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Palestinian US College Grad Loses 2 Brothers in Israeli Shooting; Father Watched Son Bleed to Death After Israeli Troops Bar Ambulances

StoryJanuary 21, 2009
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Amer Shurrab is a Palestinian from Khan Younis and a recent graduate of Vermont’s Middlebury College. On Friday, his father and two brothers were fleeing their village when their vehicle came under Israeli fire. Twenty-eight-year-old Kassab died in a hail of bullets trying to flee the vehicle. Eighteen-year-old Ibrahim survived the initial attack, but Israeli troops refused to allow an ambulance to reach them until twenty hours later. By then, it was too late. Ibrahim had bled to death in front of his father. Amer joins us to tell his story. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have begun trying to rebuild and recover, following an end to Israel’s three-week attack. Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire on Saturday, ending a twenty-two day assault that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, most of them civilians, at least a third children. Hamas followed with a declaration of a one-week ceasefire until Israel withdraws all its troops.

Israel called off its attack after the Bush administration signed a deal promising increased US cooperation in halting arms smuggling into Gaza. The incoming Obama administration also backed the agreement.

Israel’s ceasefire is widely seen to have little to do with the situation on the ground, but instead with the timing of yesterday’s inauguration of Barack Obama. Early Wednesday, Israel said it had completed its troop pullout from Gaza. The statement came about thirteen hours after Obama was sworn into office.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army announced it will investigate claims it used white phosphorus illegally in its three-week assault. The move follows numerous allegations by the media and human rights groups that the army fired phosphorus shells where they could harm civilians. White phosphorus shells cause horrific burns if they come in contact with the skin.

On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon toured the UN’s badly damaged headquarters in Gaza City. The compound was set aflame when Israel attacked it last week, burning hundreds of tons of desperately needed aid stored in the warehouses. Ban Ki-moon said he was “appalled” at the destruction.

The damage to Gaza’s infrastructure is estimated in the billions. UN humanitarian chief John Holmes has urged Israel to fully open all crossings to allow a free flow of goods. He said no reconstruction could begin until Israel allows building materials into Gaza. Thousands of buildings are destroyed, including more than 4,000 homes. Estimates for the rebuilding of Gaza’s devastated infrastructure are in the billions of dollars. At least 400,000 people are still without running water. About 100,000 have been internally displaced. Electricity is scarce, available for less than half the day, if it’s available at all.

Bodies continue to be pulled out of the rubble of destroyed buildings and homes. On Monday, the forty-eighth corpse was discovered from a block in the Zeitoun district that was wiped out in an Israeli bombing. Witnesses and aid workers have reported the victims were taking shelter in the homes on the block on orders from the Israeli military. The Red Cross has accused Israel of blocking medical workers from reaching the site for days.

On Friday, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni faced questions about alleged Israeli war crimes at a news conference here in Washington, D.C. She was questioned by Russell Mokhiber of the Corporate Crime Reporter.

    RUSSELL MOKHIBER: Russell Mokhiber. I believe —-

    MODERATOR: Let me remind you, please keep your questions short, very short.

    RUSSELL MOKHIBER: It’ll be short.

    TZIPI LIVNI: I’ll try to do so with my answers.

    RUSSELL MOKHIBER: I believe about thirteen Israelis have been killed in this conflict. Human Rights Watch put out a report today saying more than a thousand Palestinians have been killed, including 322 children, and more than 4,500 Palestinians have been wounded, including 1,600 children. The report says -— accuses Israel of engaging in war crimes. By using this weapon in such circumstance, Israel is committing indiscriminate attacks in violation of the laws of war. I’d like your response to that.

    TZIPI LIVNI: Well, Israel is acting not only according to the international law, but according to our values. And the Israeli soldiers are trying to avoid any kind of civil casualties. Before we started the military operation, we announced through the media —- we asked them to leave places in which there are Hamas headquarters. And unfortunately, they have Hamas headquarters in places in which they live. This is a highly populated place. Before targeting a house, we called. Israel made about 90,000 phone calls to citizens, asking them to leave before we target a place in which we know that we have Hamas headquarter or a place in which they manufacture Qassam rockets.

    RUSSELL MOKHIBER: Well, this report says -—

    TZIPI LIVNI: To which I am trying to — I would like to answer —- I would like to answer your question. Thank you. Now, a loss of a child is something which is terrible to any family. We are trying -—

    MODERATOR: Dan, you’re next.

    TZIPI LIVNI: We are trying —-

    RUSSELL MOKHIBER: Where is the answer? Where is the answer?

    TZIPI LIVNI: No, I want -— before — but I would like — it’s very important —-

    RUSSELL MOKHIBER: Peter, I have a question for you: how come -— since when does the Press Club invite terrorists like her? Since when [inaudible] Press Club to a terrorist like her?

    TZIPI LIVNI: I would like to give an answer, not to you, but to those who ask this question and they really care, because we do care for the loss of life of civilians. And during this war, we tried to avoid civil casualties, but these things happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, answering Russell Mokhiber at a news conference on Friday before Mokhiber’s microphone was cut. That video courtesy of therealnews.com.

