Sunday, March 19, 2006

From another front: Gaza

Late-night surfing brings this... Not a pretty picture, I'm afraid.

Well blog readers, we are out of Gaza and no one knows when we will be going back in. There has been a mass exodus of westerners out of the Strip because of what has happened. Along with the mass kidnappings, an armed force of terrorists attacked the school.

We had word early on Tuesday (March 14th) that there might be a problem due to the Israeli capture of the six Palestinian militants from the jail in Jericho, so it was decided that school would be turned out early. We had the kids out for the buses, but two of the buses were late so about half of the kids were still sitting on the edge of the soccer field waiting. I heard shots being fired just as one of the Israeli drones went overhead, so I thought that someone was just shooting at the drone, but then I saw the security at the top of the hill running toward the shots. Then the shots started going overhead and we started to herd the children back to the building. As I ran to the building, I saw someone with his arm around one of the teachers; I mistook him for one of the security forces people until I was about 15 yards from him. He was holding the teacher hostage while the real security was advancing on him. I took the kids that were with me and got behind something for cover.

About that time, one of the other teachers started yelling for the kids and I to pull back behind the generator shed about 60 yards or so behind us, so with gunfire still going off, another teacher and I pulled the kids back behind the building. Almost immediately, one of the security guys and one of the Palestinian teachers ran out to us screaming for us (the two western teachers) to come with them to safety. I told them to take Stephen since I would not be automatically picked out as westerner and I was the only one left with the kids. But they came right back after they got him in the building and were ordering me to come with them. When I refused, the older high school boys started yelling at me to get to safety and that they would take care of the younger children. So the security guys and I made the sprint for the building through middle of the fight. Unknown to us, about 10 of the militants had gotten into the building, so we spent the first few minutes hiding in the building, a few teachers with students in rooms spread all over the school, waiting for the security forces to retake the building.

When the militants started to leave, they grabbed two of the other teachers (two Australians that they thought were Americans). When two of the Palestinian staff tried to prevent them from leaving with the teachers, the militants shot them. It took about 20 minutes for the security forces to retake the building. During that time, the American Consulate in Jerusalem was on the phone to me every few minutes getting updates. They immediately liaised with the Palestinian Authority to get the four Americans out as soon as possible, but by the time they were ready to go, ALL of the western teachers were ready to be taken out (with all of the foreign embassies getting their people out).

We were taken out the back way to avoid the militants who were trying to cut off the route to the Erez Crossing. Even when we got there, things did not calm down. The UN contingent was just behind us and were stopped before they got to the crossing and had to be freed by the security forces. We crossed over to wait on the release of the two kidnapped teachers. As soon as they were through the crossing, the Israelis immediately started to pound the hell out of Gaza.

The upshot is, there has been a mass exodus of westerners out of Gaza. Even western women who are married to Palestinians are no longer safe. The militants even tried to kidnap a woman who has been living in Gaza 15 years and is married with kids. Even she is not safe there now.

I don't know what this will mean for the school next year, but at the moment we're about to meet to talk about what’s going to happen next. I will keep you posted.

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