Death before life

Close-up photo of two hands holding a passport-size image of a smiling baby

Muhammad Abu Khamash holds a photo of his slain child Bayan.

Abed Zagout

On the evening of 8 August, Muhammad Abu Khamash, 29, bought some food for his pregnant wife Inas, 23, some sweets for his daughter Bayan, one-and-a-half, and some feed for the poultry he raised outside their modest rented house in eastern Deir al-Balah in the middle of the Gaza Strip.

Like many in Gaza that night, Muhammad, a police officer, was tuned to the news on his battery-powered radio waiting for a ceasefire announcement. On 7 August, Israel had shelled an observation post in northern Gaza and killed two Hamas fighters.

The small family then gathered around dinner before preparing bedding in the living room, Muhammad later told The Electronic Intifada. The room was the coolest and most pleasant to sleep in. It was a warm summer evening and there was no electricity.

Around 1:30 in the morning, an Israeli missile, apparently fired from a fighter plane, struck the house. Inas, her unborn baby and Bayan were all killed.

A shocking scene

It took neighbors almost 30 minutes before they realized where the missile struck and could get to the house. The area is rural and buildings are spread out. Being only four kilometers away from the boundary with Israel, moreover, residents have to move cautiously to avoid themselves becoming targets.

When they finally reached the house, they found a shocking scene.

Young man holding a crutch under his left arm is seen from waist up

Muhammad Abu Khamash

Abed Zagout

“My brothers and I were the first to arrive,” said Sakher Jaber, 23. “There was blood everywhere. Some of the neighbors fainted when they saw the place.”

Inside, even the ceiling had traces of blood. Next to a blue crib ready for a new baby, but destined never to be used, some of Bayan’s toys lay scattered.

It seemed impossible for anyone to survive, but Muhammad somehow was thrown out of the house by the force of the blast. He was found unconscious at the entrance.

Muhammad was still in a coma when his family was buried, all together in one coffin.

A bad dream

The Abu Khamash family joins a long list of civilian casualties of Israeli violence in Gaza. And while the Israeli military claimed its planes were bombing a Hamas target nearby, neighbors say no such target existed.

Instead, residents and family members are simply left to mourn the victims of what they see as another senseless Israeli bombardment like the one that targeted a multi-story building housing the Said al-Mishal Cultural Center in Gaza City later that day.

Iman Abu Khamash, 19, remembered her older sister Inas as someone who “brought happiness to our house.”

“Inas was going to graduate as a primary school teacher next year. She wanted a job to help her husband in making a better life for their children.”

Muhammad, who suffered injuries to his leg and head, spent four days in a coma and knew nothing when he awoke.

“The last thing I remember is that we went to sleep. Then I woke up in the hospital,” he told The Electronic Intifada.

He immediately asked after his family, but would not believe it when his cousin, Yousif, told him what had happened. Yousif, 32, had to bring his uncle, Muhammad’s father Kamil, to break the news again and Muhammad, who trained as a police officer in Sudan, still finds it hard to believe.

“I still feel like it’s a dream. My family didn’t do anything to Israel,” Muhammad said. “They broke my heart and destroyed my life. We were targeted while we were sleeping and then their media claim that we’re terrorists. How come?”

Life, unforgiven

This is the third time Muhammad has lost family members in recent years. An older brother, Amer, died in 2013 in an explosion in a commercial tunnel – a tunnel used for smuggling under the Gaza border with Egypt.

And earlier this year, his youngest brother Mukhtar was shot dead by Israeli snipers during the Great March of Return protests.

Photo taken from above shows sitting man looking at two photographs he is holding

Muhammad Abu Khamash holds photos of his deceased brothers.

Abed Zagout

Muhammad and Inas had in fact been planning to call their unborn daughter Razan, after Razan al-Najjar, a medic who was also shot and killed during the Great March of Return protests.

But no one knew this. When the unborn child was buried, authorities issued her with a death certificate naming her Hayat, Arabic for “life.”

“Imagine,” said Muhammad, who declared he could never forgive what happened, “my baby daughter was issued a death certificate before she even had a birth certificate.”

Hamza Abu Eltarabesh is a journalist from Gaza.