Tuesday, May 21
Latest News
  1. Cluster of incendiary balloons land in southern Israel
  2. Palestinian FM condemns Germany's vote to define BDS as 'anti-Semitic'
  3. Israeli forces forcibly evict Muslim worshipers from Al-Aqsa
  4. Israeli forces detain 14-year-old Palestinian near Ramallah
  5. Erekat: Deviation from peace terms of reference doomed to fail
  6. Iceland's Hatari shocks Eurovision with Palestinian flags
  7. UNRWA: 4 Palestinian children killed in attack on Syria refugee camp
  8. Israeli forces attack, injure Palestinian youths in Jerusalem
  9. Germany to condemn BDS movement as 'anti-Semitic'
  10. FM to UK Parliament: Two-state solution could reach point of no return

'I swear to you that I saw this with my own eyes'

Jan. 3, 2010 9:00 A.M. (Updated: Jan. 11, 2010 4:56 A.M.)
Part eight of a series recounting the findings of South African jurist Richard Goldstone's UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict.

Bethlehem – Ma'an – At least 15 people were killed and around 40 injured – many seriously – when Israeli forces struck the Al-Maqadmah Mosque northwest of Gaza's Jabaliya refugee camp with a missile on 3 January 2008.

"On the day of the event I went to the mosque to pray the evening prayer," said Moussa Al-Silawi, 91, the mosque's sheikh, during testimony to Richard Goldstone's UN fact-finding mission. "If we hear any aircraft, any bullets, if we hear anything, usually we run to the mosque to take refuge."

Al-Silawi explained: "Because of fear – we were so fearful – the only safe place was the mosque. And because we were so afraid we would send our elderly, our wives, our children to the mosque, because we believed – and you know very well that when you are fearful, any person, when you are scared, you should go to the church, because the church is a safe place. There is no safer place than a church.

"We therefore went to the mosque and sent our people to the mosque. ... As soon as the imam finished the prayer, then I stood up to preach to the people, to give a lesson, to talk about peacefulness.

"And after two words, there was a loud explosion in the mosque. Everybody was looking toward the qiblah, toward Mecca. I was the only one who was looking toward the door. And there I saw fragments like rain falling at the door of the mosque. At that moment we were all very, very fearful. Everybody was screaming, everybody was yelling: men, women, children."

"We screamed and we called for God. We called for God, we said, 'Please help us. Help us God. Help us God. Help us God,'" he said.

Al-Silawi added: "It was a terrible, terrible shock. I cannot describe to you what I saw: a safe place, and people go to the mosque for safety, and we saw bloodshed. There was blood in the mosque. I saw legs and arms. I saw the leg of a small child, and I stepped on it, even. ... We saw legs, arms, blood. I swear to you that I saw this with my own eyes.

"There was no more electricity and screaming was very high. People were running away. Some were going from the window. There was a lot of action and everybody running around in the mosque. At that moment I cannot describe to you what I felt. It was frightful. ...

"How can I describe it to you? I – with my own foot – I stepped on the head of a small child. Where is the world? Where is international law? Is this what the Palestinian people deserve, our children screaming?"

The Goldstone team established that the Israeli army fired a missile that struck near the doorway of the mosque. "The penetration pattern witnessed on the concrete ramp and stairs underneath is consistent with that which would be expected of a shrapnel fragmentation sleeve fitted onto an air-to-ground missile. Shrapnel cubes that the Mission retrieved from the rear inside wall of the mosque are consistent with what would be expected to be discharged by a missile of this nature."

While the final report did not determine with certainty which kind of aircraft or air-launch platform fired the missile, it "believes the testimony of the witnesses regarding the circumstances of the attack, finding it plausible and consistent not only with the other witnesses, but also with the physical evidence at the scene."

Another witness, Sabah Al-Salawi, lost five children in the attack. "After I heard the hammering of the rocket, I found people carrying bodies, and killed and wounded people in the ambulances. Then I rushed to the morgue and I saw the drawers of the morgue. I saw them.

"So how could you imagine my condition?" she added. "If we don't find protection in the house of God, where do we find protection? I demand all the people, Arabs and Jews, to avenge the martyrdom of my children and young children."

Goldstone's team heard five eyewitnesses who had been in the mosque at the time it was struck. They also heard from a number of relatives of those who died in the attack and has seen a number of sworn statements signed by them testifying to the facts they witnessed.

