Sandra Jordan in Rafah
Sunday May 23, 2004
Rawan Mohammed Abu Zaed, aged three and a half, went to the shop with two of her sisters to spend their pocket money on sweets.
Sick of being cooped up at home after a week of Israeli army attacks, the girls were taking advantage of a lull in the violence, but minutes after leaving home Rawan was shot in the face and neck by an Israeli tank.
Her dying words were: ‘Mummy, Mummy’.
Three hours after her death yesterday, her father, Mohammed, placed Rawan’s small body in a grave. All he had left of her was a photograph of a pretty elfin girl.
The 45-year-old father of 12 cried as he told of how Rawan used to run to him and how she loved to sleep in his arms. ‘Her mother died giving birth,’ he said, ‘so I always try to compensate, and that’s why we are so attached. I am both mum and dad to her. She’s very intelligent, more like a 10-year-old than a three-year-old.’
According to the Palestinians, Rawan was the 11th child to be killed by the Israeli Defence Force since Operation Rainbow began last week. During the funeral, IDF planes circled the skies, giving the citizens of Rafah little hope for a let-up in the offensive that has killed at least 60 Palestinians so far.
The Israeli attacks began in response to the killing of seven soldiers here. The IDF claims it is targeting only militants and demolishing houses that conceal tunnels used to smuggle arms from Egypt. ‘Does Rawan drive a tank?’ asked Mohammed. ‘Does she fire rockets?
There was none of the usual rhetoric common at the funerals of Palestinians killed by the IDF. There was just Mohammed, an unemployed labourer who used to work in Israel, saying quietly: ‘Sharon is the first and last to blame.’
Rawan’s uncle Abed trembled as he denounced her killers: ‘She was an innocent child. And she deserved a gentle hand after losing her mother. Instead, she was killed by an Israeli hand with an American weapon.’
A stench of decaying flesh permeated the cemetery: half-filled mass graves remain open for shaheeds or martyrs. There were no gunmen firing over Rawan’s tomb, and the crowd was smaller than the usual turnout of thousands to honour the death of an infant.
Instead, most of her neighbours were packing their belongings on donkey carts and fleeing the homes they fear will be destroyed during the next Israeli incursion.
Much of the area is without electricity or water and looks as if it has been hit by an earthquake: the roads have been ploughed up by tanks and whole streets of former houses are in ruins.
At least 3,000 people have been made homeless in the past week and thousands more, including Mohammed, expect to join their ranks over the weekend.
‘I never expected my child to be a shaheed. Now I will make a prison for my other children at home and I won’t let them ever leave the house.’