Slaughter in a school

Israel attacked a UN school in central Gaza on 6 June. 

Omar Ashtawy APA images
Ahmad Hassanien woke up to feel that everything was being shaken violently.

First, he heard part of a school building collapse. Then he heard the screams of people who – like his family – were taking shelter at the school.

As his wife attended to their children, Ahmad opened a classroom door so that he could check what was happening. He could see barely anything and had trouble breathing because the air was thick with smoke.

Enough smoke had cleared within a few minutes for him to get a clearer view. He could see shrapnel flying near the classroom in which he had taken shelter.

Some of the shrapnel penetrated the doors of neighboring rooms. Many people were injured.

The school – located in Nuseirat refugee camp, central Gaza – came under attack on 6 June. It is one of many facilities run by the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) that Israel has targeted since declaring a genocidal war on Gaza.

Ambulances, cars and donkey-drawn carts were used in bringing the wounded from the school to al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the nearby city of Deir al-Balah.

Ahmad was among those who spent hours digging in the rubble, trying to rescue people.

At least 40 people were killed in the attack, including 14 children.

Ahmad observed how some people taking shelter in the school lost a number of family members.

“I couldn’t hold back my tears,” he said. “My heart ached for them.”

Some of the scenes he witnessed were especially gruesome.

He saw a boy gathering his sister’s flesh before burying it in a pile of sand in the school yard.

He saw an injured man tearing his clothes to pieces as he grieved for his family, most of whom had been killed.

He saw a girl sitting in a corridor at the school, trembling in fear and with blood streaming down her leg.

Ahmad asked her about her family.

“I don’t know where they are,” the girl replied. “I don’t know if they are still alive.”

Ahmad was speechless. He then took the girl to hospital.

“I still cannot get these scenes out of my head,” Ahmad said. “I sometimes have flashbacks.”

“I am afraid of losing my own children,” he added. “I could not live without them.”

“No safety”

Yasmin Mousa was praying when she realized the school was under attack. Malak, her 3-year-old daughter, immediately woke up.

As a number of classrooms in the school caught fire, Yasmin’s husband joined other men in trying to douse the flames with water.

A civil defense team eventually managed to extinguish the fire.

Yasmin sought to comfort people who had just learned that members of their family had been killed.

“I came across a dad who had collapsed to the floor,” she said. The man’s daughter – named Mais – had been killed.

The man spoke of how the previous night Mais had hugged him and told him that she loved him. “It was as if she sensed that she was going to die,” Yasmin said.

Yasmin and her family had to flee Nuseirat refugee camp a few months ago as their home was destroyed. They went to Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, and stayed with relatives there.

After Israel invaded Rafah last month, the family returned to Nuseirat and took shelter in the school.

Nuseirat has been repeatedly subjected to extreme violence lately. Just a few days after the school massacre, Israel killed more than 270 Palestinians in another assault on the refugee camp.

“There are no safe places left,” Yasmin said.

“Hospitals are not safe, tents are not safe, schools are not safe,” she added. “There is no safety but in heaven.”

Samia Tafish was in a classroom opposite the school building which Israel targeted.

She witnessed many people running away from the school in panic. Parents were carrying children or leading them by the hand as they feared that the school would be struck again.

There was a general sense of confusion about where people should go. Some sat down on the street.

Once the bombing had stopped, Samia and her family went to al-Awda hospital a few kilometers away.

When they arrived, they saw many dead bodies at the entrance to the hospital.

While looking around the hospital to find somewhere her family could shelter, Samia noticed Rajab, a neighbor of hers at the school. Rajab had been rescued from the rubble but his 10-year-old brother was among those killed in the massacre.

Rajab refused to get treatment for his own injuries until he buried his brother.

“I did not know what I could say to him,” Yasmin said. “His brother’s body had been torn apart.”

Khuloud Rabah Sulaiman is a journalist living in Gaza.