Monday, September 05, 2005

Possible Assassination in Gaza City

A house was destroyed by an explosion in Gaza City (the Shajiya neighborhood) tonight. Mohammed just telephoned me from Gaza City a little after 4pm Eastern US time (1am Tuesday in Gaza) with more information from as close as he can get to the scene of the explosion.

We had to repeat ourselves several times while our connection faded in and out. Finally, we got a clear line long enough for Mohammed to tell me that some residents are telling him about Apache helicopters. "The Israelis will try to deny that," he said. "Frankly, it is not certain how exactly the people inside and possibly some neighbors were killed." He did know that the house belonged to Umm-Mohammed Farahat, and yes, they were outspoken supporters of Hamas. Her youngest son at 17 was the youngest to join the armed wing of Hamas and died in an attack on the now-empty Atsmona settlement in August 2002—somehow eluding all the security and killing 11 Israeli soldiers and wounding 17 before being killed by return fire. [CORRECTION: a reader pointed out, correctly as far as I can determine, that the 2002 attack took place in March. See "comments" below for details.] Her oldest son, a Qassam bomb-maker, was assassinated by the Israelis years ago. Another son was captured in an attempted bombing in 1993 and is still in an Israeli prison. The Israeli army has attacked their house before, severely wounding another of her sons.

Ironically, Mohammed spoke to Umm-Mohammed Farahat by phone just a few weeks ago, but set the article aside.

That week Morgenbladet insisted they could only print a short piece, 700, preferably 600, words. Just how, Mohammed asked me in an email, could a writer explore this woman's militant attitudes and ask the really tough questions and boil it all down to 700 words? AND maintain fairness and objectivity? "I don't think you would like this woman," he said, as we discussed the problem by email, but, of course, knew very well journalists don't limit themselves to talking to people whose views mirror their own. Probably the only way to be a good journalist in this situation was to talk to her a number of times, really dig into her history, ask ALL the questions that might make her angry, and write up neither a hatchet-job nor a puff-piece but the most accurate, in-depth portrait possible—which would inevitably be longer than 700 words. Of course, any chance to take that work out of the "hold" file and do something longer has vanished forever now.

Meantime, Mohammed said he was told 5 people were killed and the scene is a madhouse of ambulances, while a number of nearby houses are on fire. The AP has already gotten out a story, excerpt below and URL of the entire piece:

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - An explosion destroyed a house after nightfall Monday in Gaza City, killing four people and injuring at least 30, residents and officials said. Three nearby buildings were reported on fire. Residents said the wrecked home in the Shajaiyeh neighborhood near the border with Israel belonged to a well-known family of supporters of the Islamic militant group Hamas, but the Israeli military denied having anything to do with the blast. During more than four years of Palestinian-Israeli violence, Israel often attacked suspected militants in the neighborhood, but such raids have been rare since a truce took effect in February. Bombs being constructed by extremists have sometimes exploded prematurely. Palestinian Interior Ministry spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa said security officers were investigating.,1280,-5257603,00.html

If Mohammed can get close enough to get some pictures, he will, but he'll be up most of the night and probably won't get back to his email to send them till tomorrow.


At 5:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 6:13 PM, Blogger Erika said...

Hi, everyone,

just a housekeeping note: This is the kind of "spam comments" I routinely delete. You can disagree here, you can do it vociferously, and anonymously, and I'll leave it in place (all except obscenity--I'm not about to inadvertantly host an X-rated website.) But off-topic "junk comments" get deleted. I'll leave the above in place a day or two for illustrative purposes.

At 6:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 3:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Atzmona attack took place in March 2002 and 5 students (who were going to join the IDF later of course, but a distinction should be made) were killed. Not 11 soldiers. There was no attack in August. This is the first entry of your blog I've read, but those kind of mistakes are really unacceptable for a "reporter".

At 5:25 AM, Blogger Erika said...

I agree with you that messing up a straightforward matter of fact like the date of an attack is a sloppy error, but the fault is entirely mine, not Mohammed's.

As the blog entry states, Mohammed spoke with the late Mohammed Farahat's mother late in August this year and sent me a rough draft of the interview. His big concern was boiling down a long article into the 700 (preferably 600!) words Morganbladet wanted. He couldn't immediately see a way to do it--would I try making the cut?

When I saw your comment, I went back to his original notes (not my edit) and saw he had written "[Farahat] got killed in [sic] Frid. 8-3-2002." I retyped it as "August 3, 2002," reading the date "American style"--while Mohammed must have noted it down "European Style" and it should have been written out 8 March 2002. Indeed, in working on my edit to meet the needed word-count, "Friday" and the day of the month got cut. A fast google search shows a PBS news report of 27 March 2002 saying "two weeks ago" Mohammed Farahat attacked an Israeli settlement--backing up your contention the attack took place in March 2002, and a second story in which Farahat's mother showed his shaheed poster to journalists on 27 March 2002. One story, though, gives Farahat's age as 18--not 17 as in Mohammed's draft. Mohammed's draft also said those killed were doing "training drills"--another nuance I chopped out of the 700-word possible version I showed him.

