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Sawarka relatives relate hellish destruction of family of 8 in what Israelis call a ‘mistake’

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Abdullah al-Sawarka sounded unconcerned about the Israeli military’s admission of “surprise” and a “mistake” over the killings of his relatives Thursday. The military has said it was “unaware” that his cousin’s Rasmi Sawarka’s two tin shack houses were inhabited when a warplane bombed the dwellings and buried eight family members under the rubble at dawn on Thursday in the Deir al-Balah refugee camp on the central Gaza Strip.

“What investigation could raise the dead?” Abdullah, 45, asks, while standing distraught at the edge of a 50-foot-wide, 20-foot-deep crater where the tin shacks once stood. The “smell of the eight charred bodies” including five children is still stuck to our hands, he said.

The Sawarka family members were sleeping when the raid took place, two days after the military escalation started with Israel assassinating a senior Islamic Jihad commander and his wife on Tuesday. The eight family members were among 34 Palestinians killed by Israeli air raids over the Gaza Strip.

“It was a sleepless night, then four massive explosions shook my gut,” Abdullah said. “I start running unconsciously towards the flames caused by the raid. Everything was red and grey dusty scenes, while I could hear moans nothing was clear. Even the brain cells stop working at that hellish incident, then all the neighbors rushed over here to rescue the victims.”

Abdullah Sawarka, portrait by Ashraf Amra

Abdullah collected a shred of a child’s clothing from the rubble. “As if this shabby house was the house of the head of a rocket launching unit. Rasmi! The chicken farmer! What a poor life you have suffered.” Abdullah lamented.

One neighbor told me that the rescue of the impoverished shepherd’s family amid the chaos was slowed by the terror that the house would be hit again.

“At the beginning we were paranoid to rescue the slain family from down the rubble, we were forced to wait for fifty minutes until the paramedics reached the area,” Meqbel al-Sawarka, 27, said.

The relatives who died in the attack have been identified by the Gaza Ministry of Health as Rasmi al-Sawarka, 45; Yusra al-Sawarka, 43; Mariam al-Sawarka, 45; Waseem al-Sawarka, 13; Muhannad al-Sawarka, 12; Moaz al-Sawarka, 7; and at least two other children whose names and ages were not specified.

Israeli military said on Friday that it is investigating the airstrike that killed the eight members of the same family – also known as Abu Malhous. Though the military claimed that Rasmi was an Islamic Jihad commander operating in the centre of the 25-mile-long enclave. His brother Mohammed, a Palestinian Authority (PA) employee in Gaza, was also among the 34 dead.

The attack injured a dozen other members of Sawarka family, mostly children, now being treated at Shuhhada al-Aqsa Hospital.

The Palestinian armed factions retaliated for the killing of Islamic Jihad commander Baha abu al-Ata by launching around 450 rockets into Israeli towns for two days, before a ceasefire came into force on Thursday following joint Egyptian and UN mediation.

Crater left by killing of al-Sawarka family. Photo by Ashraf Amra

The enclave has been under a joint Israeli-Egyptian siege for more than twelve years, which has severely curtailed freedom of movement for its over two million inhabitants. The flow of goods and services, as well as medical supplies, has also been squeezed in the crippling siege.

Umm Motaz, 34, Rasmi al-Sawarka’s sister, had difficulty in speaking while tending to the surviving children at the hospital.

“Oh God, burning an entire family that lives from hand to mouth and sleeps in a tin shack. They need a stick of match, not four rockets,” Umm Motaz told me. “This illogical, irreligious, inhumanity– this unbelievable massacre. These are children who play by sifting sand with a sieve! And today their flesh is collected from that sand. Only God will take revenge.”

As for the Israeli investigation, the aunt shook her head.

“If this is happened in any respected state, then the whole world would warm up to an investigation. But it is related to Gaza, so it will be frivolous. Will this silly justification of investigation revive the children? Even if the Israeli army admitted its mistake about the crime, the children will not be more fortunate than the Samouni family or even Razan al-Najjar, whose file is thrown away in the trash.”

Motaz referred to two legendary cases in Gaza. In 2008-2009, Israeli forces killed 48 members of one family, the al-Samounis, during the three-week assault on Gaza. In June 2018, al-Najjar, a 20-year-old paramedic was shot dead by Israeli forces while tending to casualties during the Great March of Return at the Gaza fence.

