According to the United Nations, 327 residents of the Gaza Strip lost their homes in the wake of bombing by the Israel Air Force during the latest round of fighting, in May. In new testimony, compiled by Olfat al-Kurd, a field researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem in Gaza, the occupants of two large apartment buildings that were bombed and left in ruins recall the moments of horror when they were forced to leave and the devastation wreaked on their lives.
Al-Khazandar building, Gaza City, May 4, 2019
Mahmoud a-Nakhaleh, 29, proprietor of a woman’s clothing store: “On May 4, 2019, a bit before 9 P.M., I closed my shop and went into the shoe store next to me. We heard a commotion on the street. Neighbors from the building next door were shouting, telling us the [Israeli] military had called them and said it was about to bomb the Al-Khazandar building, which is our building, and that we had five minutes to get out. We quickly left the premises and stood about a hundred meters away.
“We saw a drone fire two small missiles [as a warning] to make people vacated the building. A few minutes later, another missile was fired on the road by the building. I tried to go back into my store to get the merchandise out, but security forces and other people who were there wouldn’t let me. At 9:30 P.M., they bombed the building with two missiles. It was reduced to a pile of rubble.
“I felt like I was about to have a stroke. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I lost my business and the merchandise in the store. There was merchandise from Turkey on the second floor that I had received about a week ago. I was planning to sell it during Ramadan and over the holiday.
“I don’t know why the Israeli military hurt us in such a barbaric way. I don’t belong to any organization or faction in Gaza. I’m a self-employed young man who’s working for my own and my wife’s future, and for my father’s, who invested in the business and is helping us make a living. I lost everything I had. All the work I put in was lost right in front of my eyes. What did I do? My future had turned black.
“Everything is under the rubble. I haven’t managed to salvage anything so far. I have nightmares every night because of the business and the money I lost. It was right before Eid al-Fitr, which is supposed to be the busiest time for clothing suppliers and retailers in Gaza.
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“My wife and I want to leave the Gaza Strip and move somewhere where we can build a good life, make a living, and enjoy basic rights. A place with a future. I don’t feel like a human being. I lost hope after my business was destroyed. The Israeli military destroyed our lives and left us with nothing.”
Diaa al-Khazandar, 66, retired physician, married, father of three: “On May 4, 2019, at 9:30 P.M., I was at home in the Rimal neighborhood when I learned from neighbors of the building we own that it had been hit by two warning missiles and that about 20 minutes later, Israeli warplanes had bombed the building and turned it to a pile of rubble. We didn’t get any warning phone call from the military. I don’t know why they bombed it. It’s not a military installation.
“My brothers and I built that building and put all our savings into it, so that it would provide us with income and our children with apartments once they got married. Within minutes, everything we invested was buried. My life was turned upside down. My hopes were dashed. My future became dark. The building was a source of hope and income for us and for our sons.
“This wasn’t the first time Israel hurt our family. In 2008, Israeli bulldozers demolished my home in Beit Lahia. It was a two-story house. We’ve been living in rentals ever since. They also bulldozed the tile factory my brothers and I had in the Nahal Oz area, east of Gaza City. Now they’ve demolished our building, too. I’m an ordinary person, a doctor. I don’t belong to any party.”
Amjad Jabr, 28, single, owned a shoe store: “Disaster struck me while I was in the store. The occupants of the next building were informed that they had to vacate their homes, because our building was going to be bombed. The neighbors told us. I left the business without taking a thing. We went out to the road quickly, abandoning the store and the merchandise. The building was bombed five minutes later. We were standing about 100 meters from it. We went on waiting, totally stunned, and without knowing why the building was being bombed.
“Within minutes it was a heap of rubble. Seven stories collapsed and lay level with the ground as though they had never existed. I was distressed and went into shock. Within minutes, I had lost everything I had. An hour later, after I’d lost hope of finding some of the merchandise, I went home, devastated because of the future that was wiped out. Everything went down the tubes.
“Why do they bomb us with missiles, especially when I am an ordinary resident and don’t belong to any party or organization? I am a young man who wants to earn a living and is working to secure his future. My whole investment was wiped out in a minute. They ruined my business, which cost me a fortune.
“I did not lose hope. Twenty days after the business was bombed, I rented another store and laid out the expenses again. I bought new merchandise. I raised the money by selling a plot of land I owned. I had planned to build myself a house on that land and get married, but unfortunately all my dreams and plans have been wiped out. I lost the store and the merchandise. Still, my situation is better than that of others.”
