Eyeless in Gaza

Mohamed Abu Shaar , Tuesday 18 May 2021

Fires in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah and the courtyard of Al-Aqsa Mosque rage on in Gaza

Eyeless in Gaza

Military confrontations continue for the eighth consecutive day in the Gaza Strip, where Israeli crimes have impacted broad sectors and had crushing economic and social consequences. This, in addition to a dire humanitarian crisis worsening with every airstrike.

This constant wave of aggression, the most ferocious since Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza, began when Israel attempted to evict several Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in the holy city. This was followed by repeated raids of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound which injured hundreds of Palestinians. Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, responded by firing rockets into Jerusalem, and in response Israel launched a military operation in the Gaza Strip that has killed dozens and injured hundreds. It has also involved deliberate large-scale infrastructure destruction impacting all aspects of life for Palestinians.

According to official figures by the Palestinian government, by Sunday Israel had carried out 1,200 air raids focusing on residential homes and buildings as well as government offices, roads, electricity grids, water and sewage networks. The onslaught killed some 200 people, including 52 children and 31 women, and injured 1,225 (mostly women and children).

Israel’s offensive on Gaza has left immense material losses and the damage to infrastructure and Palestinian homes is estimated at $177.5 million. More than 770 residential units were seriously or completely destroyed, while 4,976 units suffered moderate or partial damage due to constant shelling. Meanwhile, 97 apartment highrises and homes were flattened, as well as 32 media offices, and dozens of institutions and NGOs. Some 65 government offices and public buildings including police and security headquarters and service facilities were also bombarded. Some 36 schools and several medical facilities and first-aid clinics were also seriously damaged.

Israeli bombardment also targeted factories which in turn damaged streets and infrastructure including power generators. Israel carried out unprecedented revenge raids on Gaza by targeting specific areas with dozens of airstrikes. The bombing significantly changed the landscape in Gaza; not a single tall building remains standing, the streets are covered in rubble, and the only letters left on buildings spell devastation.

“Hello. This is Israeli intelligence. You have 30 minutes to evacuate the building.” This kind of brief phone call turns the lives of Gazans upside down. In just a few seconds, the residents of four large residential buildings have to process the fact that in less than 30 minutes they will be homeless. During that half hour, they must also decide which memories and keepsakes to save as they flee their home. They have to think where they and their children will spend the night, according to one Palestinian woman who once lived in the Hanadi residential tower in western Gaza City, the first to be bombed by Israel.

Two airstrikes were enough to topple the 15-storey building and make destitute more than 70 families living there. Luck ran out for residents at three other residential towers: Al-Jawhara, Al-Shorouq and Al-Jalaa, which were also bombed, making more than 190 families homeless. The offices of several media outlets located in these buildings were also demolished, including the office of the Associated Press.

The horror of receiving that warning phone call before your home is pummelled pales in comparison to two massacres that were carried out in Al-Shati refugee camp in the west of Gaza City and Al-Wahda Street at the city centre. There, Israel bombed residential buildings without warning, killing and injuring scores of people. At Al-Shati camp, the Abou Hattab family lost eleven of its members, mostly women and children, when their home was bombed. Four missiles targeted two families at the home, where one family had fled from the bombardment of Al-Shajaaya neighbourhood east of the city to take refuge with their relatives. Israel killed both.

Mohamed Al-Hadidi lost his entire family of four, except for one infant whom he found by sheer coincidence when he was identifying the bodies of his wife and children. Al-Hadidi said the bombing was ferocious and at a harmless target. He thanked God that one of his children had survived and is seen in social media clips kneeling in gratitude.

Although Israel said its goal was to assassinate an official in Hamas’s military wing, none of the victims were Hamas officials or members of any other Palestinian faction.

The massacre at Al-Shati refugee camp was not the bloodiest, however. On Sunday morning, Israeli jets rained missiles on Al-Wahda Street demolishing multi-storey buildings and killing 43 Palestinians, mostly from the same family. Dozens more are missing under the rubble. The Palestinian Ministry of Health said Israel annihilated ten Palestinian families from public records after it killed every single member of those families, leaving one or two alive at most.

The Israeli escalation has compounded existing problems in the Gaza Strip. The Ministry of Health announced serious shortages in medical supplies and ICU capacity, which prevents it from receiving the injured who pour in after each Israeli airstrike. Egypt quickly sent ambulances to Gaza to transport the injured to hospital. Youssef Abul-Reesh, undersecretary of health in Gaza, said, “Israel destroyed the main roads leading to Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, the largest medical compound. It also targeted ambulances trying to reach the injured in areas under attack.

Palestinians are also worried that this escalation will worsen the current, second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in Gaza because vaccinations and testing have mostly stopped. This means that the Gaza Strip will likely be hit by a third wave of the pandemic after the dust has settled.

What is even more disconcerting is that tens of thousands of Palestinians fled to schools and UNRWA locations in Gaza to escape heavy bombing on the borders of the Gaza Strip. According to a UN statement, more than 38,000 Gazans fled to UNRWA schools to escape Israeli air raids or because they lost their homes in the shelling. UNRWA said its medical facilities provide first aid services but only operate in areas where it is safe. The UN agency is also facing budget and funding shortages which will directly limit its ability to provide services for the victims of Israel’s war.

Journalists reporting on the news, what is more, have now become part of the news. Many local, Arab and international media outlets lost their offices after they were bombed by Israel. Others find themselves in a dilemma because traffic and transportation have stopped, and Internet services are no longer available in many areas in Gaza because of Israeli shelling.

Journalists were not only military targets, but the Israeli army also used them in a misinformation campaign when it told several international outlets that a ground attack on Gaza would begin. The purpose of this misleading leak was to convince Palestinian factions in Gaza to send their fighters to the border to defend the alleged invasion so that Israel could kill them en masse. The plan failed. Now, many foreign media outlets are demanding an inquiry into how they were used as part of the Israeli army’s military plan.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 May, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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