The human cost of Israel's war on Gaza

A man holds a phone showing a picture of Rafif Abu Dayir, who lost her life in an attack carried out by Israel on the Gaza Strip on 29 May 2021. [Getty]
6 min read
10 June, 2021
In-depth: The New Arab follows the stories of four Palestinians who suffered unspeakable losses during Israel's deadly assault on Gaza.

After 11 days of deadly Israeli attacks, the 21 May ceasefire between Hamas and Israel saw life in Gaza return to 'normal.'

However, while the fighting has ended, families across the besieged coastal territory are now left to mourn the loss of their loved ones, livelihoods, and homes.

The Israeli military assault killed at least 254 people, including 66 children and 40 women. Nearly 2,000 people were injured, including 600 children and 400 women, according to an Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report.

The Israeli bombardments destroyed 1,148 housing and commercial units and partially damaged 15,000 others, leaving over 100,000 civilians displaced in UN schools and other hosting communities. Following the ceasefire, nearly 8,000 people are still displaced, living in schools, as their houses have become uninhabitable.

The New Arab follows the stories of four Gazans after the ceasefire, revealing the grief, fear, and destruction behind these numbers.

It never crossed my mind that my house would turn to a pile of rubble one day

Losing a family

Over the 11 days of Israeli attacks, around 50,000 people took shelter in UN schools, according to a UN spokesman on 18 May. Others were hosted by family or friends. 

Abu Hatab, 34, lost his wife and four children, along with his sister and her children, to pre-dawn airstrikes on 15 May. Only his four-year-old daughter, Maria, survived the strike on their apartment building.

Abu Hatab was on his way home from buying bread when he heard the heavy bombings shaking the al-Shati refugee camp.

"As soon as I arrived at the crowd and saw the target of the airstrikes, I was shocked. It never crossed my mind that my house would turn to a pile of rubble one day," he said.

Father Alaa Ebu Hatab and his 4-year-old daughter Maria are the only two of a family of 7 to survive after their house were destroyed by Israeli attacks on 31 May 2021. [Getty]
Alaa Abu Hatab and his 4-year-old daughter Maria were the only members of a family of 7 to survive after their house was destroyed by Israeli attacks on 31 May 2021. [Getty]

"Suddenly, I heard my youngest daughter, Maria, crying 'mum, mum.'"

Abu Hatab found Maria standing in the yard. He searched for his wife, sister, and children, but unfortunately, they were pulled, dead, from the rubble.

The shock of their deaths forced him to be hospitalised for several days, leaving him unable to attend his family's funeral. 

"I am still suffering this trauma which occurs from one time to another, and therefore I am not able to raise my child," he stated, adding that he is now homeless. He spends his days at a friend's house, separated from Maria, who is staying with her maternal grandparents.

"Every day, I visit my father-in-law just to spend some time with my daughter, playing with her and feeding her," he said. "Maria and I will remain separated until I find an apartment at a suitable price."

The loss of my business is more painful than the loss of my house

Losing a business

Many Gazan business owners lost their livelihoods during the Israeli assault. 

Naji Dwaima, 44, lost his watch shop when al-Shorouq Tower was destroyed by eight rockets on 12 May. The business was the only income for his family, which includes six children.

"This business enabled me to provide a decent life for my family. Without this business, I couldn't own a new house, raise my children well, and send them to universities which require at least $4,000 as fees for each one," Dwaima said.

Dwaima was informed by the building's doorman that the tower would be targeted. He rushed to hail a taxi, hoping to arrive before its destruction. In the taxi, he heard heavy explosions as his business of 26 years became ash in the blink of an eye.

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"The loss of my business is more painful than the loss of my house. My house was destroyed by a drone missile in 2014," he said.

Dwaima had experienced a huge drop in sales since Covid-19 hit Gaza in March 2020, as a series of lockdowns reduced his revenue by 40%. After the lockdown ended in May this year, he bought hundreds of dollars worth of watches and accessories to stock for Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim festival marking the end of Ramadan.

"I hoped my sales would increase this Eid," he said. "My hopes vanished when the Israeli occupation attacked Gaza a few days before Eid."

"And when they destroyed the building where I had my shop, I lost hope completely because I lost my new orders and thousands of dollars," he added.

For Gazan civilians, this onslaught was different. No one felt safe

Losing hope

For Gazan civilians, this onslaught was different. No one felt safe, and every house was threatened with destruction without warning.

Alaa Shamaly, a photojournalist with a local TV channel, left the al-Shujaiyya neighbourhood after Israeli attacks on Gaza in 2014, refusing to rebuild his apartment in his family's four-storey building located near the eastern border.

"I have four children, and to protect them from any Israeli attacks, I searched for an apartment in a safer place," he said.

For this reason, a few months after the war in 2014 ended, Alaa bought an apartment in a residential six-storey building called Anas Bin Malik, in the centre of Gaza.

"The heart of Gaza was known as the safest place among all Gaza's areas when the Israeli occupation attacked Gaza in the last three aggressions," he clarified.

Palestinian musicians perform during a public concert outside the destroyed Hanadi apartment by Israeli attacks in Gaza on 2 June, 2021. [Getty]
Palestinian musicians perform during a public concert outside the destroyed Hanadi apartment by Israeli attacks in Gaza on 2 June 2021. [Getty]

However, on 16 May, the building was destroyed by Israeli rockets, leaving around 30 families homeless.

Alaa did not expect the new building in which he lived to be a target for the Israeli military, and is now left homeless and desperate after the destruction of his new apartment.

To make matters worse, he will have to keep paying his mortgage for the next two years, which is around $200 of his $600 monthly salary, for the destroyed apartment.

Until Alaa has finished repaying his mortgage, he will move back to al-Shujaiyya to live with extended family.

This bookshop meant a lot to me. It was like a soul to me… Once they took my soul, I felt as if I were dead

Losing culture

Many cultural and educational centres were also destroyed by Israeli airstrikes.

Samir Mansour, 45, lost his bookshop in the heart of Gaza as an Israeli aircraft razed a four-storey building housing educational and language centres on 18 May.

"At the time they hit the building with several rockets, I saw 14 years of work gone with the wind in front of my eyes in less than a second," he added.

"There are 100,000 works, including religious, literary, educational and children's books, under the rubble. They are half broken," he recounted.

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Mansour founded his business in 2008 and spent several years developing it into one of Gaza's largest bookshops. It was also a publishing house for 150 local authors, publishing their work in English and Arabic.

"This bookshop meant a lot to me. It was like a soul to me… Once they took my soul, I felt as if I were dead," Mansour said, asking, "Why would a building filled with educational centres be targeted?"

He has pledged to rebuild and is partnering with a non-profit organisation on an online fundraiser.

"The bookshop will be revived after its destruction, and my soul will be revived then. It might be rebuilt even better than before," he said.

Khuloud Rabah Sulaiman is a Gaza-based writer for WeAreNotNumbers.org.