pleaded for them to hold their fire they shot him repeatedly, about 20-30 times. “I don’t know how many” said a witness. He and his four year old son were both murdered.

Another incident reported was that of the Israeli Military forcing 45 members of the Samouni family into one room and subsequently blindfolding and cuffing 8 male members then proceeding to interrogate them. The family was then ordered outside and 3 of the men were ordered by soldiers to “walk to Gaza City” and to not come back. During the pleas of the men’s wives a soldier shot one of the men as they were leaving. A report published by Newsweek stated that a murdered member of the Samouni family was found on the street on January 4th with his hand cuffed.

According to Israeli soldiers who took part in operations in the Zeitoun district not a single ambulance was allowed to enter the sector. Civilians who did try to walk to the ambulances were turned back, with soldiers firing at them. Witnesses said that most of the family members who died had been killed instantly while others sustained wounds and were unable to recieve help in an adequate amount of time due to the Israeli Military’s refusal to allow paramedics access to the wounded. One Palestinian doctor said that over 100 phone calls were made by residents seeking help for the injured. Two medics were sent to the scene, however, they were blocked by the Israelis. One of the wounded was 12 year old Ishaq Samouni who bled for two days before eventually dying. When paramedics were finally let in, the scenes were horrific. Paramedics found four exhausted children beside their mothers’ corpses, these children were in the open for a full 48 hours next to their mothers’ corpses with Israeli soldiers nearby. The head of the Red Cross operations in the Gaza strip stated that the first resuce to arrive could only take out the wounded and had to leave the dead because of the fact that they only had 4 ambulances and were limited in time. Israel also restricted the entry of ambulances and the medics had to walk and then carry the injured in a donkey cart back to the ambulances which were a mile away. The Red Cross stated that the Israel did not fulfill its role in the care and vacating of the wounded as required by international law. The rest of the corpses were collected two weeks later.

The United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Navanethem Pillay, along with other international aid officials advocated an investigation in Zeitoun for possible war crimes

A report released by United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs stated that the attack on the Samouni family, who were among the Zeitoun victims, was one of the “gravest incidents” in the conflict.

It is also appropraite to note that the Samouni family thought they would be safe because they were following the Israeli Military’s directions. They though they were being protected.

Some time later the Israeli military closed its file on the killing the members of the Samouni family. They claimed that there was no ground for criminal or disciplinary action against those responsible for shelling the houses in which civilians were taking shelter in. The investigation “comprehensively refuted” claims that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) had intentionally targeted civilians or had acted in a reckless manner.

A report by South African judge Richard Goldstone on behalf of the United Nations examined in detail the Samouni family incident. It concluded the deaths were the result of “Israeli fire intentionally directed at them” in breach of the Geneva conventions.

The Goldstone report said Israel had repeatedly violated international law and possibly committed war crimes during the conflict, which Israel named Operation Cast Lead.

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