‘All Gaza Is Shaking’: What It’s Like to Experience the Wrath of Israel’s F-16s

In between the explosions, Maryam, Randa, Dalia and Faiz long for a truce and fear the future

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A Palestinian man checks the damage caused by an Israeli air strike at the Islamic National Bank of the Palestinian Hamas movement in Khan Yunis, today.
A Palestinian man checks the damage caused by an Israeli air strike at the Islamic National Bank of the Palestinian Hamas movement in Khan Yunis, today.Credit: Said Khatib / AFP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Maryam, 50

“With every shelling I feel all Gaza shaking, as if everything were turning upside down. What’s in the ground is booted out, like a continuous earthquake. They shell us, and the sound of the children’s screams erupts from the apartments and houses all around.

“From my home I saw the bombing of the Hanadi building – not with one bomb but with six. I also saw the bombing of the Al-Jawhara tower [a tall building], but it didn’t collapse. We gathered, the whole family, in my sister’s apartment in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood in Gaza City. We feel safer together. But no one actually sleeps. We brought my mother over from northern Gaza – not long ago she recovered from the coronavirus.

“We also brought over my brother-in-law, in a wheelchair. He’s paralyzed after a stroke. He lives on the 12th floor, near the sea. There was no power, the elevator wasn’t working. We brought him down all those flights in the wheelchair and then took him up to my sister’s place – three floors.

Smoke billows from an explosion during an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the Gaza Strip, today.Credit: SAID KHATIB - AFP

“Yesterday [Tuesday] the water stopped running; we’re waiting for it to start again. Now, at midday, the power has gone out, too. The cycles now are supposed to be eight hours of electricity and eight hours without, but it went off after three hours. The building has a generator, but it operates only for an hour and a half in the evening.

“I went home, filled a few bottles and jerricans with water, and returned to my sister’s place. In 2014 the shelling of the towers [the tall apartment buildings] came at the end of the war. Now it’s at the beginning. It’s true that they warned people in the towers, and we saw them run outside, many hundreds of people. We haven’t yet heard that UNRWA has opened its schools to act as shelters, as in past wars.

“It wasn’t expected. It’s true that all the events in Jerusalem – Al-Aqsa and Sheikh Jarrah – reached a boiling point. But all the reports were that neither side wanted an escalation. We were preparing for the holiday, and before that we prepared for the election, and I had planned to go abroad. And suddenly everything went haywire.

“Now we feel that something different is happening. We see on social media how young people in Jerusalem laugh when the police arrest them. This generation doesn’t need books to know what the occupation is wreaking on it. We expect something to change this time.

Palestinians walk after performing Eid al-Fitr prayers amidst debris near the al-Sharouk tower, after it was destroyed by an Israeli air strike, in Gaza City, today.Credit: MOHAMMED ABED - AFP

“What was Israel thinking – that it would attack us on the 10 most important days of Ramadan, in Al-Aqsa, and that things would just blow over? Yes, people support Hamas’ response. Twenty-five years ago I was still saying that the Israeli government was working for Israel. Today you can’t say that. Today it’s working for personal reasons.

“Yesterday the girls and I went to our home because we had to leave our cats there. The bombings scare them to death. We shut the balcony so the sound would be less powerful. We only opened one window a little, so if the building is bombed they’ll be able to escape.

“We prepared some food and sand for [the cats]. When we went down to the street – the streets are almost completely empty – wearing our masks as usual, we looked at each other and burst out laughing. Maybe we’ll be killed by shelling, but we’ll protect ourselves against the coronavirus.”

Palestinian Muslim women visit the graves of relatives in the main cemetery of Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, today.Credit: Mahmud Hams / AFP

Randa, 27

“Just now they bombed the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood, which is south of us – very close but we don’t know where. They bomb with F-16s; there’s the constant noise of the drones and the planes flying overhead. When they bombed Arafat City [the police facility], our building swayed from side to side. We saw the plane as it dropped the bombs.

“I think around 20 bombs were dropped on the police facility. It’s like somebody went nuts. The shock wave was stronger and scarier than the explosion itself, as if the earth were blowing up into itself. The warships also didn’t stop shelling from the sea at the refugee camps. We haven’t been able to sleep for two days.

“The scariest thing is fleeing the towers, which have eight or 13 floors or so. The people are warned that they have to leave and they don’t have time to take anything – the elderly, women, children running downstairs, and there are disabled people, too. I use crutches now because of the problem with my legs. And I keep thinking about what will happen if we have to evacuate our place. I won’t be able to run fast on the stairs.

“We know everything from social media. We don’t need television. We see Rafah, Jerusalem, Al-Lyd [Lod], Akka [Acre]. This is my fourth war. In the past wars we felt alone; now we feel that we’re together.”

Mourners carry the body of Majd Abu Saadahthe, a Palestinian killed in an Israeli airstike, yesterday.Credit: SAID KHATIB - AFP

Dalia, 48

“The children haven’t slept for two days. We huddled in the kitchen, which is slightly better protected, and we’ve been there for two days. We hardly dare go to the toilet.

“When do you think this round will end? The buildings shake. We don’t go out. The family in Jabalya [refugee camp] suggested that we come to them and be together. I was afraid to drive there. The Israelis are shooting at cars on the roads.

“For a whole day we didn’t have electricity because power lines were hit in the shelling and they weren’t able to fix them. There was no internet, either. We felt completely cut off, with only the F-16s flying above. There’s a neighborhood generator from which we buy electricity, but it was hit in the shelling of the Jawhara building.

A building in Gaza on fire after being hit in an Israeli airstrike this week.Credit: AFP

“All the stores around it were destroyed. They say that 13 bombs were dropped on it and it didn’t collapse. I live in the city center, close to everything, and I can’t get a thing. You won’t find a soul in the street.

“I hoped that the Egyptian delegation would come and achieve a cease-fire, but now we don’t know a thing. They shelled and bombed three tall buildings after warning the people to evacuate. There are another six, I think, whose residents were warned to leave, or a missile was fired into one or two apartments, and then all the residents left out of fear and uncertainty. [Since our talk at noontime Wednesday, at least two more high-rise buildings have been bombed.]

“In two buildings, so I heard, the doorman was told that they had to evacuate. And there were 40 or 50 families in each, and the doorman didn’t manage to tell them all. They announced it in the media, I heard it and called my girlfriend, who lives in one of the buildings, and told her she had to leave. She didn’t know anything about it.

“Everyone is looking for a place to be with family or friends. There are buildings where the warning came in a message to people’s Jawwal [the Palestinian cellphone service]. We have a friend who lives in the Hanadi building. He didn’t take anything with him, he left and now he’s left with nothing.

Palestinian youths at a huge crater in Gaza City on Thursday after an Israeli airstrike.Credit: Mahmud Hams / AFP

“Our homes are completely exposed and unprotected. There’s nowhere to hide, not inside and not outside. A friend of mine went outside with the children and they stood outside and couldn’t move because of the shelling. I wanted them to come over to me but they couldn’t. Her little daughter isn’t eating and has a high fever. My daughter, Karima, is shaking, she isn’t eating and isn’t sleeping. And this year she has to do the matriculation exams.

“Another woman who was forced to leave her apartment wrote against the Hamas operation and got a flood of criticism. I think a lot of people are against the Hamas operation but are afraid to say so. They would be held up as traitors. Someone wrote on WhatsApp: Now we know where the taxes that Hamas takes from us go. But that’s rare.”

Faiz, 55

“My mother is in the hospital 7 kilometers [4.3 miles] from us, and we can’t get to her because of the shelling. Only my sister is with her. What do the Israelis think the end will be? Isn’t there anyone in the Israeli media who says, ‘Stop, desist, let’s think about what we want?’

A family in Gaza during the fighting with Israel.Credit: Mohammed Abed / AFP

“Aren’t there people who are afraid for the fate of the Jewish people and say, ‘Let’s think about what will be in a hundred years? Let’s defend the Jewish people.’ Since yesterday I’ve been wondering: Who’s the crazy one here? Us or them?

“Our young people are delighted [by the Hamas operation], really, because they have nothing to lose. There are two generations in our home – my generation, the older one, which harbored the hope that one day we’d live in this country peacefully with the Israelis, and my son’s generation.

“If he were an Israeli, he’d be drafted in another four months. He was raised on love and accepting the Other, but he’s in turmoil over what’s happening – over people he knew who were killed just yesterday, over the feeling of fear. And how will I be able to talk to him now about living in peace with the Jews?

Hospital workers transfer the body of a Palestinian killed in an Israeli air strike into a morgue drawer in Gaza City City, yesterday.Credit: ANAS BABA - AFP

“The target of the Hamas operation isn’t Israel but Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas wants to tell Abu Mazen [Abbas] that he and his people are nonentities. What prevented them – him and his VIPs – from being in Jerusalem with their people in Al-Aqsa and Sheikh Jarrah? I don’t expect the Americans to let this situation continue. They won’t accept that tomorrow in the holiday prayers everybody will go outside and demonstrate against Israel.

“I’m tired. Fed up. We’ve gone through too many wars, and too many hopes that we cultivated about a change for the better have been buried.”

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