Additionally, the team interviewed the mosque's sheikh on three occasions, its imam twice, its muezzin, several members of the sheikh’s family, several of those injured in the blast and a number of the relatives who lost family members and who assisted in the immediate aftermath of the attack. It has seen medical certificates that bear out the nature of those injuries related by the young men it interviewed.

'I have never seen such a catastrophe'

The community's sheikh, Moussa Al-Silawi was charged with attending to the dead and injured. "I went to see the martyrs as the sheikh of the mosque, and the leader, the spiritual leader I went to the morgue. And in the morgue I saw limbs, body parts; it was terrible, especially when I saw five martyrs from my own family. ...

"What I saw, ladies and gentlemen, was terrible. ... I saw a man carrying half a corpse, half a person, with blood falling on the ground. I saw that. There were 17 martyrs in all, 45 wounded. Some lost their limbs, be it a hand or a foot. After the event, we realized that a small boy, who was not more than 15 years old, he was sitting at the door of the mosque. The missile hit the boy directly – 15 years old. He had learned the Qur'an, and on the second day, I swear to you we found his foot on the roof of the mosque. ...

"A dog could die. A dog would die in one of the European countries or in Israel and there is upheaval because of the dog, but we see sheikhs dying, their body parts scattered around in a place of worship, and nobody looks at them. Where is justice?" he said.

"I am 91 years old. I was born in 1917. I lived at the time of the Turks, the time of the British, but we never saw anything of this sort. We've never seen something like that. ... I have never seen such a catastrophe.

"And what can I say? What can I say except that this is the will of God. Whoever hears my voice, whoever can see me, he has to say 'amen.' May he say that may God protect us, may God forgive us, may he punish our enemies, may God punish these enemies and may he punish also all the Arabs that have allowed this to happen," he told the commission.

According to the Goldstone report, commission members observed that the interior walls of the mosque and part of the exterior wall around the doorway appeared to have suffered significant damage as a result of a spray of small metal cubes. A good number of these were lodged in the wall even at the time of the visit to the site in June 2009.

Several of these were retrieved and the commission could see how deeply embedded they were in the concrete walls, the report states. One of the two wooden doors was blown off its hinges, landing across the prayer area at the opposite wall.

'An attack on the civilian population'

There has been no suggestion that the mosque was being used at that time to launch projectiles, store weapons or shelter combatants. "Since it does not appear from the testimonies of the incident or the inspection of the site that any other damage was done in the area at that time, the Mission concludes that what occurred was an isolated strike and not in connection with an ongoing battle or exchange of fire."

In response, Israel's army stated, without elaborating: "… relating to a strike against the 'Maqadme' mosque in Beit-Lahiya on January 3rd, 2009, it was discovered that as opposed to the claims, the mosque was not attacked at all. Furthermore, it was found that the supposed uninvolved civilians who were the casualties of the attack were in fact Hamas operatives killed while fighting against the IDF."

Al-Silawi rejected the notion that there was armed activity anywhere in the vicinity. "I challenge the State of Israel to prove that we had any kind of military operations or any military indication around the mosque," he said. "The neighborhood in which we live is a very safe neighborhood. There was relative calm. Our neighborhood is peaceful."

He added, "And I wonder, is there in the Israeli law a provision that says you cannot go to a mosque in time of war? Are people prohibited from reaching a place of worship? Is there such a provision, such a law in Israel, or a law that would prohibit me from going to church? If so, then we will not go to places of worship."

The Goldstone report reinforces the sheikh's account, noting that as far as Israel's explanation is concerned, "Apart from the apparent contradictions it contains, the Mission notes that the statement does not indicate in any way the nature of the inquiry, the source of its information or the reliability and credibility of such sources.

"In the absence of any explanation as to the circumstances that led to the missile strike on al-Maqadmah mosque and taking into account the credible and reliable accounts the Mission heard from multiple witnesses, as well as the matters it could review for itself by visiting the site, the Mission concludes that the mosque was intentionally targeted by the Israeli armed forces. The Mission also takes into account the precision and sophistication of the Israeli armed forces' munitions in making this finding.

"The Mission's finding is strengthened in the face of the unsatisfactory and demonstrably false position of the Israeli Government," the Goldstone report states. "It follows that this was an attack on the civilian population as such and not on a military objective."
Powered By: HTD Technologies
Ma'an News Agency
All rights reserved © 2005-2015