Survivor testimonies detail destruction of Palestinian families

Putting together accounts from survivors and neighbours, Israeli rights group B'Tselem described in its latest reports how Israel's summer offensive in Gaza destroyed entire families and their homes.

Palestinians carry the bodies of the  ight members of the Al Hajj family who were killed in a strike early morning in Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip on July 10, 2014. Heidi Levine for The National
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Entire families wiped out, homes reduced to rubble and cynical attempts to warn Palestinians that their lives were about to be blown to pieces.

The latest report on last summer's war in Gaza documents some of the worst atrocities committed by Israel.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem selected 70 strikes by the Israeli military on Palestinian homes that killed at least three people. The report provided accounts from neighbours and survivors to piece together what happened.

One of the group's reports focused on the Hajj family, whose home was wiped out by an Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis on July 10.

The strike, which killed both parents and their six children, was reported on the front page of The National, after our correspondent visited the scene of the attack.

Both his story at the time, and the accounts given to B’Tselem, paint a picture of the devastation wrought by Israel’s merciless targeting of civilian homes.

According to the group, Muhammad Shahin, a neighbour of the Hajj family, was watching a World Cup football match at 1am when a violent blast nearly threw him from his bed.

“We reached the house that had been bombed,” he said of the collapsed Al Hajj home. “There was hardly anything left. It was destroyed. Bits of bodies were scattered on the road.”

Only two members of that family survived as they were not home at the time of the attack.

B’Tselem reported that the explosion injured some of their neighbours and so badly damaged surrounding homes that they were no longer inhabitable.

Another account in the report, describes how the three-storey apartment building of the Abu Jame family was bombed by the Israeli air force on July 20.

Of the 37 family members who lived there, 24 of them died that day — the mother Fatmeh, her son Yasser, four of her daughters-in-law, and 18 of her grandchildren.

Ahmad Sahmoud, a Hamas operative who was not a member of the family, was also killed in that attack.

One of Fatmeh’s surviving sons, Tawfiq, lost his wife and six of his seven children in the bombing.

“I’d worked with my brothers on building this house, building our lives, since I was eleven, and suddenly we’d lost everything. The house and the family obliterated in a matter of seconds. I only have my son Nur a-Din left,” he told a B’Tselem researcher.

“We were bombed without any warning. We didn’t receive a telephone call and a missile wasn’t fired at our house, like sometimes happened in other houses.”

The Israeli military used various methods to warn residents of imminent attacks during the war.

Sometimes they would alert them over the phone that an attack was coming. Other times they would use the widely condemned “knock-on-roof technique” which would involve firing a relatively small missile at their roof as a warning before the main airstrike. During the war, the Israeli military would also distribute flyers demanding residents evacuate vast areas.

In some cases investigated by B’Tselem, members of families who had fled their homes following military warnings, ended up perishing in the neighbourhoods to which they had escaped.

Abd Al Karim and his wife Huda lived in a three-room house in the heart of Jabalya Refugee Camp along with their four children, daughter-in-law and 13-month-old grandson. Nine of their relatives had been staying with them since the fighting had started.

On July 29, the Israeli army attacked their home killing 11 members of the family, according to the report.

Amid the dust and smoke, Nazmi, one of Abd Al Karim’s sons, found his baby boy in his sister’s room. “I picked him up and went out through the window ... his leg was badly injured,” he recalled.

The baby was pronounced dead at hospital an hour later.

Nazmi later found out that his wife and sister had been killed. His uncle’s entire family, except for one of his cousins, also perished.