A city quakes under tremor of war: Soldiers hunting assassins wage a forlorn battle of propaganda and bullets, writes Robert Fisk in Gaza

THEY refused to let the ambulances pass. The United Nations officials were turned away. As the smoke rose from the Tofah suburbs of Gaza City, the Israelis even told the fire brigade to stay out. We could hear the explosions all day, punctuated by rifle fire and the throb of a Huey gunship that circled the slums. The Israelis were busy losing their war in Gaza.

Of course, it did not feel like that to the Palestinians. For Abdul-Rahman al-Shebaki, groaning in front of the X-ray machine at the al-Ahli hospital last night with the fragment of a high-velocity Israeli bullet lodged three inches from his heart, the Israelis were doing what they wanted in Tofah. 'I walked in the street during the curfew - I was very close to the soldiers - and I thought they'd let me go home,' Mr Shebaki moaned as Dr Salah Saf applied a wad of bandages to the area below his heart.

The nurses produced a series of X-ray photographs that showed an ominous, white smudge perforating Mr Shebaki's diaphragm, an image held up to the light before his angry, muttering family and friends. The 21-year-old Palestinian had seen the soldier who shot him clean through the chest.

'Why are you here?' a bearded Palestinian had asked us as we cowered in a pharmacy, trying to avoid arrest by the Israeli major who had already brandished a 'closed military area' prohibition document in our faces. 'We need help,' the Palestinian pleaded. 'You've just come here to watch us dance.' We had already watched the first two prisoners taken out of Tofah, wrists clamped tightly with handcuffs, heads bowed in the back of an Israeli jeep.

The Israelis would not say why they were raiding Tofah, but no one in Gaza City doubted they were searching for the Palestinian gunmen who had axed and shot to death Ian Feinberg on Sunday. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine's so-called 'Red Eagles' had claimed responsibility for murdering the Israeli lawyer - quite possibly with the intention of provoking the Israelis into just the kind of military operation that would further embitter thousands of Palestinians.

If so, they were successful. While they blew up houses in Tofah, the Israelis cordoned off the old Beach Camp refugee slums beside the Mediterranean. We found a bearded man there, leaning from a window shortly after breakfast. 'My wife is pregnant and in pain, but the Israelis won't let me take her to hospital in the curfew,' he shouted down to us. A skilful piece of propaganda for a visiting journalist?

The Israeli patrol that pulled up less than a minute later would have us believe so. They told us to leave the area, claiming that the pregnant woman had already been taken to hospital. But the Israeli soldiers were not telling the truth. From the moment they left, we crept into the man's home and, sure enough, found his 15-year-old wife, seven months pregnant, weeping in the yard, holding her hands over her stomach. We broke the curfew and took her to the UN's hospital. Her first child, the duty doctor said, was not in danger. She had feared she was in premature labour.

What did all this achieve? I asked the Israeli major just that as we stood in Salahadin Street. Wasn't Gaza simply a hopeless case, I asked, a war that was already lost to Israel? What do you suggest we do, he asked wearily. 'What can we do?' Well, how about leaving Gaza? 'It's a political question,' he replied.

And he was right. For no matter how many slums are blown up for Mr Feinberg's murder, no matter how many Palestinians are arrested, the Israelis have lost their war in Gaza. The walls are heavy with the graffiti of hatred, of threats of fire and blood from Hamas and the PLO. The moment the Israelis leave a street, it reverts to Palestinian control. Like southern Lebanon after Israel's doomed adventure there almost a decade ago.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones