Dispatch

‘They Killed 25 to Get One’

‘They Killed 25 to Get One’

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza — The Abu Jamaa family was digging into its food when the Israeli missile hit the family’s home in Khan Younis, Gaza’s second-largest city. It was iftar, the sunset meal that marks the breaking of the fast during Ramadan, a time of day relatives gather together to eat and relax.

The F-16 airstrike came just as the call to prayer began, signaling that it was time to eat. There was no warning. Twenty-five members of the family were killed, including 17 children, three pregnant women, and a grandmother, according to relatives. The four-story building was reduced to rubble. It took the family 12 hours, with two diggers and a bulldozer, to dig out the bodies. A deep crater of sand and broken concrete is all that’s left of the house.

"It wasn’t an F-16; it was a nuclear bomb," says Hussein Abu Jamaa, who lost his mother, brother, three sisters-in-law, and too many nieces and nephews for him to recount.

Hussein was heading to the mosque to pray and had just stepped out the door when the missile hit. He has a broken leg, a broken finger, and shrapnel in his chest and back. "They were all sitting together around the table when I left them," he says. He weeps between every sentence.

Ten of the bodies are taken to the European Hospital in Khan Younis, the rest to nearby Nasser Hospital. Medical staff at the European Hospital unwrap the white shrouds one at a time to do autopsies and finalize death certificates. The examinations are brief: a quick lifting and turning of each corpse. The cause of death is not in question.

One shroud is much smaller than all the others. It is of the youngest victim, Njoud, just 9 months old. The doctor picks her up with one hand. She is wearing a diaper and a Minnie Mouse T-shirt with a pink bow.

Standing outside the door of the morgue is Riyad Abu Saleh, 45. He is waiting to receive the body of his eldest daughter, Fatma, 24. Her husband, Yasser Abu Jamaa, and their three young children, ages 6, 4, and 2, were killed with her. Fatma was cut in two by the airstrike. Only half of her body is at the European Hospital morgue. Abu Saleh must go to the Nasser Hospital to collect the other half.

"We pulled her out of the rubble in pieces," Abu Saleh says. "We want the Israelis to leave; we want the border crossings open; we want a life of dignity without all this killing. We are under siege, and death is being brought upon us."

The attack on the Abu Jamaa family’s house was one of the deadliest strikes since the beginning of Israel’s assault on Gaza on July 8. Over the past 15 days, more than 600 Palestinians have been killed, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.*

The toll is up more than 300 in the five days since Israel’s ground invasion began. More than 75 percent of the dead are civilians, according to the United Nations, including over 110 children. Upwards of 3,700 people have been injured.*

In public speeches and in the media, Israeli officials trumpet their targeted operations and care to avoid civilian deaths. The Israeli army says repeatedly that it takes "every possible measure to minimize civilian casualties." The number of civilians killed belies that claim, as the Abu Jamaa family and scores of others across Gaza show.

The Israeli military has yet to explain why it targeted the Abu Jamaa family’s home. (The Israel Defense Forces did not respond to a request for comment.) According to a report by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, the target of the strike was Ahmad Suliman Sahmoud, who was joining the family to break the fast. Sahmoud was a member of the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s armed wing, which has launched nearly 2,000 rockets into Israel over the past two weeks and is currently engaged in urban warfare in northern and eastern Gaza.

Mohamed Abu Jamaa, a 17-year-old relative, stands next to the remains of the razed home. While he speaks, the boom of an Israeli tank shell sends him jumping several feet back. "They killed 25 to get one," he says.

Stories like this surface with sickening frequency. On the same day as the attack on the Abu Jamaa family in Khan Younis, at least nine members of the Siam family in nearby Rafah were killed in an Israeli strike, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

On July 12, a twin F-16 missile strike in Gaza City killed 18 members of the Batsh family. The Israelis were reportedly targeting Gaza’s police chief, Tayseer al-Batsh, who was critically wounded in the attack. The 18 are buried near the debris of the house. "We keep asking why," says Hassan al-Batsh, 20.*

On July 18, eight members of the Abu Jarad family, including five children, were killed when an Israeli tank shell crashed into the wall of the bedroom where they were watching TV. Three days after the attack, the surviving Abu Jarads left their home in northeastern Gaza, fleeing a heavy Israeli assault on the area.*

The Abu Jarads join the more than 100,000 Palestinians in Gaza who have been forced out of their homes, many without any of their belongings. They do not know when they can return home or whether their homes will be standing when they get back.

Even the wounded are not safe. On Monday, July 21, Israeli tanks shelled al-Aqsa Hospital in central Gaza Strip. Four people were killed and 70 wounded. On July 17, al-Wafa Rehabilitation Hospital, which houses disabled and paralyzed patients, was struck. Five days earlier, the Mobarat Felestin Center, a home for the disabled, was bombed, leaving two disabled patients dead.

There are countless other stories. On Sunday, Israel blanketed the Shejaiya neighborhood east of Gaza City with artillery fire and missile strikes. It was the bloodiest day of the conflict. Almost 80 people were killed in the area alone. Residents fled in the thousands. Many ended up at Gaza’s main Shifa Hospital. The halls were filled with people calling out the names of their missing relatives. They did not know whether their families had been reduced in number by the violence or not.

Mohamed Fayed is an employee at the European Hospital in Khan Younis, where 10 members of the Abu Jamaa family are departing for their final resting place, Khan Younis’s graveyard. He stands by the back entrance as a procession of shrouded bodies exits, on their way to burial. "No one is saying anything," he says about the civilian casualties of Israel’s assault on Gaza. "It’s like giving them permission to kill."

Corrections, July 22, 2014:
–Israel’s offensive against Gaza began on July 8, meaning that July 22 is the 15th day of the offensive. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the offensive began July 7 and implied that it was in its 13th day. (Return to reading.)
–As of July 22, it has been five days since the ground invasion began on July 17. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that it had been four days since the ground
invasion began. (Return to reading.)
–The missile strike that killed 18 members of the Batsh family occurred July 12.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that it occurred June 12. (Return to reading.)
The tank shell that killed eight members of the Abu Jarad family occurred July 18. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that it occurred June 18. (Return to reading.)