Al-Qamar building, Gaza City, May 5, 2019
At about 5 P.M., the Israel Defense Forces informed residents of the Al-Qamar building, in the neighborhood of Tal al-Hawa, that the structure would soon be attacked and that they must vacate it. A few minutes later, before all the occupants had managed to leave, some aircraft fired a “warning missile” at the building. About 30 minutes later, at approximately 5:30 P.M., the building was struck by several assault missiles and completely destroyed. According to the IDF, Hamas had dug tunnels under the building.
Ghadah al-Wakil, 30, is a homemaker, married and a mother of three. Her family had been living in a rental apartment on the building’s fifth floor for some three years. Her parents and four of her siblings lived in the apartment across the hall: “I was home with the children. My sister, Shatha, who is 16, came into our house yelling: ‘Bombing! Bombing!’ I didn’t understand what she meant. I thought maybe someone in the family had been hurt in a bombing. It took a while until I realized they were going to bomb our building. I picked up my son Muhammad, who is 18 months old, and tried to call my husband, Tamer, but he didn’t answer.
“In the meantime, without my noticing, my sisters had taken my other two children, Alaa, seven months, and Yamen, who is 6 years old, and left. I started shouting and looking for the kids. In the meantime, my husband called back. I told him, while screaming in a panic, that the building was going to be bombed and I didn’t know where our children were. I was terrified. I went into the neighbors and asked them where the kids were. I was so scared, I didn’t realize I was actually holding Muhammad. When my husband came, I took a last sad look at our apartment, and then we went down. All the residents were in the stairway. Everyone was shouting very loudly.
“A warning missile hit the building while we were still inside it. I went into the street. All the neighbors were there. I didn’t see anyone from my family – not my parents, not my children. I was scared they’d stayed in the building and that it would be bombed with them still inside. I kept looking for my children until I found them. They were all with my parents. They were frightened, screaming and crying, barefoot and in their underwear.
“My husband’s family came and took us to their house. I was crying hysterically. I had hoped the bombing would hit only one floor, or one apartment, but when I heard it, I realized the whole tower had been destroyed. I went into shock. I just sat and said nothing. Everyone tried to talk to me, but I just kept silent. I didn’t understand what had happened. I still don’t understand why they bombed my home, the building I’d lived in.
“We stayed in my husband’s parents’ home for 10 days. It was tough. The room was small and crowded. Then we moved to a house my parents had rented. Their apartment was destroyed, too. I thought we’d rent our own apartment, but our financial situation is really hard. My husband is unemployed, and rent is high – at least twice what we paid in the building that was bombed.
“Our children are in a terrible emotional state. Yamen hasn’t gone to school since the bombing. They have nightmares and keep waking up at night. Yamen keeps talking about his room and his toys. They went through weeks of panic. There wasn’t a lot of food. They kept getting a fever. Muhammad has become very aggressive. He keeps hitting his brothers, breaking toys and screaming. We’ve lost so much. There’s no compensation for the memories we had in that house. The scary evacuation, the anxiety and the shouting, were all a terrible experience.”
I’atimad Abu Eishah, 58, a married mother of seven, lived in a rented apartment on the second floor: “We were all at home. Suddenly, we heard shouting in the building. I asked my son Kathem, who is 41: ‘What’s going on? It looks like a bombing.’ Suddenly, the neighbors shouted to us: ‘Get out of the house. Go downstairs. The Israeli army is going to bomb the building.’ I panicked. I didn’t know what to do. We all got very frightened, and the children started screaming.
“We left right away, wearing house clothes that aren’t acceptable to wear outside. We put on our shoes as we were going down the stairs. My son Nael went down with his young girls, and they cried and screamed the whole way down. I needed help going down the stairs.
“When we were going down, we thought they were probably going to bomb just a particular apartment in the building. I didn’t think they’d bomb the whole tower. I saw all the residents on the street, crying and shouting. About 20 minutes later, the building was bombed. I cried so hard for the house. My heart was broken, even though I didn’t own it. It was my home, the roof over my and my family’s head. Now, I, my children, and my grandchildren have become homeless.
“We stayed with my son’s friend for about 10 days, and then we found another rental apartment and moved in. It’s unfurnished. There are no beds or appliances, and we don’t even have kitchenware. The apartment we had before was spacious. It comfortably fit a family of 11. Now everything is in ruins.
“We all sleep on the floor, on mattresses we received from the Red Cross. I have no washing machine, no fridge. My daughters-in-law have lost their gold jewelry, and my son lost merchandise for his store that he was storing at home. We even left our IDs at home.
“My granddaughters had a room full of toys, school bags and books. Everything is gone. It’s all under the rubble. They have a hard time falling asleep because of the fear. They’ve also started wetting their beds again. I sleep next to them. When they hear a loud noise, they wake up screaming, ‘Grandma! Grandma!’ – thinking it’s a bombing.”