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.
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.
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!”
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.
“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.
“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.