Rafah: Past the point of no return

Israel’s mass slaughter in Rafah will not start with a ground invasion; it has already been taking place.

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A Palestinian man mourns relatives killed in Israeli bombing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 20, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas movement. (Photo by AFP)
A Palestinian man mourns family members killed in Israeli bombing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 20, 2024 [AFP]

If we listen to world leaders, we could be lulled into believing that Rafah has been a place of safety. But this city, nestled in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, has been on the threshold of terror since Israel launched its genocidal assault on October 7. The daily toll of genocide and destruction has been devastating even without a ground invasion.

Six months ago, an Israeli air strike targeted the home of my relative Ayman in Rafah. It was October 21, and the whole family were at home preparing to celebrate the birthdays of his children Sham and Adam; Sham was turning nine and Adam three.

Ayman had gone upstairs to check if the water tank was filled when the bombs fell, killing his two children, two of his sisters-in-law, their five children and four other relatives.

Ayman’s wife, Dareen, was critically wounded in the attack. She was hanging clothes on the balcony when the rocket struck the building hurling her to the other side of the street. When Ayman reached her, she was still breathing. She pleaded with him to rescue their baby girl.

As she was dying, Dareen was rushed to the hospital in a desperate bid to save their unborn child. Doctors fought valiantly, performing a caesarean section to bring to this cruel world a fragile baby.

Ayman named her Mecca, as they had agreed with Dareen. However, her mother’s death and the lack of oxygen had already taken their toll. Mecca struggled for three days, her tiny body ravaged by convulsions. On the third day, she too passed away. All that was left of their family was a father with a broken heart and a date of birth and a date of departure seared into his soul.

Since October, many families in Rafah have met the horrific fate of Ayman’s family. Israel’s slaughter from the air never subsided, even as it ordered more than a million people in the north of the Gaza Strip to evacuate south.

Instead of safety, Palestinians who fled south found death once again raining on them. In a recent weekend, dozens were killed, most of them children.

On Friday, April 19, Israel bombarded Tal as-Sultan neighbourhood where the Radwan and Joudah families had sought shelter. Abdel-Fattah Radwan, his wife Najlaa Aweidah, and their three children Leen, Nadya and Amer died. Also killed were Abdel-Fattah’s sister, Rawan, and her five-year-old daughter Alaa. Hamza and Sama Zaqout were visiting the apartment to play with the other children. They also died.

On Saturday, April 20, Israeli bombs wiped out most of the Abdel Aal family: 15 children and their mothers Yasmeen, Sujoud and Rasha as well as their grandmother Hamdeh. The loss was staggering – all the family children perished in an instant. The innocent lives of Sidra, Mohammed, Layan, Yasser, Muhannad, Osama, Ismail, Ahmad, Sajida, Shahd, Abdullah, Yasser, Othman, Ismail and Mahmoud were cut short in an instant. The place of safety became a graveyard in the blink of an eye.

The horror of this murder was etched on the faces of those who used their bare hands to search the rubble for the bodies of the children.

On the same Saturday, in the heart of Rafah, near al-Awda Mosque, Israeli bombardment killed Shukri Joudeh and his daughter Malak. His pregnant wife, Sabreen, was critically injured and taken to the hospital. A short time after arrival, she was pronounced dead, so the doctors made a desperate attempt to save her unborn child, performing an emergency caesarean section. Miraculously, the baby was delivered alive. She only lived an orphan in this world for a few days before passing away too.

My teacher Dr Akram Habeeb, an associate professor at the Islamic university in Gaza, which now lies in ruins after being targeted like all Gaza universities, by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF), penned a prayer born of desperation:

When will we stop counting our death toll?
When will the church in Rome start to toll?
When will Mercy be in your hearts for our death knell?
When will you commence our true tale to tell?
When will the security council have its will?
When will the world put out Gaza’s hell?
When will the world stop seeing us as numbers on screens?
When will the criminals stop killing our children’s dreams?
When will justice wear its crown to declare our cause?
When will the war on Gaza end, or even just, to pause?

The questions of Dr Habeeb echo the collective anguish of 2.2 million Palestinians experiencing genocide. Some 1.5 million of them are in Rafah with nowhere else to go.

The news that the United States government has provided the IOF with $17bn more in military aid to continue its genocide in Gaza has only deepened Palestinian despair.

And yet, there is a glimmer of hope: the campus protests taking place across the US, Europe and other places. They demonstrate that the younger generations know the path of justice.

The need for an end to the genocide, accountability, and meaningful change has never been more pressing. It is imperative that good people everywhere keep the pressure so we can have a free Palestine and consign any perpetrators of genocide to the dustbin of history.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.