March 20, 2010
"On the first anniversary of Israel's offensive on the Gaza Strip, no Israeli war criminals have been held accountable."
PCHR, Weekly Report on Israeli Human Rights Violations in the OPT, no. 51/2009, 23-29.12.09, page 1.
On Tuesday 23 December 2008, in the theater of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in Tal El-Hawa, in Gaza City, was given a concert to mark the first three months of teaching at the Gaza Music School.
We listened to an orchestra, solo performances of mature musicians, as well as little girls and boys who tried to emulate them. It was a project of A.M. Qattan Foundation and the dream of Ibrahim En-Najjar-Abu Anas. The school, the first of its kind in the Strip, was launched in July 2008 in rented premises in the PRCS and the lessons started three months later.
Today 53, a refugee from Jaffa, Ibrahim En-Najjar completed his studies in 1971 at the University of Music in Cairo where he specialized in oriental music. Ibrahim tried in the past to establish such a school in Gaza, but after some time abandoned his project for lack of funds. Finally, his long time dream was born.
The twenty-five students were divided in five groups of five, one for every instrument: oud, piano, guitar, violin and qanun (a complex tringed instrument). The teaching was free for girls and boys aged 7 to 11. The school was financed by A.M. Qattan Foundation, with joint funding from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA).
Abdel Mohsin El-Qattan is a Palestinian philantrope who has established and heads the A. M. Qattan Foundation based in London. In Gaza City, the Foundation runs two major centers. The Quattan Center for the Child is a superb, astonishing, ultra-modern compound, the most handsome place of the Strip. The Quattan Center for Educational Research and Development is located in the Jawwal Building. The very elegant offices house a rich library opens to teachers, researchers, intellectuals, and a computer room. Workshops and seminars are regularly held in a warm atmosphere to train teachers on new ways of teaching and education, including English language.
The PRCS is the brainchild of the late Dr Fathi Arafat. It has five branches in the Strip. The PRCS in Gaza City was inaugurated by President Yasser Arafat on 4 January 2000. On top of its medical and paramedical activities, the Red Crescent is also a vibrant cultural center. The huge compound was composed of two wings, in addition to El-Qods hospital. It is located just a few meters from the former Preventive Security HQ.
Three days after the concert, started the massive Israeli offensive codenamed Cast Lead at exactly the same time in all the Gaza Strip, on Saturday 27 December 2008, aiming to eradicate Hamas from the tiny territory occupied since 1967.
According to a PCHR field worker who was by chance at the scene, one of the first targets of the offensive was a corner of the former Preventive Security, at the main entrance, transformed by the Government of Gaza in the VAT Department of the Ministry of Finance: "The first bombing in Gaza City hit the Police Headquarters. A few seconds later, at around 11:26, the second attack hit the VAT Department. The third bombing I heard shortly afterwards hit the nearby 13-story tower housing Beit El-Asir [The Prisoner's House], located behind the former Preventive Security."
That day was a day off for the PRCS staff, being the second day of the week-end. Ibrahim En-Najjar was alone in his school, in the PRCS wing that was the closest to the VAT Department, distant only a few dozens meters: "I heard a tremendous explosion and everything fell on my head. It was approximately 11:20. I was injured to the head and went to El-Qods hospital. When I saw the huge number of killed and injured, when I saw decapitated bodies, bodies without limbs, burned bodies, I was ashamed to ask any help and I went home. I knew later from the news that a total of sixty warplanes attacked simultaneously the Gaza Strip."
Four hours later an official from the Qattan Center for the Child took a taxi from his home in Jabalia RC and went to Gaza City to see the Music School. When he arrived at the PRCS he couldn't find the stairs of the 5-story building. Made of wood, the stairs were all burned. With the help of PRCS staff he found the concrete stairs leading to the top floor where were located the hotel and the music school.
On the second day of the Israel's offensive, the PRCS employees removed from the building everything which could be saved. El-Qods hospital was overcrowded by people who tried to find a shelter.
After the initial air phase, in the course of the air-land operation Israeli ground troops invaded the neighborhood of Tal El-Hawa. Several attacks targeted the vast Preventive Security compound during the 23-day aggression till it was completely destroyed. A building just across the street housing the archives and the Registration Department of the Interior Ministry was bombed and demolished. The entire neighborhood suffered huge losses and white phosphorous was used.
The PRCS wing was devastated due to the bombardments around it. It also received its own share of direct attacks and for an entire day a fire cannot be extinguished. The compound was clearly marked and the Occupation Forces were fully aware that it housed the emergency operation room for ambulances and other rescue operations. In addition, it housed a theater, a cafeteria, a hotel, a conference hall, a restaurant, a nursery, the administration and the music school.
The main PRCS building was also severely damaged and lost the three upper floors out of eleven, and El-Qods hospital was also hit. Behind the complex, the PRCS ambulance center was damaged, a number of ambulances were destroyed and the medicine store completely burnt.
Since then the administration offices have been moved in huge halls in the main building which was designed initially for cultural activities only. The offices are separated by plastic curtains, closets and cupboards. Several months after the war ended the devastated PRCS wing should be demolished.
The attacks on the PRCS shocked many and several reportages and documentaries were done about it.
Within three months after the Israeli offensive ended, the Gaza Music School resumed its activities in the nearby PRCS ambulance center. A.M. Qattan Foundation paid for the renovation of the rented ground floor and new musical instruments were brought from Jerusalem. Each child studies every week three times for a hour and fifteen minutes.
The project with A. M. Qattan Foundation is planned for three years, then Ibrahim En-Najjar thinks to work with the Edward Said Institute in Jerusalem. Behind a white curtain, in the piano section, he shows a piece of iron: "It was a piano... The piano is made of wood and plastic and it was entirely burned." In a closet, Ibrahim shows the rest of two burned ouds and one oud which has been repaired and could serve in future... in case of necessity.
For the second academic year 2009/2010, twenty-five new children were selected and added to the twenty-five of the previous year. On the afternoon of Thursday 11 March, in a hall of the Qattan Center for the Child, students from the Gaza Music School gave their first public concert.
The emblem of the Municipality of Gaza City is the Phoenix that rose rejuvenated from its ashes. The Phoenix could be also the emblem of the Gaza Music School.
- Flora Nicoletta is an independent French journalist who lives in Gaza. She is currently working on her fourth book on the Palestinian question.