Dozens of neighbors of the Said al-Mishal Foundation for Culture and Science were seen leaning out of their windows this morning to listen to music they believed would not be played again. The cultural center’s building was completely destroyed by consecutive Israeli airstrikes, but Hazam Gusain, 18, led his twelve-man band on the center’s ruins. The band which had lost their headquarters, equipment and uniforms in the attack, carried their guitars, drums and digital pianos after they all connected their instruments to a small diesel generator.
For 15 minutes, the al-Anqaa (the Phoenix) band sang and played three national songs. Some local residents who came down to the ‘concert’ to join in, while others watched from further away, clapping their hands to shake off the deep gloom of the preceding hours.
On Thursday evening, at 18:00 Gaza time, 12 successive explosions were heard as Israeli warplanes flew over Gaza City, hitting the popular cultural center, one of the very few cultural outlets left for Gaza’s youth in the besieged enclave.
The five-story building held three theatres, offices for cultural associations, a library, and hosted an office for Gaza’s Egyptian community.
Ayman Hashishu, 40, was an eyewitness at the scene and the owner of a car wash across from the center. He said that his wife, Amna, received a phone call from an Israeli officer warning her to evacuate their four-story building.
“God damn you, are you kidding me?” Amna replied to the caller in Arabic, her husband told Mondoweiss. Five minutes later the IDF phoned again, telling her “I am serious! You have five minutes more to get out; we will hit the cultural center.”
Those five minutes were not enough to move the line of just-washed vehicles away from the center. “All the cleaner staff hurried up to drive the clients’ cars far away to the adjacent street,” Hashishu explained. Soon, the station was completely destroyed due to the explosions.
Going back to the band leader, who was humming a musical note that he said was from a memorial service for the American peace activist Rachel Corrie held at the center in March 2017. “Al-Mishal was a place of full of memories,” Hazem said. “It was a place of love, warm songs, and movies when sitting on its 350 burgundy seats and dozens of plays were performed on its stages.”
Theatre director Ali Abu Yassin, was preparing his first show “Bbret Benj” (Anesthetics Injection), a 70-minute drama that cynically addresses the problems of unemployment, lack of pure drinking water, power cuts and the closure of Gaza crossings. “The audience was waiting to watch it in third and fourth days of Eid al-Adha (Islamic festival on August 22th) in the destroyed theatre,” the director told Mondoweiss. “Now, the play has gone under the rubble, as well my decorations and equipment.”
Avichay Adraee, the Israeli army’s Arabic media spokesman, wrote in a Twitter post shortly after the building was targeted: “Warplanes have targeted a five-floor building serving internal security forces […] The unit is the operational wing of Hamas’ political leadership, which is responsible for running all internal security activities in the Gaza Strip.”
— افيخاي ادرعي (@AvichayAdraee) August 9, 2018
Eman Sourani, one of the center’s neighbors posted video of the attack on her Facebook account and wrote:
This bombing was very close to my house. I had to show silly smiles and do funny reactions so that my toddlers would not panic. I am a mother of three and currently I am very scared and worried. Last night a pregnant Mom and her one-year-old daughter murdered by IOF terrorist warplanes and today and every day I do not feel safe at all. By Three years from now; will Gaza have any place of art teaching? Theatres? Music Centers? Libraries or Green playgrounds so my girls would enjoy childhood and learn?
“Israel is trying to deliver its message that massive war is not just against humanity or our existence; it is a war against every part of Palestinian identity including music, culture or even Dabkeh dance,” said Nidal Eissa, 30, Deputy Director of the Foundation, which was inaugurated in 2004.
Eissa added that the center used to be full of 200-250 poets, artists, folklore dancers and thinkers every day; as well, many kindergarten graduation ceremonies prefer to hold their parties here. “But all those poets will not gather again, and the pupils have to find a place somewhere else.”