“We just had lunch together yesterday, and all what remain of my brother and his children are the good memories,” Motaz said, looking through a window into the intensive care ward. “We are like hostages waiting our turn to be killed at any moment, with no international accountability for the crime.”

Ahmad Kabariti

Ahmad Kabariti is a freelance journalist based in Gaza.

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9 Responses

  1. JWalters on November 16, 2019, 6:07 pm

    Palestinians are allowed no mistakes.

  2. Kay24 on November 17, 2019, 7:17 am

    It is ironic how many “mistakes” the world’s most moral and efficient military keeps making.
    They are either brutal or inept. Most probably both.

    Here is a video of brave Harvard students walking out of a speech on settlements, by the Israeli ambassador. Great job.

  3. Kay24 on November 17, 2019, 9:28 am

    Here is an interesting article on Michael Lynk’s UN report:

    “He may teach human rights law at the Western University in London, Ontario, but as the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, he has to endure the fury of Israel and its acolytes abroad – not least in his native Canada – and, two years ago, even the enmity of his own country’s foreign minister.

    In his latest UN report, he reminds readers that the creation of Israel’s “civilian settlements” in occupied territory is a breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and a “war crime” under the Rome Statute. So you can see why the 67-year old Lynk, a labour lawyer by training, has been having a tough time since his appointment to the voluntary, unpaid UN post three years ago.”

  4. brent on November 17, 2019, 10:58 pm

    There may be some creative lawyers who could capitalize on such admitted mistakes. Wouldn’t that make for culpability?

    • Mooser on November 18, 2019, 3:19 pm

      “There may be some creative lawyers who could capitalize on such admitted mistakes. Wouldn’t that make for culpability?” “brent” .

      You use the words “creative” and “capitalize” and “culpability”. Because they all begin with a “c” and you like the alliteration?

  5. Misterioso on November 18, 2019, 9:40 am

    The ongoing and escalating horrors inflicted on the imprisoned, essentially defenseless indigenous Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip by “Israel” provide further proof that it is entirely appropriate and necessary to equate Netanyahu and his fellow murderous, conniving thugs with the Nazis.

    “Israel’s Fatal Negligence,” Haaretz editorial, Nov. 17/19

    “Eight members of one family, including five children and teenagers, were killed on Thursday night in an IDF strike in the southern Gaza Strip. After their death, it became clear that the building where the eight were staying was included in an outdated target database of the army, and it was attacked without prior checks for the presence of civilians at the site.

    “Later, the bombing was even justified by the Arabic branch of the IDF Spokesman’s Office, saying the target was the commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s rocket unit in the central Gaza Strip. The claim, which was supported by rumors on social media, later turned out to be false.

    “A few hours before the eight were killed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood in the Knesset during a session on the escalation in the south in the wake of the killing of the commander of the northern brigade of the Islamic Jihad, Baha Abu al-Ata, and his wife, and quibbled over the definition of war crimes: ‘At the root of the matter of the law of warfare, what is the main principle that defines war crimes in the Geneva Convention: On one side there is the military, soldiers, and on the other side are civilians. It is possible to cross this line by mistake, but it is forbidden to do this deliberately. They attack civilians with premeditation and systematically – this is war crimes.’

    “There is no disagreement over the fact that intentionally attacking civilians is a war crime. But what about criminal negligence that in the end leads to the killing of eight innocent people? And what about a shameful attempt to cover this up by someone entrusted with providing reliable information on behalf of the army to the public? And because of the fact that warfare is not something sterile, we must make do with the term ‘inadvertently’ to ignore a disaster of such scope?

    “Just how negligent the intelligence examination was can be understood from a neighbor of the family, who said the family had lived ‘in this region for over 20 years. They were known as simple people, who lived in shacks and made their living from herding sheep and [growing] a little bit of agricultural crops.’

    “Even if we start from the assumption that the IDF is not interested in attacking innocent people, the fact that uninvolved Palestinian civilians are killed as a matter of routine in IDF operations teaches that the army still regards human life as cheap and allows itself too flexible a scope of what it calls ‘collateral damage.’ Damage that in the end results in eight deaths is not collateral at all, but just the opposite.

    “The disaster in Dir al-Balah must not be ignored. A serious and in-depth investigation of the incident is needed, conducted by external and independent bodies. In the end, the full responsibility must be placed on those involved in the chain of failures that led to the superfluous killing, as well as to the attempt to cover it up.”

