No child safe under Israel’s rule of terror

A woman bathes a child by the rubble of their home, destroyed in an Israeli airstrike on the northern Gaza Strip.

Mohammed Zaanoun ActiveStills

Of Israel’s multiple air wars on Gaza over the past 15 years, the one in May was the “most fearful” yet, say those who survived the horror.

Israel unilaterally withdrew its settlers and ground forces from the Gaza Strip in 2005. But Palestinians there have never had a moment of peace under a strangling military occupation by remote control.

The form of state terror may vary from Gaza to the West Bank. But Israel’s violent oppression in both places robs Palestinian families from feeling secure in their homes, leaving parents hopeless and helpless.

Palestinians in the West Bank are regularly woken from their sleep during Israel’s terrifying search-and-arrest night raids on their homes. Meanwhile, families in Gaza contend with the constant buzzing of Israel’s drones like a hostile mosquito that never goes away.

While Israel dispatches soldiers to Palestinian bedrooms in the West Bank, it drops 2,000-pound bombs on them in Gaza.

“Every time there is an Israeli attack against Gaza, I find myself unable to provide a safe place for my children,” Mohammad Abu Rukbeh, a field researcher for Defense for Children International Palestine, stated regarding last month’s offensive.

“The Israeli bombing in my residential area terrifies us all, adults and children alike,” he added.

The attacks came on top of a stress-inducing COVID-19 outbreak in Gaza with positivity rates between 35 and 40 percent in the weeks leading up to the offensive.

Yasser Abu Jamei, a psychiatrist and director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, wrote in Scientific American earlier this month that the intensity and duration of Israel’s bombardment in May made it “the most fearful experience that I have had throughout four large offensives over the years.”

“Highest alarm level”

Abu Jamei said that the May attack was even worse than that of 27 December 2008 – an unprecedented series of strikes that heralded a new era of devastating Israeli air wars on Gaza.

On that December day, he wrote, 60 fighter jets struck Gaza City as children were either going to or returning from class during the midday school shift. The first strikes targeted a police cadet graduation parade, killing 240 officers.

The initial bombardment lasted one or two minutes, Abu Jamei wrote.

By contrast, during one especially terrifying night last month, “160 warplanes attacked 450 targets in less than 40 minutes in northern areas of the Gaza Strip,” Abu Jamei recounts.

“The strikes happened at the same time as 500 artillery shells were fired.”

Throughout last month’s 11-day offensive, “strikes continued for about 25 to 30 minutes, or sometimes up to 40 minutes in the same city or geographical area.”

“In all that time, neither you nor your children nor your wife nor any other family member would feel that they could take even a single breath,” Abu Jamei wrote.

“All of us had our nervous system at its very highest alarm level for more than 25 and up to 40 minutes.”

Israel brought down towers in the heart of Gaza’s cities, including in the comparatively upper-class al-Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City, thought to be one of the safest areas in the besieged coastal enclave.

Israel did not warn residents of the neighborhood’s al-Wihda street before it bombed them in their homes, killing 44 people there in one night – the deadliest series of strikes during those 11 days.

A fragment of a weapon attached to one such missile, manufactured by the Chicago company Boeing, was recovered from the site of the al-Wihda street massacre.

Israel initially claimed that it targeted a tunnel used by Hamas running under al-Wihda street when the building collapsed.

Its story later evolved into a claim that the strikes targeted an underground Hamas command center and that “they had known it was there all along,” according to an investigation by The New York Times.

The paper said that “Israel hasn’t provided evidence” to support its claim, and Hamas denies the existence of the supposed command center.

“Place of safety” destroyed

Riyad Ishkintna, whose wife and all but one of his five children were killed in the al-Wihda street attack, said that his home “was a place of comfort … a place of safety” before it was destroyed without warning.

Ishkintna’s 9-year-old daughter Dana was among the at least 11 children killed in Gaza in May who were participating in a psychological health program to cope with past trauma.

Sixty-seven children were among the 260 Palestinians killed during the 11-day attack.

Israel may claim that it was targeting Hamas structures when it brought down the building that was home to the Ishkintna family.

But during the bombardment, Benny Gantz, the Israeli defense minister, said that “no person, area or neighborhood in Gaza is immune” – both an admission of guilt and a form of psychological terror.

Palestinians in Gaza don’t have bomb shelters and are prevented from fleeing the territory due to Israel’s siege, now nearly in its 15th year.

The Israeli commanders ordering strikes on Gaza may be hundreds of miles away, but the destabilizing harm they inflict on the core of families’ households belies the geographical distance.

Abu Rukbeh, the field researcher for Defense for Children International Palestine, admitted that the “terrifying” situation last month affected his parenting.

“Sometimes I resort to silence and other times to screaming at them,” he said, adding that his behavior is a manifestation of “the inability of a father to provide a safe environment for his children.”

If not for physical safety, Abu Rukbeh appealed for “a new lie through which I can protect my children” during Israeli attacks.

Because the truth, as any Palestinian parent knows too well, is that there is no safety for children under Israel’s rule of colonization, apartheid and terror.


Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.