A Palestinian boy climbed atop a Star-of-David-shaped Synagogue waving Hamas and Islamic Jihad flags. Underneath him the worship room was blazing with flames. White smoke ascended through the windows as the insulation that covered the walls caught fire.
From outside, the building seems to be still intact. Palestinian policemen prevented a group of Palestinian kids who came to desecrate the house of worship from entering, with only few curious youths allowed in to have a look.
Palestinians on synagogue rooftop (Photo: AFP)
Suddenly, a jeep carrying masked gunmen waving RPG propellers and Kalashnikovs rushed in our direction. The Palestinian policemen moved aside, allowing the gunmen inside the last remaining symbol of Israeli occupation.
A short search inside the empty structure was followed by a loud, “We’ve liberated our land.”
For a moment the mob abandoned desecration and went back to rummage through the flattened structures of Neve Dekalim. I tried to understand why these images are so familiar to me. Suddenly I remembered: These looting acts are reminiscent of lootings in the streets of Mosul and Baghdad when the U.S. invaded Iraq.
The same rage took hold of mobs, propelling them to loot everything they came across in a purposeless, mad manner. One thing differentiates Iraq in 2003 from Gaza in 2005: The looting mobs in Gaza were not controlled by rage as was the case in Iraq. The Palestinians truly enjoyed looting and desecration. “Freedom! Freedom!” They shouted carrying their haul.
'Gaza is hell for the Jews'
I have come across looters like these everywhere in Gaza. Crammed carriages heaved by donkeys trundled on the road from the Erez Crossing to Gaza. The haul included metal wreck, plastic tubes and broken furniture. In the distance, to a concoction of screams, jubilations and the braying of donkeys, a group of sweaty Palestinian policemen ran by. They frivolously tried to implement law and order, waving Kalashnikovs and batons. No one paid attention to them.
In the industrial area anarchy ruled. Children carrying legs of broken chairs played chase with policemen. “The Jews are out,” they happily shouted. Palestinian Minister of Economy Mazen Sinokrot ordered the policemen to put the situation under control. The commanders lifted their shoulders in despair.
Outside the industrial area, a trade market blossomed. Palestinians sold everything, from electric wires for two sheqels a kilo to a metal window frame for a sheqel and a trolley full of wooden rafters for 50 sheqels.
On the first day of independence, Gaza beach was the most popular destination for a day out. For years the Palestinians have been forbidden from swimming in the sea. Yesterday thousands ran to the waves.
“Finally we’ve reclaimed our beach,” shouted Samir, as he ate a guava he had picked for the settlers' orchards.
The appeasement on the beaches of Gaza contrasted the lust for vengeance in Neve Dekalim. A Palestinian bulldozer attempted to level the synagogue to no avail. The building withstood the knocks of the massive steel machine.
Inside, hundreds of youths threw stones at the domed roof. With each piece of plaster that fell they clapped. The crowd outside watched quietly. “These idiots are knocking down the synagogue”, one elderly told me, “now you Israelis have an excuse to destroy al-Aqsa.”
The Kfar Darom synagogue was in a better shape. The wooden coating was intact and there were no signs of damage. In the space where once stood the Holy Ark a poster of Marwan Barghouti waving a Kalashnikov was hanged. On the way out my eyes fell on a sign reading, “Gaza is hell for the Jews,” signed by Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.