What is it like to be under fire?

 Christian Aid's emergencies journalist Dominic Nutt has just returned from the Gaza Strip, where he became one of several staff members to experience Israeli bombing and shooting. He wrote this report: I hve just spent a week in Gaza, a small strip of land illegally occupied by the Israeli Defence Forces, and I knew the odds were I would witness Israeli air raids and shooting. My colleagues William Bell, a policy officer specialising in the region, and Sue Turrell, the programme manager for the region, have both experienced the full force of Israeli military might in recent months, so I knew what to expect. My trip - to research the growing problem of child malnutrition in Gaza - coincided with a spate of brutal tit-for-tat killings. Tension was high. For three days, Israeli warplanes had been flying constant sorties over the strip. With each nerve-shattering pass they made, the over-crowded and impoverished prison of Gaza became more fearful, more angry and more apprehensive. Some were even urging the bombing to start, just to release the intolerable, nerve-fraying tension. Despite the fear of what was to come, people wanted the storm to break. I was lying in bed when it started. It was 3am. Suddenly, there was a rumble and a crash. My room shook and several glass bottles of fruit juice clattered to the floor. I stumbled out of bed and grabbed for the light. It came on, momentarily then, as another rocket fired from an Apache helicopter smashed into Gaza city, the lights failed. I can't say why, but I wasn't afraid. I guess the situation was beyond my control. There was nothing I could do. I pulled on a pair of jeans and stood on the guesthouse balcony to watch. It was a bizarre, surreal and fantastical three hours. The helicopters seemed to fly in one by one with their navigation lights on. When they came in for the final run, their lights would go out - a security measure, I guess. But if so, it seemed strange to me, as they faced no anti-aircraft fire. The Apaches flew low overhead. There was a flash of white light, a fizzing sound as the missiles launched. As each missile picked up speed on the way to its target, the whooshing sound became more intense - although it wasn't as loud as I thought it would be. Then, there was the dull crump as it slammed home and exploded. The more powerful missiles from the F16 jets, however, were louder and more shocking. Half an hour after the bombing started, loudspeakers on a nearby mosque groaned into life. A plaintive and passionate voice began a call to arms, urging men to defend Yasser Arafat's compound which was, not for the first time, one of the main targets. Just hours before, I had been in the compound with Vicki Metcalfe, an English human rights activist working with a Christian Aid partner, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR). The compound had been hit so many times in previous days and weeks it was hard to imagine what the Israeli strategists were trying to do. Then, an hour or so later, the early morning call to prayer started. It was still dark but the first glow of dawn was illuminating the horizon. It was hard to take in what was happening - the strange light, the sound of helicopter rotor blades, the missiles and the sounds of the holy men chanting devotions amid the chaos. At about five I sat down and started playing patience on my laptop computer. I couldn't sleep but needed something mindless to do while the raid continued. Finally, about six o'clock, it ended and I crawled back into bed, dazed and tired. I learned later that four Palestinian Authority personnel had been killed and several buildings, including a United Nations school, badly damaged. At about nine I was awoken by the funeral parade for the victims. Masked men led a wailing crowd, shooting rounds from AK47s into the air. Palestinians are used to this and by eight o'clock Gaza was back at work. I met Vicki at the office at PCHR. Eyebrows were raised and a few dark jokes were made, but there was little else in terms of a reaction to the night of devastation - except when someone slammed a cupboard shut and everyone jumped. The tension was just below the surface. A few days later, I went down to the south of the Gaza Strip with Vicki, two Palestinian colleagues and Jon Swain of the Sunday Times. Vicki was showing us round a refugee camp for displaced Palestinians, much of it recently destroyed. The Israeli authorities said they had bulldozed it for security reasons. Hundreds of men, women and children had been made homeless. Many had no where to go. The majority had no work, no money and no chance of picking themselves up. As we walked across the rubble, Vicki pointed out an Israeli sniper tower about 25 yards behind us, overlooking the rubble. She told us children had been shot here recently - two in front of British aid worker friends of hers. One child survived - just. The other was killed instantly. As we stood there talking, a shot rang out. Then another. We moved to the car round the corner, still in sight of the tower. 'Don't worry, they're not trying to kill us,' said Vicki. 'They are just warning us to move.' As we walked to the car two more shots were fired over our heads. The children laughed at their British guests as we tried to remain calm. This is a daily occurrence for them. source: Christian Aid

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