Jamal
Dayem Sehwail (55) in a Civil Defense room with fire fighting equipment, Gaza.

 

“Ever
since I was a child I loved the work of the Civil Defense. I would follow the
fire trucks through the streets on my bicycle”, says Jamal Sehwail (55), who is
now the Director of Evacuation and Development in Gaza’s Civil Defense.

 

“I
am in charge of complex incidents, for example where cooperation between fire
fighters, paramedics and rescue workers is necessary”, explains Jamal. “I am
also responsible for the maintenance and development of our equipment and
facilities. Due to the closure we are lacking resources and supplies but we
manage to deal with the situation creatively. For example, we are now able to
produce our own fire extinguishing foam and face screens for the fire
fighters.”

 

During
Israel’s most recent military offensive on the Gaza Strip, which lasted from 14
to 21 November 2012, Jamal coordinated several rescue and recovery operations.
According to PCHR investigations 171 civilians were killed and more than 1,250
were injured, of whom 650 sustained moderate to severe injuries. Jamal speaks
about the conditions under which he and his colleagues had to work: “The last
war was very difficult; the bombing went on continuously and was very intense.
Journalists were targeted. It was a war to instill fear into the people. We
remember what happened in the 2008-2009 war.” Jamal refers to incidents over
the past years, especially during ‘Operation Cast Lead’, Israel’s 27 December
2008 – 18 January 2009 offensive on the Gaza Strip in which 1,419 Palestinians
were killed. “Paramedics, journalists, and us, civil defense staff, are
supposed to be protected under the Fourth Geneva Convention. But we are
attacked by the army nonetheless. In reality the Geneva Conventions do not
exist. Israel has conveyed that message very clearly to us by targeting our
staff and buildings; there is no safety from the Israeli army attacks. Whenever
tensions rise we have to evacuate our offices because we know they might be
targeted. We live in constant worry and never take a break from our work. We
are always on call which means we might have to leave our home in the middle of
the night if anything happens.”

 

During
the last offensive Jamal and his colleagues worked around the clock to save
lives. Some memories of those days will stay with them forever. Jamal remembers
one incident most vividly; the attack on the Dalou family: “I was working in an
apartment tower in Gaza that had just been bombed when I saw a rocket come from
the sky a few hundred meters away. I heard a huge explosion and immediately
rushed to the home that was hit by the bomb. My colleagues and I spent three
days there trying to recover people from under the remains of the house. The
children we found dead were in the same age as my children. After the war we
found two remaining bodies, including one of a girl. The most difficult thing I
have to do during my work is pulling children from under the rubble. The view
of these children will never leave my mind, it is just too horrible.”

 

There
is no psycho-social support for Jamal and his colleagues in order to deal with
their trauma. “After a war we speak about our experiences”, says Jamal. “We
talk to each other; that is the only way we can psychologically deal with it.
We also thank all members of our team and visit the families of our colleagues
who were injured or killed.”

 

Since
2007 Jamal has participated in around 1,500 rescue operations. He says “The
rescuing of people and recovering of bodies remains in my memory like a film,
even though I often don’t know the names of the victims.”

 

The
targeting and severe injuring or killing of civilians, a protected person, is a
war crime, as codified in Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and
Articles 8(2)(a)(i) and (iii) Article 8 (2)(b)(i) of the Rome Statute of the
International Criminal Court.