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  Middle East & Africa
Bearing the Brunt
Israel Destroys Handicapped Rehab Center
By Yasser AbuMoailek
Middle East Correspondent
The Handicapped Rehabilitation Center ... reduced to rubble (Photo by AbuMoailek)
Gaza City, April 27, 2004 — Ghassan Abu Libdeh could do nothing but watch his life crumble before him with every brick that fell from that white spacious building over the hilltop. He was speechless as the bulldozer tore through the walls like they were made out of butter, while explosions echoed through the corners of the building, decreasing it to a mere pile of rubbles.

Abu Libdeh, 26, sighed, turned his wheelchair around and went back home, not knowing why would the Israeli forces tear down the newly built handicapped rehabilitation center in Beit Lahia.

On April 20, 2004, the Israeli forces rumbled into the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia, in a military operation that lasted for two days, leaving behind 15 Palestinians dead, including two children, and more than a hundred wounded.

The incursion also left massive destruction to the town's newly built facilities. Losses were estimated at $1.5 million.

The handicapped rehabilitation center, which used to belong to the Ministry of Social Affairs, was the only building that was completely destroyed by the Israeli forces. Bulldozers tore down the outer walls, then it was completely blown up by explosive charges.

Courtesy Magellan Geographix
At his humble home in Beit Lahia, Abu Libdeh said he held his hopes high on the center. He was on the list of people to receive the first course in carpentry at the center. Ghassan was shot seven months ago by an Israeli sniper in Jabalya refugee camp, rendering him paralyzed and bound to a wheelchair for the rest of his young life.

Back in Gaza City, the Director General of the Social Affairs Ministry, Wahid Muteir, said he was completely shocked by the destruction of the rehabilitation center, wondering why would the Israeli forces do such a thing.

"The Israelis said militants used to fire 'Qassam' rockets at the Jewish settlements up north, and that's why they demolished the center. Did the center have anything to do with rockets?" he said.

Speaking about the center, Mr. Muteir explained that the center was the largest of a kind in Gaza Strip, and included five different and unique workshops that would increase the options of work among the increasing number of handicapped.

The rehab center was funded by the United Arab Emirates, and was built on an area of three quarters of an acre. The construction alone cost $700 thousand, and equipments cost $400 thousand. Construction was finished this month, and opening ceremony was supposed to be held on May 1, 2004.

"The center was designed to train 300 handicapped at all of its workshops for a period of six months to a year." said Muteir "We set the priority to those wounded in the current Intifada."

He added that the sponsors were informed of what happened and that they would take the necessary steps to re-fund another center.

The director general added in a defying tone that the Ministry would insist on building the new center right on top of the demolished one.

The Northern Gaza Education Department, riddled with bullets (Photo by AbuMoailek)
Not far from the center stood the Northern Gaza Education Department, riddled with bullet holes, as janitors picked up the shattered glass and cleaned up the mess. Upon reaching the Department, shots were repeatedly heard, then an ambulance raced by, sirens wailing. Another Palestinian was wounded by the nearby Israeli tanks, locals said.

At his office, Mr. Ismail Al Jammasi, director of education in northern Gaza, said he was more annoyed than surprised of the amount of damage the Israeli forces left in the area, especially his department.

"They did not spare anything. Even my personal bookcase and the books inside as well as the department's trophy room. They were all filled with bullet holes," he said.

As he went on a tour of the two-story building to inspect the damages, some red stains were incongruently splashed on the green walls. When he asked about them, they turned out to be blood stains from one of the janitors who came to inspect the damages, unaware that the tanks did not pull out.

"It is Othman's blood. He is in hospital now. He came here before the tanks left, and when they saw him inside, they shot him at once. He was hit in the shoulder and right arm," said Montaser Al Masri, a fellow janitor.

Few meters away from education department were two identical multi-purpose halls; both funded by the United States government. One of the halls was "burned to the bones."

Holes Israeli snipers made to shoot at Palestinians from (ST Photo by AbuMoailek)
Some kids playing outside said the Israeli soldier smashed all the doors inside the hall and threw several grenades inside, burning the building completely. The other hall, however, was not burned. "The snipers were inside this one, and the tanks stood outside shooting at the houses and the people down the street," said 11-year-old Ali, who lives right across the street from the halls.

Inside the somehow-intact hall was Mr. Majed Al Masri, director of projects at the Association of Education Enrichment in Beit Lahia, who explained that the Israeli snipers dug up rectangular holes in the walls overlooking the main street to shoot Palestinians from a safe distance.

"They used this hall as their command center. Many citizens were killed from here by Israeli snipers. They stayed here for two days, and last night I heard they pulled out of the area, so I went to the hall to inspect the damages."

"At about midnight I heard noise coming from upstairs, I thought they were burglars. When I went upstairs I found the door shut. My sons and I tried to force the door open, but suddenly grenade was lobbed at us from inside. We ran outside and fled the area."

"Later, I found out that they were a special Israeli force waiting for the militants to show up and kill them," Al Masri said, pointing to the damages caused by the grenade.

He also accused the Israeli soldiers of stealing some of the equipment in the halls. "In addition to the structural damages, I noticed a missing video camera and several electronic appliances. I reckon our total losses are about $40 thousand."

Israeli military sources confirmed that the military operation in Beit Lahia was to prevent the firing of "Qassam" rockets at the nearby Jewish settlements and towns inside Israel.

"The same side that funded this hall funded the tanks and soldiers who destroyed it. I'm amazed!" one of the locals said, pointing to the United States flag on the marble dedication board in front of the hall.

Other Articles by Yasser AbuMoailek
    Korean FM's Visit to Palestine 'Historical'
    Heated Campaigning But Friendly Atmosphere
    Gazan Weapons Dealer Reveals All
    "Reform and Change" Wins Hamas Elections
    Tunneling as a Life in Rafah, Gaza Strip

Yasser AbuMoailek, a journalist and feature writer working for the International Press Center in Gaza Strip. He contributes to many circulations inlcuding the Seoul Times, as well as monitoring the situation in the Middle East, especially the Palestinian territories.






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