A bloody weekend in Gaza

A man carries the body of a child killed during Israel’s attack on Sheikh Zayed City, a residential building in Gaza, earlier this month.  

Ramez Habboub APA images

In the early evening of 4 May, Mazouza Abu Arar was kept busy trying to make her grandchildren less afraid. They had heard the sound of explosions at various times that day.

Mazouza went into the courtyard of her home in Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighborhood. She organized a small celebration for Ramadan, which would begin the following day. Joined by members of her extended family, she distributed lanterns and sweets among her grandchildren.

Suddenly, the family’s home was hit by a projectile.

Toddler Saba Abu Arar and her aunt Filastin Abu Shihma were killed. Filastin was pregnant with a boy. She had planned to call her son Abdallah.

“Saba was very close to me,” said her grandmother Mazouza. “I wanted to hug her. But suddenly I felt like I was being pulled downwards and I lost consciousness.”

Adnan Abu Arar, husband of Filastin, rushed to the scene as soon as he heard the explosion.

“When I saw my wife lying on the ground and my children screaming I wasn’t able to do anything,” he said. “I put my hand on my head and started screaming until our neighbors came and started to drive members of my family to al-Shifa hospital.”

After investigating the incident, Defense for Children International Palestine concluded that the explosion was caused by a weapon fired within Gaza.

Other organizations are continuing their inquiries about the incident.

Witnesses say that resistance fighters had been active in area approximately 500 meters from the family’s home. After the fighters fired a number of rockets, Israel responded by firing missiles.

Nothing to do with Israel?

Yamin al-Madhoun, a researcher with the Gaza-based human rights group Al Mezan, said: “Until now, nothing is certain. We have not reached a conclusion about whether the missile [fired at the family] was from the Israeli or Palestinian side. Investigations are ongoing.”

Israel has blamed Hamas for the incident. In a tweet, the Israeli military claimed that the deaths at the family’s home had “nothing to do” with its air strikes on Gaza.

Israel has behaved similarly in the past.

In November 2012, Israel subjected Gaza to eight days of air strikes. More than 100 Palestinian civilians were killed in that offensive.

One of the victims – a baby named Omar Masharawi – may have been killed when a rocket launched by Palestinian resistance fighters misfired, according to evidence gathered at the scene by human rights monitors. Israel seized on that evidence to distract from the numerous other atrocities it carried out at that time.

Then, as now, Israel bore ultimate responsibility for the situation in Gaza. And the bloodshed that occurred during the first weekend of May 2019 should be examined in the correct context.

Contrary to what the Western media has widely reported, the latest violence was not simply a response to the activities of Hamas.

Such coverage negates how Gaza has been subject to a siege – in flagrant violation of international law – for 12 years. It negates, too, how Israel has recently refused to honor commitments to ease the blockade by, for example, allowing Qatar to aid Gaza financially.

It also ignores how Israel has continuously attacked unarmed participants in the Great March of Return since those weekly protests began more than a year ago.

Furthermore, the explosion at the Abu Arar home was by no means the only incident which occurred in Gaza during the first weekend of May.

In other incidents, the Israeli military was directly responsible for killing civilians.

“Their mother will never return”

On 5 May, Israeli warplanes attacked a family’s home in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya.

Amani al-Madhoun, a woman who worked in the administration of Gaza’s Al-Aqsa University, was killed. She was nine months pregnant and had planned to call her baby boy Ayman.

Her husband Muhammad al-Madhoun spoke of how he was standing at the door of the home, drinking coffee, when he fell downwards from the blast’s impact.

“I was barely able to stand up again,” he said. “There was smoke and dust everywhere. The first thing I thought about was how my wife was in our bedroom, with our son Mahmoud.”

As soon as Muhammad arrived in the bedroom, he found that it had been reduced to rubble.

“I started searching under the rubble to find my wife and son,” he said. “First I found Mahmoud, he was unconscious. Then I saw my wife’s leg. I tried to pull her from the rubble – and with the help of one of the neighbors – we managed to take her out. But she was already dead by then.”

Mahmoud and the couple’s two other children were severely injured by the explosion. They remain in intensive care.

“I have no idea what I’m going to tell them after they leave the hospital,” said Muhammad. “How can I convince them that their mother will never return? I thought this can only happen in a movie, to lose your family within a moment. But in Gaza, everything seems to be possible.”

Muhammad’s father Abd al-Rahim was also killed in the attack. So were Muhammad’s brother Abdallah and his brother-in-law Fadi Badran.

Abdallah was a fighter with Saraya al-Quds, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad.

Human rights organizations have previously condemned as illegal Israel’s bomb attacks on family homes – regardless of who lives in them – when it cannot show that they were being used for military purposes, or when civilians were likely to be killed.

“I wish that I had been killed”

Later that day, Israel attacked another two families in Beit Lahiya.

The attacks were focused on Sheikh Zayed City; that residential building was designed to house people displaced by Israel’s offensives against Gaza.

Six civilians were killed in those attacks.

In one apartment, an 11-year-old child Abd al-Rahman Abu al-Jadyan was killed, along with his parents Talal and Raghda. Abd al-Rahman went through the building with the force of the blast.

Muhammad, a 25-year-old brother to Abd al-Rahman, survived the attack because he was out of the apartment at the time.

“I was in the supermarket buying some stuff mom requested for Ramadan,” Muhammad said. “Now I am alone without a family or a home. I wish that I had been killed with them.”

According to Muhammad, none of his family had political affiliations or was involved in armed activity.

Sami Urouq, a neighbor, witnessed the attack. “The explosion was very strong,” he said. “I fell on my knees and after a few minutes – when the dust had gone – I saw fire coming out from the fifth floor. And a body of a child was at the entrance of the building.”

In a nearby apartment, Ahmad al-Ghazali, his wife Iman and their 3-month-old infant Maria were killed.

Iman’s friend Suheir Lubbad spoke to her about an hour before the attack.

“Iman was very happy,” Lubbad said. “This was her first Ramadan with Maria. She was planning to buy Maria new clothes for Eid and she promised to send me photos. Unfortunately, the next photos I saw of Maria – on social media – were of her dead body.”

Hamza Abu Eltarabesh is a journalist from Gaza.