Al Samuni family: 29 killed for no reason

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Zeituni village is close to the sea, but not on the shore, far from the refugees’ territory, far from the border wall. In other words, the location is really good. Not too long ago this was a prosperous village, where Gaza farmers lived. The land is very fertile, many rich families lived here.

The Samunis were some of the wealthiest residents. They had large vineyards and fields, a big house. The grandfather began to work with Jews and told his son to be friends with them. His son faithfully worked with the Jewish settlers for 40 years. When Sharon removed the settlements, he was sincerely upset about that. Not because he lost his job of hired help. No, he had his own land. But he really thought he needed to be a good neighbor to the Jews. He, his brothers and children spoke Hebrew and got along with the Israelis.

“When somebody got sick and didn’t come into work, our Jewish partner called us and asked what had happened. Many of our people worked driving their tractors,” says the mother of the Samuni family, Um Ahmad. She is a middle aged woman, but still very strong and smiles a lot. She radiates the calmness and dignity that women who were born into wealthy families keep, even when they end up in unfortunate circumstances. She, her parents, her children never belonged to any party or resistance group. On the contrary, the Samuni family supported the Israelis. They were convinced that the Israelis would not touch them no matter what happened.

She explains that good relations with the Israelis didn’t require close ties. “They were not allowed to talk to us, even at work,” says Um Ahmad. She has no doubts that their family was in good standings with Israel.

We are standing by a tiny shed, covered by broken slate, in a small backyard, shaded by old tarp and separated from the street by a fence made out of fabric. Today that is everything the Samuni family has left, besides their land. She recalls the events of 4 and 5 January, 2009. The Operation Cast Lead was in full swing, but the Samuni family was convinced that it would not affect them.

“For us the war started here,” — Um Ahmad points to a lot at a distance. – “A helicopter landed there. People wearing Hamas uniforms came out of it. They began to ask us who was part of Hamas in our village and where they were. I told them that there was no Hamas here, and told them to leave, because the Israelis would find and kill them all. And they told us we were the Hamas and they were going to kill us. They were the Druze from Israel, and they began to shoot. They killed my brothers, sisters in law, my sisters, my mother. They destroyed our house. Everything was ruined – our papers, diplomas. They shot at everyone. My six children survived, but many of my relatives lost their children. Later, 40 tanks came – they all drove through our fields, destroying everything. There were 200 wounded in our family. They would not let the ambulances drive in. My youngest child was killed in my arms, he was only a few months old. Then they destroyed the house along with the bodies of my family members.”

In one day she lost 29 of her family members. She still doesn’t understand why she and her children had to go through all that. She is not complaining, she looks at the faces of the children who survived with a smile and tells how they obeyed the Israeli soldiers and went where they were told to go. She remembers that no one was scared, neither her children, nor her husband and his brothers – they were sure that the Israeli soldiers wouldn’t hurt them.

I ask if her family had weapons, if they fought back. May be the Israelis thought that her relatives who had weapons were Hamas?

“We didn’t have weapons. They saw that not one was armed, they knew that we were just farmers,” Um Ahmad says.

The mother of this family is embarrassed that she couldn’t ask her guests sit down and doesn’t have any food to offer. She points at a shed where she and her children put everything that they could salvage from the ruins. They now sleep here. All they have now are several mattresses, benches, a radio and an oil lamp. The UN gave them several tents.

“This is a little hut where our employees used to rest when they worked in the fields. We had a house, and now there is no water, no electricity. All the crops are destroyed. Many people abroad want to help us. There are two containers that were sent to us, but the Egyptian side wouldn’t let them through. The ministry of women’s affairs decided to help us, they gave us rabbits.” Um Ahmad tells the children to show me the rabbits. The rabbits are in cages under a tarp. “It is very hot for rabbits here. Do you want to see our school? You can see it from here, — tell me Um Ahmad’s children, — the school was also destroyed, but later restored.” Just like their mother, the Samuni children keep smiling when they speak.

Um Ahmad pulls up the curtain of a shabby tent – “This is our living room”. Old carpets are on the floor, they are like couches in a real living room. Her oldest son is 18, he studies and works. The younger ones want to become engineers and journalists. Engineers, so that they can rebuild everything here. Journalists, so that they remember everything that happened. No one wants to be a doctor, even though most Palestinian kids dream of becoming doctors. Um Ahmad explains, “For them a doctor is someone who gives shots, bringing pain”.

There is a whole page about this family in the Goldstone Report. But they didn’t get any help. This family cannot build a new house and restore their fields on their own. They tried to file a lawsuit against the Israeli army. The head of the family died, but they never got any compensation for the damages and the deaths of their family members.

Media often writes about the Samuni family, the number of those killed varies from 22 to 92. Um Ahmad is not mad, she is just surprised why it is so hard for journalists to get their facts straight, the names of all 29 victims are well known. In order to make the journalists’ job easier Um Ahmad gathered all remaining pictures of her relatives and made a poster. Her husband is in the middle, he died a natural death then. Unlike the ones who were killed, his picture is not framed.

She moves her finger from one portrait to another and tells about each one — who they were and how they died. Little children and young girls didn’t have pictures. But Um Ahmad has a picture of little children in her family who died, with bullet holes in their bodies.

Um Ahmad tries not to look at this picture with dead bodies. She looks at portraits of her family and smiles, looking at her children, nieces and nephews, coming around her for a picture. She asks them to sit in one row. This way she feels like the family is together again. Men, though dead, are behind her. And her children, who are alive, next to her. And everything is fine.

RUSSIA TODAY Published: 21 July, 2010, 08:35

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