Israel bombed our building when we were inside our flats.
Our building consists of seven floors and 21 flats. Each flat hosts an average of seven people.
After Israel’s latest major attack on Gaza began, some families evacuated the building for other parts of Gaza. Others took in relatives who had to leave their homes due to Israel’s bombs.
I was among those who hosted evacuees. Four families – about 23 people – moved into our flat. All women and children.
The building we live in is considered a gem in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City. We live in an area filled with about 150 buildings of five to nine floors.
We have a large power generator, fuel for a couple of months, and solar panels. That means we can generate electricity for our flats and for our neighbors and we can pump water for drinking and other purposes.
Since Israel’s attack began, we have helped countless numbers of people to pump water, charge their electronic devices and keep their freezers functional.
I believe that is a reason why our building was hit. We were helping people to live a “normal” life, despite Israel’s attempts to starve us and eliminate the possibility of living with dignity.
Israel has now been conducting airstrikes on Gaza for a full two weeks.
Approximately 4,700 are known to have been killed. They include almost 2,000 children.
More than 30,000 housing units have been completely destroyed.Israel’s latest attack can and should be described as an extermination of Palesinians in Gaza. It is genocidal.
Our building was hit without any warning.
In the mainstream press and on social media, the Israeli occupation army is often “defended” as disciplined and even humane. That Israel gives prior warnings before bombing attacks every once in a while is often stated as a “fact.”
The real fact is that Israel lies habitually. Israel’s lies can easily be debunked if a little context is provided.
Yes, Israel does sometimes issue prior warnings. But such warnings tend to be at the beginning of its attacks. They usually come when a high-rise building is targeted and when the incident receives worldwide coverage.
The coverage supposedly shows that Israel does warn Palestinians before it targets them. And so, we hear such blanket comments as “but Israel warned them to leave” and “they are being used as human shields.”
Again, these are lies.
By some estimates, Israel has not issued warnings more than 90 percent of the times it has attacked Palestinian homes.
That explains the huge numbers of people who have been killed. It explains how many families have been eliminated from the civil records.
Similarly, Israel’s orders to “leave” are propaganda tricks.
When Palestinians leave their homes, many go to schools run by the United Nations. These schools have been targeted on many occasions, with the result that people who have evacuated their homes still get killed or injured.
Many more people stay with relatives and friends after evacuating their own homes. So, when a family home is bombed, the number of casualties is high and often includes evacuees.
In other words, when Israel pushes people out of their homes, it makes large numbers congregate in small spaces. So when Israel kills, it kills in tens and scores.
Running for our lives
Minutes before the explosions in our building, I stepped out of my flat and onto the stairs so that I could avail of my neighbor’s internet connection.
I was making arrangements with a few contacts so that I could get the news out online about the genocide Israel is inflicting on Gaza.
The way we end chats has changed over the past two weeks. Before we would typically say inshallah – which roughly translates as “God willing.” That has turned into “if we survive.”
Right before the strikes, I heard a rumble that was unusual. And without any warning: Boom!
It was so close.
Boom! I felt myself forced back against the wall.
The building shook. Smoke.
Men. Women. Children.
I rushed into my flat, the door of which was wide open due to the force. I shouted for everyone to leave.
“Take the kids! The kids!”
Instinctively, the kids ran for their lives.
Some, though, – like little Eman, 6 – were unable to move fast.
Eman had already been injured in a bombing last week. She has platinum in her left leg.
Eman’s mother carried her and slipped. So my son Omar lifted up Eman and rushed out.
It took us a bit of time to carry our small bags of essentials – cash, gold, official documents etc. Like all Gaza households, we had these bags at the door, ready to grab them in an emergency.
I had a last look, making sure that no one was still inside and then we rushed down the stairs.
Israel could have hit the building a third and a fourth time or it could have brought it down completely – like it has been doing with so many other buildings in recent days.
My family was lucky. Others in our building were not.
Um al-Abed and two of her daughters were in the kitchen preparing dinner for the family. That was where the missiles exploded, instantly killing Um Al-Abed, tearing her body apart.
Her daughters – aged 19 and 17 – were also killed. One was buried under a lot of debris, the other was buried under the rubble.
A few other people were injured in the bombing and taken to hospital. But the first responders could not retrieve the bodies of Um al-Abed and her daughters, fearing that Israel would bomb them or bring the building down any minute.
Israel has even been attacking and sometimes killing first responders.
The impact of the missile blast damaged all the flats in our building.
Two were destroyed. Five flats, including mine, were severely damaged with cracks in the walls and ceilings. The others sustained substantial damage.
Shelter in a school
We do not know why the building was targeted. My mother-in-law insists it is because I talk to the media. Israel has now killed 16 journalists over the past two weeks.
My mom also raised the same concern, “Do not write stuff online, my son. You know what I mean,” she implored. She used the word “stuff” to avoid saying things clearly over the phone.
I told my family and relatives to gather in a particular spot and then to spread out. I got into my car and drove quickly so that I could help carry two children who had been injured from a previous Israeli bombing.
We met around the corner.
One girl – Lena – was missing. Her mother wanted to rush back to the building, still enveloped with smoke.
My wife held Lena’s mother. And everybody started shouting, “Lena! Lena!”
What a relief it was when we heard my daughter Sarah say that she saw Lena with her grandmother.
For five minutes, we were lost. Confused. And exposed.
Some of us were barefoot, others with just one shoe.
We did not know where to go or who to call or what to do next. This was my first experience of being bombed and having to evacuate. I felt helpless.
And all of a sudden people rushed to help and check if we were ok. Some suggested we go to the UN school nearby.
We marched towards the school, dusty, bruised, tattered and torn. The schoolyard was full.
People looked at us nonchalantly. It was as if they had seen hundreds of people join them after evacuating their homes.
But they made way for us as we joined a few more families in a small classroom.
Refaat Alareer is a writer and an academic from Gaza. Twitter: @iTranslate123