‘Collateral damage’: the human cost of Israel’s recent assault on Gaza

Tareq S. Hajjaj

Mondoweiss  /  May 18, 2023

The five-day Israeli assault on Gaza killed 33 people. The majority of them were civilians, six of them children. But for Israel, they are simply “collateral damage.”

It’s quiet now in Gaza after five terrifying days of Israeli bombardment between May 9 to May 13, which killed 33 people, including six children. As the aftermath of the assault sets in, people who have been locked in their homes for the better part of a week are eager to walk freely outdoors. Crowds spill into the streets and observe the spectacle of destruction wrought by the Israeli airstrikes.

Families will take their kids to the few free parks that can be found in Gaza, and maybe if they can, they will buy them a shawarma sandwich to try and relieve the pressures of war. 

A total of 2,041 houses across the Gaza Strip were damaged during the airstrikes, while 31 buildings were completely destroyed, 93 families were made homeless, and 128 homes became uninhabitable, according to a report by the government media office. 

Even though their lives were turned upside down last week, everything was back to normal after a ceasefire was reached at 10 p.m. on Saturday, May 13. But some people’s lives were forever changed during those five days. As in every previous war, people in Gaza must endure the lists of the dead, the injured, and the destroyed houses. But beyond this, many more in Gaza must live with the sorrow and pain of losing their loved ones. Onderkant formulier

“I’m the one who was killed. My heart was destroyed and torn apart, and nothing is going to repair it,” Mohammed Saed told Mondoweiss, mourning his fiance, Dania Adas. 

Dania, 19, was sleeping in her home when she was killed mere months before she was going to start a family with Mohammed. Dania is one of the many Palestinian civilians killed in Gaza, described by Israel as “collateral damage.”

She was killed alongside her sister Iman, 17, in the al-Nakheel area east of al-Shuja’iyya, in an airstrike targeting senior PIJ leader Khalil al-Bahtini, whose 4-year-old daughter, Hajer, and his 40-year-old wife, Laila Hiji, were also killed in the strike. 

A wedding interrupted

While Dania and Iman are mourned by their family, Dania’s fiancé, Mohammed, is caught up in his own grief. Both of them had committed that nothing would separate them but death as a way of showing their love for each other. On the same night of her death, Mohammed and Dania had stayed up late talking and planning for their future. They had already picked out names for their future children.

He now sits amid the rubble in the same living room where he and Dania had spent their last night together, sobbing and squeezing the couch with both hands. Dania’s father, Alaa Adas, attempts to calm him down. Mohammed hugs him and keeps crying. 

“Her smile was everything to me, she was my dream,” he says. “Even after a billion years I won’t be able to forget a single thing about her.”

They would have been married on June 26.

On the night of the airstrike at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, May 9, Ala Adas’s bedroom door was ripped from its hinges. 

“I ran to the girls’ room,” he tells Mondoweiss. “But the dust blinded me. I reached the room, but it was destroyed, and I could only find rubble. I called out loudly, ‘Dania, Iman,’ over and over again, but there was no answer.”  

“This is her pillow,” he says, holding the blood-stained pillow that belonged to his daughter. “They were sleeping happily. They were both killed, my home butterflies.” 

“I started digging through the rubble and finally found my daughters over here,” he continues as he stands in the middle of the destroyed house, pointing at the place where he found Dania. “I found her pillow, and it was covered in her blood, I kept digging until I reached her, but she wasn’t breathing.” The father took a deep breath in an attempt to stifle his sadness.

He kept trying to find his other daughter, Iman, until he finally found her clutching her doll under the rubble.  

‘Scared to death‘

Mohammed Dawoud, 36, lives with his family of two children. His 4-year-old son, Tamim, was born with a heart issue requiring open heart surgery at six months old. Tamim’s condition remained stable after the operation, and he was able to join kindergarten this year. He and his 7-year-old sister, Judi, have filled their parents with joy. 

In the al-Rimal neighborhood west of Gaza City, the apartment building next to the Dawoud family’s home was hit in an Israeli airstrike targeting another PIJ leader. 

“When Tamim heard the bomb in the next building, he was terrified and screamed in fear,” Mohammed says. “He put his little hands on his chest, and then he turned silent for a while. After that, his face turned to blue, and he died before we could arrive at the hospital.” 

Tamim was one of six children who were killed in the five days of Israeli attacks. But he was not hit by shrapnel or buried under the rubble. His heart simply could not handle the horror of the sound of Israeli bombardment. 

Yet Mohammed says that the heart issue is not the reason for his death. “Many people live a long life with heart issues and can control their lives,” he asserts. “But the sound was terrifying even for adults. The scene next to our building, with the ambulances and the civil defense teams who pulled the martyrs out of the rubble, all of could be heard. The fear gripped his little heart, and it couldn’t bear it.”

Walking into his son’s room and holding his toys and bag a week after his death, Mohammed still can’t believe that his son has died.

“I can’t believe that I lost my beautiful boy,” he says. “He could have lived happily and enjoyed a future. But the Israeli bombs scared him to death.”

Tareq S. Hajjaj is the Mondoweiss Gaza Correspondent, and a member of Palestinian Writers Union