Like others, they were terrified by the heavy bombardment in IsraelThe fourth war with the Hamas rulers in Gaza that started on May 10. The explosions felt more powerful than in previous fights. At night, parents and children slept in a room to live or die together.
However, the relatively affluent Rimal neighborhood where the family lived in a cluster of apartment buildings seemed somewhat safer than the areas along Gaza’s border with Israel, which had been devastated in this and in the past.
Then one night disaster struck. All four of Azzam al-Kawlak’s sons had gone to bed and he and his wife were preparing to join them.
At approximately 1 a.m. on May 16, a thunderous roar shook his top-floor apartment, quickly followed by a second and a third. “The floor cracked under our feet and the furniture was thrown against the wall,” said the 42-year-old engineer.
The four-story building collapsed and Azzam’s apartment fell to the ground. The family escaped through the kitchen balcony, now almost at ground level. Interestingly, the clothes hanging on a clothesline appeared intact.
It took a day for all the horror to emerge, as the bodies and survivors were pulled from the rubble. The family and neighbors used ropes to clean up chunks of concrete, working alongside ill-equipped rescue teams.
By nightfall, the family’s death toll was 22. Eight bodies were unearthed from the Azzam building and 14 from the one next door. Among those killed were the 89-year-old Amin family patriarch, his 62-year-old son Fawaz, his 28-month-old grandson Sameh, and his 6-month-old great-grandson, Qusai.
Just a day before, Qusai’s parents had celebrated a small milestone, his first tooth. Azzam’s two younger brothers died. Three nieces, 5-year-old Rula, 10-year-old Yara and 12-year-old Hala, were found in a tight hug, their bodies being the last to be removed, said Azzam’s surviving older brother, Awni.
The shelling along several hundred meters (yards) of al-Wahda Street lasted only a few minutes. In all, it toppled three houses, two in the al-Kawlak compound and one nearby, and killed a total of 43 people, making it the deadliest airstrike of the 11-day war.
Israel said the target was a Hamas tunnel under the street, part of what it called an underground network about 350 kilometers long (220 miles). The tunnels served both offensive and defensive purposes, military officials said, accusing Hamas of using civilians as human shields.
Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said during a wartime briefing that the military target at Rimal collapsed, causing nearby houses and their supporting structures to collapse. “That caused a lot of civilian casualties, which were not the target,” he said.
He said the army was reviewing the incident and “adjusting the analysis and the artillery used in the future” to prevent similar events from being repeated. “It is not a totally mathematical exercise to choose the order,” he said.
He said Israel carried out dozens of airstrikes in equally densely populated areas, with far fewer casualties.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz told foreign journalists this week that Israel does everything it can to avoid civilian casualties, but Gaza’s crowded urban landscape makes it virtually impossible to avoid them entirely.
“Hamas aims to target civilians for a purpose and we are doing everything we can to prevent that from happening,” he said.
The fighting began on May 10 after Hamas fired rockets into Jerusalem in support of Palestinian protests against Israel’s heavy hand at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a holy site for Jews and Muslims, and the threat of eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers. . In total, Hamas fired more than 4,000 rockets at Israel during the war, while Israel said it hit hundreds of militant-linked targets in Gaza.
In the main police compound in Gaza City, Capt. Mohammed Meqdad collected pieces of bomb fragments in a cardboard box labeled “al-Wahda street”.
Two had serial numbers that identified them as equipped with joint direct attack ammunition kits manufactured by Boeing Co. at its St. Charles, Missouri factory to become so-called “smart bombs” capable of being guided to a target. by GPS or lasers. Boeing did not respond to questions about the bombing, only saying in a statement: “In accordance with US law, the US government authorizes and provides strict supervision for all defense exports.”
Meqdad said that according to the fragments, the bombs that toppled al-Kawlak’s houses were likely GBU-31s, loaded with 430 kilograms (945 pounds) of high explosives. The GBU-31 is generally used for large buildings, but it can also destroy targets underground, said NR Jenzen-Jones, director of Armament Research Services, a firm specializing in weapons research.
The bombs have a powerful blast, which means surveillance, intelligence gathering, pre-planning and the correct choice and explosive hit of the weapon must be carefully considered before an attack, he said.
“The intrinsic wide-area effects of large explosive munitions mean that they must be used wisely in the urban environment,” he said.
The Israeli army did not respond when asked what bombs were used in the al-Wahda street attacks.
Earlier this year, the International Criminal Court began investigating Israel and Hamas for possible war crimes dating back to the previous war in 2014. This includes the random firing of Hamas rockets into Israeli communities, widely viewed as a violation. of the rules of war, and some of Israel’s deadliest practices, like the demolition of skyscrapers that killed entire families in search of militants.
Two Gaza human rights groups, al-Mezan and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, have been documenting Israel’s attacks and incursions for years. This time, they re-interviewed survivors, including al-Kawlak, visited hospitals, took photos and collected death certificates, in preparation for possible further submissions to the ICC.
Samir Zakout of al-Mezan and Mohammed al-Alami of the PCHR said they believe the bombings on al-Wahda street, along with other deadly airstrikes, violated the laws of war, arguing that the value of any possible target military was overshadowed by significant damage to civilians. .
Zakout accused Israel of intentionally using excessive firepower to sow fear, saying it was “one of the direct targets of the war.”
The Israeli military does not recognize the ICC, but says its airstrikes are authorized by lawyers to make sure they meet international standards. During the fighting, the military released a video of what they said were air force teams canceling attacks because they saw children nearby. In many cases, he ordered the occupants to evacuate the buildings before shelling them.
International law professor Paola Gaeta said that “we are certainly witnessing something that is wrong”, referring to civilian deaths, but there is a high threshold to prove a war crime. This includes testing the disproportionate use of force and intentionally targeting civilians, said Gaeta, who teaches at the Graduate Institute for International and Development Studies in Geneva.
If Israel says it made a reasonable mistake in calculating the amount of explosives in the al-Wahda street attack, this could serve as a defense, he said.
In all, 254 people died in Gaza in this war, including 67 children and 39 women. according to the Gaza Ministry of Health. Hamas has acknowledged the deaths of 80 militants. Twelve civilians, including two children, were killed in Israel, along with one soldier.
Awni al-Kawlak keeps 22 death certificates in a briefcase, along with the deeds of the two destroyed houses. A third family home was damaged and awaits demolition. The family business, a generator repair shop, was also destroyed. Two apartment buildings, including Awni’s house, remain intact.
Sitting in a courtyard behind the rubble, the 49-year-old shrugged when informed of Israel’s apparent recognition of the mistake. “What will I do with this information?” he said. “I lost my livelihood and I lost my brothers and their children.”
The fear that justice will never come makes it harder for the family to deal with the loss, he said. He worries that Gaza and its problems, including a stifling blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt since 2007 to contain Hamas, will soon sink into oblivion again.
“We know the world is empathetic now, but after a while it will forget our problem,” he said. “Even when they remember us again, they will remember us as numbers.”