  6. Misterioso on November 18, 2019, 9:47 am

    “‘What Do We Tell Kids Who Lost Classmates in an Israeli Strike?’: Gaza Reeling From Family’s Death”

    “Relative of children who died says at visit to their school, where classmates paid tributes: ‘Why should they care that the army admitted it hit them by mistake?'”

    By Jack Khoury, Haaretz, Nov. 16/19

    “‘What do we tell these children? Why were three of their classmates killed?’ implored Saturday a member of Gaza’s al-Sawarkah tribe, who lost a family of eight in an Israeli airstrike on Wednesday overnight.

    “The relative spoke during a visit to the school in Dir al-Balah that the three children who died in the attack had attended.

    “The photos of seven-year-old Muath Mohammed al-Sawarkah, his 13-year-old brother Wasim and 12-year-old cousin Muhannad were displayed at the school for their classmates to pay tributes.

    “‘How do you explain it kids at that age?’ wondered the family’s relative, who spoke to the media. ‘Why should they care that the army admitted it hit them by mistake?’ she added.

    “The relative was referring to the Israeli military’s statement that prior to the strike, which came at the end of a two-day round of fighting between Israel and Gaza-based Islamic Jihad, it was under the impression that the house was empty.

    “Israel’s claims that a mistake had been made are not helping the family at all as they try to cope with what happened, said Hamdan al-Sawarkah, cousin of 45-year-old Rasmi, who also lost his two children Muath and Wasim in the strike.

    “He said that the family lived in the compound that was hit for some 15 years, refuting some Israeli claims that they may have moved there only recently and therefore Israeli intelligence agencies hadn’t known there would be civilians there. ‘They lived in the simplest way possible, three brothers and their wives and children crammed into a compound that stretches over less than half a dunam,’ al-Sawarkah said. ‘On Thursday, early in the morning, loud blasts shook the compound, four rockets hit and ruined everything. It was a devastating sight.’

    “Rasmi, a veteran of the Palestinian Authority’s security agencies, was married to three women. One of them, 39-year-old Yousra, was killed with him in the Israeli strike, as well as their sons Muhannad, two-year-old Salem and one-year-old Firas, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. 45-year-old Maryam, who was married to Rasmi’s brother, Mohammed, also died in the strike. Mohammed was wounded and family members say they fear for his life.

    “Rasmi and Mohammed were herders who tended to their flock, Hamdan said. He added they made a living from trading sheep and goats, hardly getting by, and lived in extremely difficult conditions.

    “The two brothers’ mother, 70-year-old Salima, recalled the moments after the strike in a conversation with the Turkish news agency Anadolu at the Gaza hospital. ‘One of my granddaughters came rushing to me, crying, shivering and screaming ‘call emergency services!’ she said. ‘I got there and the scene was horrible. I have no power left in me to survive, I don’t know how I’m going to raise’ the children who survived.

    “The Israeli strike targeted a building that appeared in an outdated target database, and it was carried out without prior inspection of civilian presence at the site, defense officials confirmed to Haaretz on Friday.”

    “Furthermore, after the attack, the Israeli army’s Arabic-language spokesman claimed that the building was a command post for an Islamic Jihad rocket launching unit in the central Strip. However, this claim was backed by unreliable information based on rumors on social media, which hadn’t been verified.

    “Contrary to statements given to the media, defense sources confirmed that the site was a complex of shacks – a target that would not have had much significance had Islamic Jihad used it. Senior defense officials told Haaretz the target was approved in the past according to protocol, but had not been re-examined since.

    “This family’s killing has been heavily criticized by Palestinian officials and citizens, also drawing condemnation from the United Nations envoy Nickolay Mladenov, who tweeted: ‘There is no justification to attacking civilians in Gaza, or elsewhere! Such a tragedy! My heartfelt condolences to the family of Al-Sawarkah & I wish a speedy recovery to the injured. I call on Israel to move swiftly with its investigation.'”

  7. Elizabeth Block on November 18, 2019, 12:42 pm

    “Even if we start from the assumption that the IDF is not interested in attacking innocent people…..” We know they don’t care whether people are innocent or guilty. See what Military Court Watch has to say about how they arrest children.

    They say they thought the building was empty. That raises the question why they think it’s OK to bomb an empty building.
    It also raises the question of why they think that any building in Gaza that is remotely available as shelter, would not be occupied, after so many have been destroyed.

  8. seancbreathnach on November 18, 2019, 3:40 pm

    Mistakes, investigations, American complicity, EU double talking and always Israel as the victim, hypocrisy.

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