21 Jul 2014

‘If you can hear the missile land, at least you’re not dead’

The two bangs were preceded by a millisecond of whiz, as a building very close to where I was standing took the hits. The blast-wave of the “boof” hits your stomach just as the explosions hit your eardrums.

Rule number one, as Anna-Lisa, my producer, pointed out: “Well, if you hear it, at least you know you’re probably not dead.”

The good news is that we don’t think we’re dead.

Your immediate reaction is to jump up, go into involuntary Tourette’s Syndrome, dive for a wall, then discuss in a panicky sort of way with those you’re with where it was and what it was.

F-16? Maybe. Or Apache? Possibly a shell from one of the gunboats. Hard to know. Not one of the drones though. They’re circling and whining overhead non-stop like loud and incredibly irritating mosquitos.

The drones usually deliver targeted assassination ordnance; small rockets that explode in confined spaces – like front rooms or cars. If they hit cars, they can kill the occupants in the front seats while leaving the back-seat passengers with minor injuries and burst eardrums. Drones also deliver the ‘knocks on the roof’.

Outgoing and incoming

The noises of Gaza are under constant discussion. We like to think we become experts, but actually, even those with much experience of conflict zones find it hard to know.

The difference between outgoing and incoming is generally pretty easy. A rocket-launch near-by sounds like a tube-train roaring though an empty station. Distant incoming: a dull thud, reverberating down the empty streets, across the Gaza City rooftops.

Well, obviously, it’s not a dull thud if you’re more or less under it, like we just were.

Small arms fire is easy. If you’re near the front line, over in Shajiayah, which got pummeled yesterday, you can hear the single shots of Israeli snipers, who have occupied tall buildings from Beit Hanoun village in the north to Rafah city in the south.

We heard small arms fire yesterday in Shajiayah yesterday though which was more likely to have been Hamas militants engaging with Israeli forces. That means we were too close. Far too close.

Israeli rocket is fired into the northern Gaza Strip

Late last night, just as we were ready to sink comatose into bed, there was a lot of shooting. That turned out to be celebratory fire. The Qassam Brigades of Hamas had just announced the capture of an Israeli soldier.

The mosques then started up. The muezzins in the minarets announcing the “joyous” news which prompted celebrations the length of Gaza and as far away as the West Bank, in Ramallah, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron.

The world silently watches

Going back to Anna-Lisa’s comment, the more than 500 who’ve been killed in this conflict so far are unlikely to have heard a thing. Death comes in an instant, visited from unseen, unheard fighter jets above.

What Palestinians in Gaza can’t work out is why the outside world seems deaf to their cries for intervention to stop this relentless bombing. We are hearing reports as I write of a great intensification of the Israeli offensive, from ground and air.

Two mornings ago, after a night of heavy shelling and broken sleep, I woke to hear a bird singing away just outside my window, in the silence that punctuates the bombing. I just stood there and listened and loved it. In the distance, the sound of the waves lapping on the Mediterranean beach.

And then the grumble of an F-16 took over and the bird stopped singing.

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