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Palestinians search through the remains of their homes after Israel destroys 13-story Gaza apartment building

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The Zafer 4 residential tower is now a pile of rubble. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

The Zafer 4 residential tower is now a pile of rubble. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Since the Netanyahu government’s decision to halt negotiations following last week’s ceasefires, Israel has resumed its campaign of F16 bombings and drone strikes. Apparently entering a new phase of attacks, the Israeli military targeted a 13 story-residential tower in west Gaza City, collapsing it with two airstrikes. Later, a building in the southern Gaza city of Rafah was similarly destroyed.

I met Assad Saftawi, 18, as he was sifting through rubble. “We’re trying to get the money and jewelry from the rubble but as you can see, you don’t know which items are yours,” he told me.

Kids walk where Zafer 4 stood 24 hours before. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Kids walk where Zafer 4 stood 24 hours before. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

According to Saftawi, the Israeli military had called a resident family in Zafer Building 4 at 6:30 pm, warning them to evacuate. “They called our flat and told us that the residents in Zafer 4 and Zafer 1 towers need to evacuate immediately, but my family didn’t leave until we had seen our neighbors running in the streets,” Saftawi recounted. “We left the building without taking anything because we thought that we would return after 15 minutes. We didn’t imagine they would target the entire building. They called us again and said all residents of the tower need to evacuate. So we went back to help an old lady evacuating. After that, they called for the third time and we told them that the tower is empty. Five minutes later, they hit the roof with a drone missile. Fifteen minutes later they hit it with two F-16 bombs and the whole tower went to the ground. Our house in Deir al Balah was targeted early in this war and now we lost this apartment. Other people lost their houses as well and we are all homeless. We can stay with our relatives but some people have absolutely no place to go.”

I was in a media building — the top two floor of which are destroyed from a previous bombing — only 500 meters away from Zafer 4 when the airstrikes hit. Although having been in Gaza for over a week and having adjusted to the regularity of missiles and drone strikes, the sound of the explosion and immediate collapse of the building was shocking. I peered out of the fourth story window, though there were no visible signs of the explosions. Seconds later, dozens of birds flew overhead, clearly spooked by the massive explosions.

Assad Saftawi and his cousin stuff blankets into a bag. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Assad Saftawi and his cousin stuff blankets into a bag. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Haaretz reported that at least ten people including four children were wounded in the attack on Zafer 4.

Jehad Saftawi, Assad’s cousin, lives in Zafer 1, across the street from the demolished building. I spoke to him late last night on the telephone. “We’re just waiting to receive a call to see if they hit the tower,” he told me. “Tomorrow morning I’ll go to check it. I have important things in my house, papers, my passport.” Saftawi had earlier tweeted that he hadn’t taken any of his belongings from his house and had only the clothes he was wearing.

I asked Jehad Saftawi why he thought Israel destroyed the Zafer building. “They are killers,” he said. “The Israeli military said that Hamas fighters use this building for operations, but if this was true they could target an apartment!”

Young men look for belongings. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Young men look for belongings. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

This morning, Jehad was among the residents who returned to the site. His apartment building across the street had major damage from the blast. The ground level store was surprisingly intact, though no signs remained of the glass doors that had existed 24 hours before. Through the entire building, most doors were blown off and all of the windows were shattered by the blast.

Now, at least 500 people who lived in Zafer 4 are homeless. Assad Saftawi told me that some people who had fled Shujaiya were staying in this building, so there was even more than the 500 residents of the tower.

A Gazan man climbs deep into the rubble to recover belongings. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

A Gazan man climbs deep into the rubble to recover belongings. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

“The international community is busy with animal rights and no one is saying anything about human rights violations in Gaza,” Assad Saftawi said.

Earlier in the day, the Israeli military had airdropped leaflets warning that the war is not over. That night Israel commandeered, al Aqsa TV — Hamas’ television station — and disseminated a threat to Gazan civilians, ending with a chilling phrase: “You’ve been warned.”

For many Gazans, these threats and attacks like last night’s seem to be a policy of deliberate targeting of civilian life and infrastructure in a backfiring attempt at turning popular sentiment against the resistance.

Men search through the destruction of their respective homes. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Men search through the destruction of their respective homes. (Photo: Dan Cohen)

“They’re targeting civilians because they tried to target the resistance but failed miserably,” Assad Saftawi explained. “So all they can target nows is civilians. We wouldn’t turn against the government regardless of political differences.”

Mohammed Yusef Hasan Abu Ghaben, 25, of the beachside Shati Refuge Camp told me, “This is their way of trying to pressure the resistance. But the support for the resistance is increasing because people are now more aware than ever that they need someone to defend them.”

“Netanyahu is trying to anger and pressure us so we don’t stand with the resistance,” Abu Mohammed Hasan, 60, explained. “The more people they kill, the more the people stand with the resistance.”

Yet Netanyahu appears to have no achievable goal, and in a George W. Bush style gaffe, the Israeli military prematurely declared “Mission Accomplished” weeks ago. Nonetheless, support for the slaughter in Gaza remains almost unquestioned among Israeli Jews. A recent poll found that 92% think that Operation Protective Edge was justified, and 45% think not enough firepower was used.

