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 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.
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.”