Hunted by drones

Hunted by drones, dodging rockets and tank shells: An ordinary family’s nightmare trapped inside Gaza’s dead zone
PUBLISHED: 01:12, 18 November 2012 | UPDATED: 13:13, 18 November 2012
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Ahmed Abu Hamda is a 42-year-old radio producer in beleaguered Gaza City, where he lives with his wife Suha and sons Mostafa, three, and Mohammad, two. Here he tells how life there has become a nightmare for him and his family.

Ahmed Abu Hamda is in Gaza with his young family. He writes about his experiences as Israeli airstrikes rain down around him
Ever since the Israeli aerial attacks on Gaza began on Wednesday afternoon, most of the 1.4million people living here have been concerned with just one thing: how to keep their families from harm.
But Gaza is such a small place, and so overpopulated, that there is nowhere to hide.
The streets are almost deserted. People rush out to buy food and other essentials, but mostly families stay hunkered down in their homes as Israeli bombs and missiles rain down, shaking the buildings and making our children cry.
We are surrounded on three sides and from the air. Our only escape, across the Egyptian border in the south, is closed off to most people.
Israel has attacked more than 300 targets, using guided missiles from F-15 fighter bombers, artillery from gunboats cruising to the west off our Mediterranean beach, and shells fired from tanks and artillery batteries massed on the Gaza-Israel border to the north and east.
The fighters from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees and the other militant groups are nowhere and everywhere.
They move like shadows through our society, a few thousand people who hold the fate of a nation in their hands.
Usually they fire their rockets and mortars from isolated fields and villages in the north and west of the Gaza Strip, closer to the border with Israel, to bring more Israeli territory within range.

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Since Wednesday, they have moved eastwards into the heart of Gaza City.
The first indication that the fighters have taken up position near your house is the whoosh of a rocket as it roars past your window, often followed just seconds later by the ground-shaking impact of an Israeli counter-strike.
Even if you manage to stay away from the obvious targets – the Hamas security compounds, weapons stores, arms manufacturing workshops and rocket-launchers – the violence can follow you.

Smoke rises after Israeli planes drop ordnance in Gaza City. 300 air strikes have taken place in the last few days

A Palestinian carries a wounded female relative into the treatment room of Shifa hospital following an Israeli airstrike
If the Israelis track a militant suspect down your street and happen to strike his motorcycle or car just as you are coming home, you have no protection. Israeli eyes are everywhere.
Their drones hover like invisible demons above us, flying unseen and unheard high in the sky with their high-technology spyware. The drones follow suspects and beam back their co-ordinates to the soldiers who fire off missiles – as if they were playing some deadly video game with real flesh-and-blood targets.
‘This is a game that the Israelis are playing with us,’ says one friend. ‘It is totally unfair to compare Gaza to Israel militarily.
‘Israel has planes and tanks and they could invade the entire Gaza Strip in 15 minutes.

Sorrow: Palestinian women cry during the funeral of Audi Naser, who was killed in an Israeli air strike, during his funeral in Beit Hanun, northern Gaza Strip
‘They watch us from their drones and they peer right into our homes. They know what we are doing all the time. They like to hunt people. We are like chess pieces and they are just playing with us.’
Even your home is not safe. I have seen too many people badly injured and even killed, not by direct hits from the Israeli missiles – though I have seen that too – but by the flying glass and shrapnel that accompanies each explosion.
Then there is the blast wave, a silent tsunami of pressure that rampages through a house like a rhino – shattering windows, wrecking furniture and demolishing our flimsy Gazan walls.
The damage is enormous, and it can be deadly – especially for children and the elderly trapped under the debris and the rubble.
I am always being asked how I keep my family safe, but the truth is that nowhere in Gaza is safe – there are only places that are risky, and places that are less risky.

Fire in the sky: An Israeli F-15 jet fighter as it lowers its landing gear to come in for a landing at an air force base in southern Israel

Blaze: Firefighters try to extinguish a fire at a factory, which according to Palestinians, was hit by an Israeli air strike in Gaza
When I go out to work, first I take my wife and two small sons to my in-laws. It’s no safer where they live because the militants and the Israeli drones that hunt them are everywhere.
But at least if something happens to me they will not be alone. At least my wife will be with her parents and the boys will be with their grandparents.
People in Gaza have become increasingly unhappy with Hamas since they took control in 2007. Unemployment remains high and wages are low.
At the bakeries and groceries, there are large crowds stocking up on bread, flour and potatoes – buying three times as much as they can use and creating a shortage of food where there is none.
In this way, we take the crisis and make it even worse for ourselves.
But despite these privations and problems, the sheer indiscriminate deadly might of the Israeli onslaught has turned almost all Gazans into Hamas patriots.
One of my friends, a secular woman who until now has had little patience for the strictures of Hamas, summed up the feelings of many even as the bombs were falling. ‘I feel like this is my independence day,’ she said.

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