To appease the overwhelming pro-war sentiment, Netanyahu assassinated Hamas military leader Mohammed Deif’s wife and two children, as well three top Hamas commanders, Muhammad Abu Shammala, Raed al-Attar and Muhammad Barhoum and seven civilians. The day of the funeral, which drew the biggest crowd since 2012, Israel bombed and killed a family in a Gaza City cemetery as they buried their dead children. Scores have been killed since. Now, 10,000 reserves have amassed and Netanyahu is threatening a second ground invasion.  As Israel commits daily massacres with total impunity, we can only wonder how high the death toll in Gaza will climb.

A man finds medical records including a booklet entitled "Mother and Child Health Handbook" (Photo: Dan Cohen)

A man finds medical records including a booklet entitled “Mother and Child Health Handbook” (Photo: Dan Cohen)

Dan Cohen

Dan Cohen is an independent journalist and filmmaker based in Palestine. He tweets at @dancohen3000.

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12 Responses

  1. just on August 25, 2014, 9:09 am

    Dan Cohen– you are doing such amazing work and reporting, and I thank you most sincerely. You’ve documented innumerable war crimes; my hope is that Israeli impunity will become a distant memory very soon.

    I just posted part of an article I found via your twitter account about Mohammed Deif. Do you have any more on this?

  2. Qualtrough on August 25, 2014, 9:12 am

    Is there any other government in the world that could do something like this without the US denouncing it in the strongest terms? Rhetorical question.

  3. Citizen on August 25, 2014, 9:48 am

    Anybody think Netanyahu will actually invade Gaza with boots on the ground again, soon–with those 10,000 reserves?

    • a blah chick on August 25, 2014, 12:23 pm

      I think it’s a 50-50 proposition right now. If the missiles continue he’ll have no choice. That’s why they’re bombing the crap out of Gaza, trying to kill off the fighters so their troops and politicians can waltz in for their photo ops.

  4. Justpassingby on August 25, 2014, 11:58 am

    New design is here, is the ‘latest comments’ site gone?

  5. just on August 25, 2014, 3:34 pm

    “The public’s satisfaction with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has dropped dramatically over the course of Operation Protective Edge, according to a poll broadcast Monday on Channel 2.

    US president Barack Obama told The New York Times in an interview published August 8 that Netanyahu’s “poll numbers are a lot higher than mine” and “were greatly boosted by the war in Gaza.”

    The poll found that 50 percent of Israelis were dissatisfied with Netanyahu and just 38% were satisfied, a 17% drop since a poll broadcast Thursday night, and a massive fall since his approval rating hit a peak of 82 percent on July 23 after ground troops entered the Gaza Strip.”

    You have to ask if the numbers are falling because there were a few days when scores of Palestinians were not massacred. Or perhaps it is because they actually lost a child.

    Cynical, I know. ;((

  6. just on August 25, 2014, 7:25 pm

    The Israelis are again bombing Gaza with abandon. Proving again that they are indeed committed to their genocide of the Palestinian people:

  7. just on August 26, 2014, 7:32 am

    fyi & love the timing!

    “Drama about Holocaust survivors’ illegal voyage to Palestine sets sail

    Chris Columbus is to co-produce the drama, centered around the 1947 voyage of the SS Exodus from France to Palestine that was intercepted by the British navy

    The high profile of the case helped create a conversation about the plight of Holocaust survivors and the creation of the Jewish state of Israel – Grauel himself later testified to the UN, campaigning for unrestricted immigration into Palestine. It makes a film about the story politically contentious, given as it comes amid the ongoing struggle between Israelis and Palestinians over the Gaza strip and elsewhere.

    Exodus, a fictional film about the events of the period, was made in 1960 by Otto Preminger, starring Paul Newman as the captain of a ship secretly transporting Jews from an internment camp to Palestine.”

    For those who may not remember, from wiki:

    “John Stanley Grauel (1917 – September 1986) was a Methodist minister and American Christian Zionist leader. He was a crew member of the famed refugee ship the SS Exodus-1947 and a secret “Haganah” operative. Grauel is credited with being the key individual who persuaded the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine to recommend for the Partition Resolution of November 1947, creating the State of Israel. In a speech to the Jewish Agency, Golda Meir, referred to his testimony as the first appeal by a “priest, a perfectly worthy gentile, a priori, no Jewish witness was to be believed.””

    (the Guardian article refers to him as a Baptist- no matter)

  8. Anonymous on August 26, 2014, 8:34 am

    I must confess to not having heard of Dan Cohen before he went into Gaza with Max Blumenthal; is he an established writer? The pieces that I have read have been just great, and I am “liking” (if one can say that considering the subject matter) the accompanying photographs.

    Keep it coming, Dan, and stay safe.

  9. Vera Gottlieb on August 26, 2014, 9:28 am

    Just as Germany is still paying reparations to Holocaust victims, will israel do the same for Palestinians? I know…I am being naive. World-wide demonstrations didn’t stop Bush from attacking Iraq either. israel needs to be taken down.

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