GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Since the start of the aggression against the Gaza Strip on July 8, the forces of the Israeli occupation have directly bombed five families who were inside their homes. The targeted families were the Ghannam family in Rafah and the Kawareh and al-Hajj families in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, the Hamad family in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip and the al-Batsh family in Gaza City. The bombing of these homes killed 43 civilians, in addition to leaving dozens of wounded.
Most of those victims were from the Batsh family, whose home was bombed by Israeli fighter jets in the al-Shajaiya neighborhood east of Gaza City on the evening of July 12.
Palestinian Ministry of Health spokesman Ashraf al-Qadra told Al-Monitor that 17 members of the Batsh family were killed by Israeli aircraft when they were bombed in their home, adding that one family member, Zakaria al-Batsh, was wounded and in intensive care.
On July 13, Al-Monitor visited the area of the Batsh home, which was turned into a pile of rubble. The search was continuing for five people missing since the evening before.
Hundreds of people were gathered in the square around the house and walked behind the ambulance that came to take the bodies of the martyrs to the nearest mosque, to pray for their souls.
A relative, Ayoub al-Batsh, 50, seemed unable to stand the calamity that had befallen his family. “We took them as body parts from this building, where all of Majid’s sons, the sons of his brothers Alaa and Issam, who was martyred two years ago, lived,” he said.
A neighbor of the Batsh family, Fadwa Haddad, stood at the door of her house waiting for the start of the funeral. She told Al-Monitor, “On Saturday evening, the worshipers came out of the mosque near the Batsh family home. The mosque’s imam made only four rakaat [prescribed movements of kneeling to pray] of the tarawih prayers in Ramadan instead of eight because of the war. A few minutes later, the house was bombed with five missiles. Our windows shattered and debris [from the bomb site] reached us.”
She said the neighborhood’s residents ran to the Batsh home and started yelling, “It is the Batsh family! … Allahu Akbar! [God is great!]” and everyone started searching for the family members under the rubble.
A relative, Saad al-Batsh, 48, told Al-Monitor, “As you can see, the houses are very close to each other and there are no military targets here; all the people are civilians. Some of the [Batsh] family martyrs worked in the police force.”
At the funeral, the citizens carried the coffins of 12 martyrs on their shoulders. One cannot help but notice repeating features: corpses, some of which were bloodied; rows of worshippers; green flags; and chants of “God is great.”
This repetitive scene not only happens at funerals but also near the rubble of homes, government buildings and in the columns of dust and smoke that fill the sky after a bombing, especially successive bombings such as what happened at dawn on July 13 and July 14. Gaza City saw the heaviest Israeli strikes over those two days, after parts of police and security buildings in Arafat City were bombed.
Police officer Khalil Abu Arabia, 53, standing in Arafat City, told Al-Monitor, “They bombed a training institution and a Regime Protection and Prevention building in the early hours on Sunday morning [July 13]. There are still several other buildings that we expect to be bombed at any time.”
Simply walking through the empty streets in Gaza makes one realize the magnitude of the destruction. The features of the city have completely changed. It was the same scene after the 2008 and 2012 wars. Even the port of Gaza, a seaport that was being developed, was struck by Israeli gunboats on July 11. Plumes of smoke rose from the fishing boats, the color of the fire contrasting with the pure color of the sea, while the sound of the bombs contrasted with the sound of water gently slapping the old wharf.
The number of martyrs kept rising to reach 174 dead and 1,270 wounded, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
As of July 12, the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that 750 houses had been destroyed or severely damaged by Israel, resulting in the displacement of 4,500 people. Meanwhile, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades tweeted that 300 houses were destroyed during the first seven days of the offensive.
The number of attacks on people’s homes have made hundreds of families completely ignore calls by the Interior Ministry in the Gaza Strip to stay in their homes. Hundreds of people went on foot from the northern areas in the Gaza Strip to UNRWA schools in the center of Gaza City, where the classrooms were turned into temporary shelters for these families.
Barra al-Attar, 6, Iman Ihsan, 5, and Hamza al-Attar, 6, were looking for drinking water. “The bombardment became very heavy in our area. Then the planes threw leaflets warning us to leave, so we went to the schools,” Barra said. “We got tired of walking. We walked a lot to get here. And we were carrying heavy objects.”
Dia al-Attar, 27, who also fled, said, “At dawn on Sunday there was a violent and terrifying clash between the al-Qassam Brigades and Israeli special forces on the al-Sudaniya shore in the north of the Gaza Strip. Israeli Apache [helicopters] and F-16 planes flew over the clashes. We got worried that the [Israeli] army would be able to enter the area where we live. So we left at daybreak.”
Eid Ghubn, 22, who found no room in the classroom, sat down on the school stairs with his family. “The [Israeli] army threw leaflets that instructed us to ‘Leave immediately for your own security.’ [Very] heavy bombardment started immediately and so we left the area,” he said.
At a Monday morning news conference, UNRWA Commissioner Pierre Krahenbuhl said that more than 17,000 refugees have asked for shelter in more than 15 UNRWA schools in the Gaza Strip, saying that it was the third displacement in five years.
Regarding the human rights aspect of the current war, the director of Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, Issam Younis, told Al-Monitor that Israel has violated all the rules of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention for the protection of civilians in times of war. He said that Israel committed war crimes by targeting civilians and their homes as part of a new form of collective punishment and intimidation.
“The resistance in Gaza cannot be considered a regular army. How can the occupation distinguish the resistance fighter from a taxi driver or a merchant?” Younis said. “The occupation is focusing on bombing women, children, defenseless people and public and private civilian facilities. Why did [Israel] bomb a sewer station or the water line that brings water to the homes of citizens? The same applies with public utilities and the police academy, which is, according to international law, a civilian target. Those are clearly war crimes.”