Survivors of Israeli air attacks in Gaza recount grief and loss
Palestinians share their stories of survival and loss from Israel’s 10-day bombardment of the Gaza Strip.
Gaza City, Gaza – Israel’s military has pounded the Palestinian enclave of Gaza with an intense aerial bombardment since May 10, leaving widespread death and destruction.
The fighting followed weeks of soaring tensions over the threat of forced expulsions of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem, with Israeli forces storming the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and wounding hundreds of Palestinian protesters.
When Israel missed a deadline by Hamas, which rules Gaza, to withdraw its forces from the area, the group fired rockets towards Jerusalem.
The Israeli raids, now in their 10th day, have killed at least 227 Palestinians, including 64 children, in the besieged coastal enclave. About 1,500 Palestinians have been wounded in Gaza.
Meanwhile, rocket attacks by Hamas and other Palestinian groups have killed 12 people in Israel, including two children, and wounded at least 300.
Several survivors of Israeli air attacks on Gaza, many of them pulled from the rubble and mourning decimated families, have shared their experiences with Al Jazeera.
‘What have my children done to them?’
On Friday, the wife of 37-year-old Mohammed al-Hadidi, Maha al-Hadidi, took their four children to visit their uncle’s house in Gaza City’s Shati refugee camp – one of the most densely populated areas of the coastal enclave – to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
Most of the family died later that night in an Israeli bombardment.
“They wore Eid clothes, took their toys and went to celebrate the second day of Eid with their uncle’s children. Then they called me asking to sleep overnight there, I accepted, they were overjoyed,” al-Hadidi told Al Jazeera.
Al-Hadidi lives just a few metres from where his children were sleeping.
“The strike that hit at 1am [on Saturday] was terrible. It shook the area,” he said.
“I was about to go to the street to see what happened when one of my neighbouring friends called and shocked me by informing me that my children’s uncle’s house had been targeted,” he added.
Maha, 36, and their children Abdel-Rahman, eight, Suhaib, 14, and Yahya, 11, were killed. Only their five-month-old son survived.
“The rescue team took my five-month-old from the arms of his mother who was found dead under the rubble,” al-Hadidi said. The infant survived but his face was wounded and his right leg was broken.
“They didn’t warn them, the missiles suddenly struck the house,” al-Hadidi said.
“What have my children done to them? Did this five-month-old child launch rockets towards [Israel]?” he added.
Maha’s brother, Youssef Abu Hatab, Yousef’s wife, Yasmin Hassan, 31, and their three children Yamen, five, Bilal, 10, and Youssef, 11, were also killed in the attack.
The Israeli army said in a statement that the air raid had targeted Youssef Abu Hatab, whom it described as being a senior commander of the Qassam Brigade, Hamas’s armed wing.
But al-Hadidi told Al Jazeera: “He wasn’t a commander – this is a lie. He was a normal trader for electrical and construction materials, he doesn’t have any ties to the armed group.”
“The Israeli army cannot justify this mistake of killing innocent children.”
‘Bombed without warning’
On Friday, as the sun set on the second day of Eid, Lina al-Mutrabai’i, 26, was setting the table before dinner when her house was rocked by an explosion and the ceiling caved in, covering her and her four-year-old daughter Sara Zaher in the rubble.
“I rushed to remove the rubble on top of me, my arm and shoulder were injured, but I was thinking about my daughter at that moment … I carried her and went out to the hall where my husband found us and took us to the hospital.”
An Israeli raid – without prior warning – had targeted an apartment directly above theirs in a residential building in the heart of Gaza City.
Sara Zaher was critically injured by shrapnel that hit her back, leg, and head.
“My daughter’s injury is serious, and she needs a referral for treatment in Egypt. I hope this will be done quickly,” al-Mutrabai’i told Al Jazeera.
“I’m afraid that the Egyptian hospitals aren’t specialised enough to treat [my daughter’s injuries], but Egypt is the only country that is offering to help us.”
‘The joy of my life is gone’
Farhha Ibrahim Khalil Junaid, 38, was in the kitchen when she heard the sound of a drone missile that hit a motorcycle in the street near her home.
“Two of my sons [Mohammed,11, and Salem, 17] who were playing on the roof started shouting at me: ‘Mum! … Our brothers are dead in the street!’”
Junaid froze for a few moments in shock, then ran down to the street and found her son Musa, 19, lying on the ground – shrapnel had pierced his heart, and he had been killed instantly.
Her son Wasim, 21, was seriously injured by shrapnel in the head and a foot, and remains in shock and cannot speak. Her five-year-old son, Ibrahim, was injured by shrapnel in his stomach.
She also found two people on a motorcycle that had been killed, and seven others injured people lying on the ground – including children. The only shop near her house was destroyed.
“Ibrahim can’t eat anything, he lives on water and needs an urgent transfer to Egyptian hospitals for better treatment,” Junaid said.
“Wasim still does not know that his brother has been martyred,” she added.
She said Wasim also needs medical treatment outside Gaza.
“Wasim was an intelligent student. He is studying IT in his third year now,” Junaid said.
“Musa, who died, was studying in his first year at the university he wanted to complete an accountancy bachelor’s degree. He was dreaming of a better future,” she added.
“The joy of my life is gone,” said her husband, Khamis Junaid, 38, an electrician.
“I pray that no other parents face the loss and grief that I faced.”
‘I could hear my children screaming’
Riyad Eshkontana, 42, was in his apartment in Gaza City in the early hours of Sunday, watching the news while his wife went to check on their sleeping children, when a red and yellow flash lit the room and the building began to shake violently.
“I ran to my children and screamed at my wife, telling her to bring the children out of the room,” he recalled.
“But in a few seconds the whole place collapsed, and we were buried by rubble,” Riyad said.
“I spent about five hours under the rubble, I could hear my children screaming and calling for my help. But I couldn’t help them as the rubble covered my head, chest, and one of my fingers was cut off,” Eshkontana said.
Two of his young daughters, two sons, and his wife were killed.
His seven-year-old daughter Souzi survived, but she cannot talk or eat since she was pulled from the rubble.
Eshkontana and his family lived in the Abu al-Ouf building, in an upscale residential area, that was targeted by Israeli air attacks, without prior warning, which killed at least 42 Palestinians – making it the deadliest day yet of the latest round of fighting.
The barrage of missiles also levelled at least four other buildings in the same street.
“There are no military actions in this building, if I knew that this was a military area, I would not be alive there with my children whom I love and want to protect,” Eshkontana said.
“All of my neighbours were respected people and most of them were doctors – all of them were nice and kind people, all of them killed in the same raid.”