In Gaza, 1.7 Million Palestinians Feel Like Human Targets for IDF Bombs

High death toll and intensity of IDF offensive rallies Palestinians behind Hamas, evaporating any criticism of group's possible responsibility for triggering escalation.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Palestinians run following what police said was an Israeli air strike on a house in Gaza City. July 9, 2014.
Palestinians run following what police said was an Israeli air strike on a house in Gaza City. July 9, 2014. Credit: Reuters
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

"The IDF hasn’t succeeded or bothered to find the rocket launchers themselves, and so they’re attacking civilian targets, not hesitating to kill many civilians and children,” is the prevailing conclusion amongst Gaza residents, who also claim that the current attacks are less restrained than Operation Pillar of Defense.

Over the last two days of frequent airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, Israel has killed at least 51 Palestinians (as of Wednesday evening). The high number of civilian casualties and intensity of the attacks has in the meantime negated any criticism of Hamas for triggering the escalation. It seems that even those who aren’t Hamas supporters understand the organization’s position, and at this point the Israeli attacks have fostered unity among the Palestinians. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said during an emergency meeting of Palestinian leadership that “this is not a war against some faction, or Hamas, but rather against the entire Palestinian people,” and that it is a continuation of the attack on civilian Palestinian infrastructure in Hebron, that then continued into Jerusalem. “This is not collective punishment, this is destruction of entire families,” said Abbas, who in recent weeks has been accused of failing to sufficiently condemn the wave of Israeli oppression in the Middle East.

Without sirens, shelters, or Iron Dome systems, and with blackouts roughly every eight hours, each of the 1.7 million Gaza residents feel as if they are a human target for IDF bombs and rockets. No home or street is safe, and there’s no knowing where the next strike will hit. Most Gaza residents were unable to sleep overnight Tuesday due to the frequent attacks. During the day, traffic is light, and people leave their homes only for urgent business – not even for the Iftar meal which breaks the daily Ramadan fast. Universities cancelled classes on Wednesday and Thursday. Hardest of all is dealing with children's fears, as it is impossible to hide from them the images of destroyed homes and dead children, buried under the ruins.

Though the IDF warned families of imminent attacks on their homes on Tuesday, warnings were not issued in every case on Tuesday night and Wednesday. Such was the case at the home of Islamic Jihad operative Haffz Hamad’s home, where he was killed, along with his 65-year-old mother, his wife, and two other siblings. Five more family members were wounded.

On Tuesday, the Kaware family from Khan Yunis, a member of which is a Hamas operative, received such a warning by phone, eighty minutes before a small rocket hit the boiler on their roof. Family members that fled the house decided to gather around it, and after the rocket hit, decided to go up to the roof along with neighbors, believing the IDF wouldn’t dare to attack the house. They were wrong. At 3:00 P.M. an F16 fired at the home, killing eight, including six children. Another 28 were wounded.

According to a B’Tselem press release, attacking the homes of militant organization operatives is a violation of international humanitarian law, which stipulates that only elements that directly contribute to military efforts are legitimate targets. The IDF’s reading of this law, by which it is allowed to knowingly harm civilians as well, is illegal, according to the human rights group, which stated that the IDF has apparently changed its rules of engagement.

In a notification published by the IDF on Tuesday, it was stated that “among the structures targeted were the homes of four operatives from the Hamas terrorist organization which are involved in terror activities and act to fire long-range weapons at Israeli territory.” This statement from the IDF itself indicates that the attacks were targeting civilian homes. Later, according to B’Tselem, the IDF published a different version of the statement, “which included an attempt to retroactively suit the actions to international law, which claimed that the homes in question belonged to ‘senior figures and served as command centers.’” B’Tselem stated that the IDF cannot fulfill its obligations by providing advance warning, and that the advanced optical equipment in its possession can allow commanders to know if family members have evacuated or returned to the house in question.

According to reports from Israeli journalists, Hamas has either instructed or advised residents not to leave their homes. Gaza residents have stated that they haven’t heard such instructions, and that it is a kind of “psychological warfare” being waged against them by the Israeli media. They believe that some people spontaneously decided not to leave their homes in hopes that the IDF would not attack them, or that they decided not to leave their homes as they believed that in the face of such a humiliating action as being instructed to leave, they should not follow the IDF’s orders.

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