Well, as the Foreign Minister was denying Israeli war crimes in Gaza Friday, my next guest lost two of his brothers to Israeli attacks on that same day. Amer Shurrab is a Palestinian from Khan Younis living in the United States. On Friday, his father and two brothers were fleeing their village when their vehicle came under Israeli fire. Twenty-eight-year-old Kassab died in a hail of bullets trying to flee the vehicle. Eighteen-year-old Ibrahim survived the initial attack, but Israeli troops refused to allow an ambulance to reach them until twenty hours later. By then, it was too late. Ibrahim had bled to death in front of his father.

Amer Shurrab lives here in Washington, D.C. He joins me now in the studio.

Amer, can you explain what you understand took place?

AMER SHURRAB: Well, thank you for having me, Amy. What happened on Friday, my dad, Mohammed Shurrab, and my two brothers were leaving our farm in the Fukhari area. It’s a neighborhood of Khan Younis. They were driving back home at the time of the daily lull or the ceasefire. They left the farm at around 12:45, afternoon, and they were driving on one of the main roads in the area. As they turned into that road, Israeli troops opened fire on them from a house that they occupied in the area. They started firing at them without warning, without saying “Stop” or “You can’t pass by.” And they fired to kill. They didn’t fire at the engine or at the tires. They fired toward the passengers and toward the drivers.

My brother Kassab was hit with several bullets, and as my dad and my brother Ibrahim tried to duck, Kassab was hit with so many bullets, including a bullet in the chest. And he tried to jump out of the car, but he fell out like a meter away from the car, and he fell on his face. My dad got Ibrahim, and then the soldiers started shouting at them with broken Arabic, “Get out of the car, you SOBs!” So, as Ibrahim opened the door of the car, he was trying to get off, and they shot him in his leg. He was shot in the leg under the knee. So he screamed, “I got injured!” and he fell on the ground. And my dad, at this point, he couldn’t even get out of the car because of the hail of bullets. And he finally managed to get out.

So, they were outside of the car. Ibrahim tried to call an ambulance, but the soldiers shouted at him, “Drop it, or I’m going to shoot you, you…” — and he cursed at him. And they told them not to move. So they had their backs to their car. The car hit a wall. And my dad and my brother had their back to the wall. They were both bleeding. My dad was hit with a bullet in his left arm. They were bleeding. The soldiers them, “Oh, call an ambulance.” But they would even only allow my dad to use a phone. They wouldn’t allow Ibrahim to do it. And they threatened to shoot them several times.


So my dad tried to call the ambulance. He asked Ibrahim for the emergency number, which is 101. He called them. He called the Palestinian Red Crescent, and they asked for an ambulance. He gave them his location. But they said, “We can’t send an ambulance without the coordination and approval of the Israeli army. And they’re not giving us permission.” So my dad called my uncle, asked him to find a way to send an ambulance. So my uncle found an ambulance and went there, on his own responsibility, trying to rescue them. But they were stopped by some Israeli tanks, and they told them, “Go back, or we will start shooting at you.” So they had to leave. And my uncle called the Red Cross, the International Red Cross. He called, and the Red Cross tried to get in touch with the IDF to get help through, but the IDF wouldn’t give them any positive response. They also called — the Red Cross called a human rights organization, the Physicians for Human Rights, the Israel chapter, who also got in touch with the Israeli army and tried to get help through, but they wouldn’t get any permission. They kept calling them, but in vain.

At the same time, my dad and my brother were still bleeding. They weren’t even allowed to get back into the car. They asked the troops, who could see them and hear them, they asked for help. They asked for some first aid or to allow some ambulance in. But the troops would say, “Oh, call an ambulance. Let the ambulance come and pick you up.” My dad continued to call the emergency number, and they told him, “We can’t do anything.”

That was — so by around 7:00 or 8:00, you know, the media, local media, started calling him, and they asked him to broadcast his — lively, on air. He gave his location. He gave his name and the condition he is in, and he asked for help, for somebody to dispatch an ambulance. He called several — several local radios talked to him, as well as BBC Arabic, and he broadcasted his plea, but no one would help. Physicians for Human Rights also called, as well as contacting the IDF. They got in touch with members of the Knesset. They got in touch with some Israeli media websites, including Ynet and Walla!, who also, in turn, got in touch with the IDF, describing the situation, asking to allow help. But it was all in vain.

Around 8:00, my brother Ibrahim was still bleeding, was telling my dad, “Daddy, I’m cold.” He was shivering and trembling. So my dad took off his coat and covered him. And he asked him, “Ibrahim, are you still cold?” He’s like, “Yes, Daddy, I’m cold.” So he told him, “Stand up. I will help you to get back into the car.” So, as they stood up, the soldiers told them —- you know, the soldiers told them, “Sit down, or I’m going to shoot you.” He said, “Do whatever you want. I’m taking him to the car.” He took him into the car and put -— tried to cover him. And they were stuck there. By midnight, Al Jazeera channel called my dad and asked him to describe his case, and he did on air.

AMY GOODMAN: Amer, our show is going to end in fifteen seconds, I’m so sorry. Your brother died a few hours later?

AMER SHURRAB: Yeah, he died at midnight. And the army wouldn’t allow help to come in until around noon the next day on Saturday.

AMY GOODMAN: Amer Shurrab, I want to thank you for being with us, and our condolences to your family.

AMER SHURRAB: Thank you for having me, Amy.

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