Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Foe of Hamas wonders why Israelis destroyed his Gaza home

Raid el Atmnah, 37, stands in rubble that used to be his home in Gaza. He was ordered to leave and returned to find the rubble.

JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times

Raid el Atmnah, 37, stands in rubble that used to be his home in Gaza. He was ordered to leave and returned to find the rubble.

GAZA STRIP — He appeared suddenly, a tall, bearded man with an expression both eager and desperate.

"Do you remember me? I worked with you."

And then, "Please come. I want to show you my house."

I had not recognized him — he used to be clean-shaven — but soon realized it was Raid el Atmnah, a teacher and newspaper editor who had been our interpreter when Times photojournalist John Pendygraft and I were in Gaza in 2006 to cover the Palestinian elections.

Now we were back, come to see what had been a middle-class Gaza neighborhood before Israeli tanks and jets blasted much of it to smithereens in January during a three-week war with Hamas.

Raid led us past the charred hulk of an old Mercedes-Benz and up a hill of broken concrete, twisted rebar and crumpled metal. He bent down and picked up a small piece of flowered ceramic tile.

"This is how I know my house," he said.

He had built it just two years ago, after moving from a more crowded part of Gaza where an Israeli airstrike killed 20 relatives in 2006. He thought his family would be safer here, in the quiet Abed Rabbo neighborhood on the edge of green farm fields separating the Gaza Strip and Israel.

But then war broke out. Huddled together, Raid and his kids peered through the one-way mirrored glass he had installed in his new house — he was clearly proud of that glass — and watched the approach of Israeli tanks, followed by F-16s, helicopters and blimplike drones, cartoonish in their fat white bulk. For three days they watched until finally they were told to get out.

When they returned, there was nothing left.

"Why did they do this?" he asked. "I don't have any support for Hamas. There were no fighters here."

We believed him. In 2006, Raid told us he belonged to the rival Fatah Party and feared he would lose his job editing a Fatah newspaper if Hamas won the elections. But he was the consummate professional, translating the many statements of dissatisfaction voiced by Gazans fed up with what they saw as the corrupt, incompetent Fatah government that Raid himself worked for.

Hamas, of course, won and seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. That led to an Israeli blockade of Gaza that grew ever tighter as militants fired hundreds of rockets into southern Israel. A six-month cease-fire ended in December with more rockets and finally war.

But was war necessary?

Writing this week in the Jerusalem Post, Gershon Baskin, co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, disclosed that for more than two years he had been in contact with a "senior Hamas personality" in Europe over the release of Gilad Schalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Hamas and held in Gaza since 2006. The Israeli government knew of those contacts and gave him permission to continue, Baskin says.

Ten days before the war began in December, Baskin wrote to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other Israeli leaders that Hamas was willing to open a "direct secret back channel" for a deal that would include renewal of the cease-fire and a prisoner exchange for Schalit. Baskin waited for a response but heard nothing.

"When the war broke out," Baskin writes, "I understood that the decision to go to war had already been taken and that the government preferred to teach Hamas a lesson rather than negotiate a new cease-fire and the release of Schalit."

Today, with Hamas still in power, still holding Schalit, still proposing the same deal as before, Baskin wonders: "What did this war achieve?"

"Israel spent $1 billion on the war, caused some $2 billion worth of damage in Gaza, more than 1,000 people have been killed, thousands of lives have been destroyed. What is the result? More hatred, more extremism and more support for fanatics and their ideas on both sides of the Gaza border."

Now renting a shabby apartment and faced with starting over, our former interpreter isn't a fanatic. But he is angry — at Hamas and Fatah for fighting each other, at Israel for destroying the house where he thought he would raise his youngest kids, 2 and 4, in safety. Amid the debris he couldn't even find a razor to clear his stubble.

But he pulled something from his pocket.

"This is the key for my car. I want to teach my kids that I had a car and I had a house."

Susan Taylor Martin can be reached at susan@sptimes.com.

Border to stay shut

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that border crossings with Gaza will not be fully opened until a captured Israeli soldier held since 2007 is freed. "Hamas must think twice if they think we will open borders before Gilad Schalit is returned home and healthy," he said. Egypt is trying to mediate a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas, which insists that border crossings must be opened as part of the deal.

Associated Press

Foe of Hamas wonders why Israelis destroyed his Gaza home 02/15/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 18, 2009 10:28am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. No touchdown, but fun lesson for Bucs' Adam Humphries

    Bucs

    It didn't end up being a touchdown, but one of the Bucs' biggest hustle plays in Thursday's win over Jacksonville saw receiver Adam Humphries scoop up a loose ball just before halftime, after what looked like an incompletion but was correctly ruled a Jameis Winston fumble.

    Bucs WR Adam Humphries runs to the end zone with QB Jameis Winston trailing -- his alert play wasn't a touchdown because teammates cannot advance a fumble in the final two minutes of a half.
  2. Bucs' Demar Dotson should be back from injury next week

    Bucs

    The Bucs got good news on starting right tackle Demar Dotson, whose MRI showed only a mild right groin sprain and should be back at practice next week.

    Bucs tackle Demar Dotson, shown last year when he signed a three-year contract extension, should only miss a week of practice with his groin injury and can return healthy for the Bucs' season opener at Miami in three weeks. [Octavio Jones | Times]
  3. Comedy legend Jerry Lewis dead at 91

    Obituaries

    LOS ANGELES — Jerry Lewis, the manic, rubber-faced showman who jumped and hollered to fame in a lucrative partnership with Dean Martin, settled down to become a self-conscious screen auteur and found an even greater following as the tireless, teary host of the annual muscular dystrophy telethons, has died. He was …

    In this Sept. 2, 1990, file photo, entertainer Jerry Lewis makes his opening remarks at the 25th Anniversary of the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon fundraiser in Los Angeles. Lewis, the comedian whose fundraising telethons became as famous as his hit movies, has died according to his publicist. [Associated Press]
  4. Mastermind of lottery rigging scam that netted millions faces 25 years

    Nation

    DES MOINES, Iowa — For a decade, computer programmer Eddie Tipton reliably showed up for work at the central Iowa office of the Multi-State Lottery Association and earned the confidence of his co-workers, a team of technicians entrusted to build computers used to randomly pick numbers for some of the most popular …

    FILE - In this June 29, 2017, file photo, Eddie Tipton, the former Multi-State Lottery Association information security director who admitted to masterminding a scheme to rig lottery games that paid him and others $2 million from seven fixed jackpots in five states, is seen in court in Des Moines, Iowa. Tipton is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday, Aug. 22. (Rodney White/The Des Moines Register via AP, File) IADES501
  5. Pasco County man killed in wrong-way crash on New Jersey Turnpike

    Accidents

    MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. — Authorities say a Florida man driving the wrong way on the New Jersey Turnpike was killed when his SUV crashed head-on into another vehicle.