The car is trudging over sand, rocks and water. And, inevitably, it gets stuck in the mud. “Stop,” a couple of young men instruct us. Within moments, four or five more come to the scene. They push our shabby cab, setting it free. “Look, on this side,” one of them points. “They [the Israeli planes] hit the road and the water main. We have been without water for days, and now we only have water for two or three hours a day.”
Another young man guides us through the rubble of the bombings that took place last week, before the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. In front of us is a wide and long sinkhole that cuts across the main artery of Bir Naja, a suburb of Jabaliya in the north of the Gaza Strip, in two places. “The water network here is recent, they had finished it a couple of years ago, and it will take weeks of work to get it up and running again,” explains Amr, a 64-year-old builder with a long history of working in Tel Aviv before Israel sealed off Gaza in 2007, when the Hamas Islamic movement wrested control of the Gaza strip from President Mahmoud Abbas’s National Authority.
As dozens of adults and children look on, a bulldozer pours in more and more sand in an attempt to close the huge wound that rips through the road. So much precious water continues to flow out in vain. “This water will not reach Gaza City, further downstream,” adds Amr. “Thousands of families will see only a trickle of water flowing from their taps.”
As we walk the streets of the Strip, from the eastern side to the coast of Sudaniye, from Beit Hanoun, Beit Lahiya, Jabaliya up to Gaza City, the images before our eyes are the story of a nightmare that lasted for 11 days. Buildings razed to the ground, roads gutted, infrastructure destroyed or damaged. Out of the rubble, the bodies of over 250 Palestinians have been dug up, many of them children. Only the skill of the rescuers managed to save many of the missing, pulling them out alive from under the mountains of concrete, debris, dust and twisted metal.
The civilians on the other side of the border, in the southern territory of the Jewish state, have also spent days of tension and fear, marked by the death of 12 people caused by more than 4,000 rockets fired by Hamas.
But the level of destruction and death suffered by Palestinians is on another level: it is exceptionally high. And on Wahda street, in the center of Gaza City, one is left speechless, crushed by the weight of an enormous “why,” when faced with the ruins of the three buildings, each three floors high, hit by an impressive number of bombs and missiles, six days after the beginning of the military operation “Guardian of the Walls” ordered by the Israeli government after the first rocket launch by Hamas. Rescue efforts continued for three days, eventually recovering 47 lifeless bodies. Twenty-two of the victims, including several children, have the same last name. A family wiped out.
On top of the rubble, the flags of the Fatah party are flying, a rival of Hamas. “These houses are part of a residential district, inhabited by professionals, doctors, lawyers, teachers,” explains Said M. “The Fatah flags on the rubble are making it clear that those who died had nothing to do with Hamas. What did those women and children do wrong? The Israelis are saying they only hit military and intelligence bases here in Gaza, but the dead are almost all civilians. They have also killed Dr. Ayman Abu Alouf, from the Shifa hospital, who dedicated his whole life to healing the sick, including those with COVID.”
We also notice a disturbing fact. On the same street, in addition to the three buildings, the Ministry of Health, holding the main laboratory that processed swabs for the coronavirus and, just opposite, the headquarters of PCRF, a Palestinian-US NGO that for 30 years has been offering highly specialized medical services for seriously ill children (about 6,000 in total), were also hit.
This is an NGO that has received international recognition and that hosted several missions of Italian volunteer doctors in Gaza before the times of COVID-19. “The Israeli authorities know our position, we are known for our activity in the health field, and the other NGOs present in the building are not tied to any political organizations. Still, we were targeted, for no reason at all.”
The journalists of Al Jazeera and the U.S. Associated Press agency are still asking “why,” together with the dozens of families who lived in the Al Jalaa Tower, demolished by the Israeli Air Force. The authorities in Tel Aviv have claimed Hamas forces were present in the building. However, until now, they seem to have presented the supposed evidence for their claims only to the U.S. government, not to the civilians who lived in that ten-story building that was pulverized in an instant.