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A day in Jabalia camp

26-10-2004 Feature by Simon Schorno

The situation in northern Gaza has been of grave concern since the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) launched their operation "Days of Penitence" at the end of September. The ICRC, in collaboration with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, has been trying to help by delivering emergency aid and medical assistance.


  Jabalia camp, October 2004© ICRC /Simon Schorno 
The eastern Jabalia neighbourhood of Shusha'a has been under de facto curfew for twelve days following a major incursion by Israel Defence Forces (IDF) into northern Gaza. On October 11, an ICRC convoy finally managed to deliver emergency assistance to around forty families in this area.
The roads leading to Jabalia are so damaged that we can only reach our destination with a bulldozer opening the way. Drones are humming above and Apache helicopters appear frequently in the distance. As we step out of our cars, a teenager and her grandmother come out of a house waving an improvised white flag towards the tank that is stationed across the street. A few metres away, an armoured bulldozer is levelling a patch of sandy land strewn with debris.
A tank has just turned its turret towards the crowd that starts to gather around the Red Cross cars. Fayez el Akra, an ICRC field officer, shouts at children trying to get a closer look at us to stay inside, in the relative safety of their homes. We are told that no one has been able to leave their houses for the last twelve days. Amal, the young girl with the white flag, says that her school has been closed since the military operation started.
Faces are wary and tired. Gunfire erupts nearby, so we distribute our emergency food packages and bottled water rapidly. Elderly people requesting medicines swarm the Palestine Red Crescent Society team and doctor that accompanied us. A sick teenager is moved into their car for evacuation.
During Operation " Days of Penitence " , the ICRC has been going into the area almost every day, although safe access was not possible on several occasions. This visit is the first time anyone has reached the neighbourhood of Shusha'a.  
  Jabalia camp, October 2004© ICRC /Simon Schorno 
  " Days of Penitence " , was launched by the IDF on 28 September with the proclaimed aim to put an end to rocket fire by Palestinian militants into southern Israel. The operation ended on 15 October, and now stands as the heaviest IDF incursion into the Gaza Strip (in terms of casualties) since the beginning of the second Intifada in 2000.
The IDF repeated that it was doing its best to avoid civilian casualties, but the intensity and duration of the fighting has been traumatic for thousands of residents in Jabalia and the surrounding neighbourhoods. The toll on civilians who do not take part in the hostilities has been high, with many children killed.
Dozens of houses have been destroyed and damage to the i nfrastructure is extensive. According to international humanitarian law (IHL), constant care must be taken in the conduct of military operations to spare the civilian population.
In eighteen days, the ICRC assisted over 2'400 Jabalia families, unable to leave their homes due to intense fighting, with food parcels and drinking water. It successfully coordinated the passage of eighty medical missions in and out of Jabalia, for a total of about 150 patients.
In addition, the ICRC repeatedly escorted Palestine Red Crescent Society medical teams as well as municipal engineers into eastern Jabalia. The latter carried out emergency repairs, restoring access to tap water and electricity for 5'000 residents.
Now, as a semblance of normality returns to Jabalia, Gaza-based ICRC teams start to interview dozens of residents and victims to document violations of international humanitarian law that may have taken place during the latest operation.
The ICRC will then use this data as a basis for confidential interventions addressed to the relevant authorities.