Normally, Mohammed reviews and fact-checks everything I do, and occasionally re-writes my phrasing, before sending an article off to Morganbladet, whose own fact-checkers then go over it before it sees print. This time, though, Mohammed's largest concern was with other matters--Umm-Mohammed's expressed "big-issue" attitudes-- as explained in the post above. Our email discussions centered on that, and he decided to shelve the article, so none of the normal checking ever happened. Sometimes we'll email or phone to find exactly the best English to express an Arabic phrase.

After his phone call to me a few days ago about the Gaza City explosion, in which--and I stand by this--he said the destroyed house belonged to the Farahat family, I dug out my edit of the never-published, never-finished article to add some background. I only went back to Mohammed's original copy when you were kind enough to post your comment.

Thank you for pointing out the mistake. I'm correcting the post to reflect the correct date. It will take me longer to check out the discrepencies in the death/injury figures from the 2002 stories still available online. In the explosion a few days back, Mohammed was being given a different number of those killed from that available in the AP story (and I found other numbers in Xinhua and other reports.) This is not unusual in breaking stories.

The important thing to note here is that the mistake in the date of the 2002 attack is entirely my fault, not Mohammed's.

Sorry you chose to be anonymous--but that's your call.

At 5:53 AM, Blogger GhOsT said...

Just passing by.....

By reading the events in Gaza, it makes me feel so lucky that I am a very peaceful region. But at the same time, my heart goes out to those who had to suffer!


At 6:03 AM, Blogger Erika said...

Thank you for your kind words. Yes, it is extremely tough on the ordinary people who simply want to live normal lives with some stability, opportunity, and hope--the same things most people everywhere want.

Please visit again sometime.

At 1:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Erika -- thank you for the corrections and my apologies for the tone of the last comment. Anonymous only because I've yet to choose a suitable ("cool") online nick.

At 2:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliant to hear from you erika (over at Rafah Pundits), altho we haven't been formally introduced, we do have a mutual acquaintance in the great Mohammed Omer.

You left at comment over at Umkahlil's blog about US military conscription - it's just to let you know I left some comments there about the recent spate of 'confessions' from IOF troops recently leaving the ranks, who were part of the collective punishment associated with the construction of the 'philadelpia route' and neo-Warsaw Ghetto paraphanalia now encircling Gaza (great to know what your US government is doing with your taxes e, especially if you're a New Orlean)

I culled a few articles from the great Lawrence of Cyberia
joe90 comment 1
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At 12:04 AM, Blogger Erika said...

Dear anonymous-of-the-corrections...

No apologies needed. When I forwarded the Farahat article to the webmaster over at RafahToday, I sent it with the right date and made it "several trainees" killed and was similarly vague about the number of injured. That restores the sense of Mohammed's notes, that those killed were involved in "training drills." The actual figures are going to be harder to find, hence my vagueness (which would never happen in a perfect world, but at least I'm not further disseminating incorrect info.)

Over here, I put the correction right into the body of the article because one of my pet hates is the common practice (which you see in all kinds of respectable publications) of making an error in a BIG story and then printing a teeny-tiny correction in 1pt. type down on the bottom of an inner page. Fulfills the letter of the law but sabotages the spirit big-time.

I doubt many outside the field realize how many people--most of them far, far removed from the actual events--actually work on a story before it gets printed. Of course, the wire-service pros back at the copy-edit desk are also under intense pressure to "move the story' ahead of the competition. And volunteers like most of us bloggers, are usually fitting their blogging in among the usual nuisances of life. So the occasional mistake is almost guaranteed. But you sure have to fix it. I felt especially bad since Mohammed got it right, and yrs. truly got it wrong. I really DO appreciate it when readers point out problems, so thanks again.

Hope you'll introduce yourself when you find your proper nom-de-blog.

At 12:18 AM, Blogger Erika said...


Great to hear from you. Have been reading your comments with pleasure for years now, and appreciated what you said over on Um-Kahlil's blog.

Yes, a lot of former IDF seem to be coming to their senses--there is no more convincing anti-war advocate than a veteran, after all.
The US is blessed with a heartening number of VietNam and GulfWar veterans who are now anti-war protestors. You're in the same boat in the UK as we are in the US--our tax money going to support several occupations many of us consider criminal.

As for NewOrleans--and the whole huge area devastated first by the hurricane and then by a criminally incompetent and indifferent govt--oh, Joe, if I were there--well, if I survived thus far, I'd be in a motel or donated space probably far from home trying to figure out a way to start over. I'm one of the lucky ones who did NOT have friends/family in the disaster region.

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