Linah Alsaafin & Maram Humaid
Al-Jazeera / May 13, 2021
Israel struck three tower blocks in the heart of Gaza City in 24 hours, flattening two and destroying parts of another.
Mohammad Qadada is in a state of shock.
He has been like this since Tuesday when the 13-storey building housing his tech start-up was razed to the ground during Israel’s relentless aerial bombardment on the besieged Gaza Strip.
For days now, Israeli fighter jets have targeted several landmark buildings in the heart of Gaza City, completely flattening at least two high-rise blocks. Hanadi, a tower with a mix of residential apartments and commercial offices, including Qadada’s Planet for Digital Solutions, was one of them.
According to local sources, unmanned Israeli surveillance planes targeted Hanadi with several warning missiles before its destruction by fighter jets that caused severe material damage in the upscale Rimal neighbourhood.
“The building’s guard told me that day he received a phone call from the Israeli side, telling him to evacuate the building within two hours,” Qadada told Al-Jazeera.
“We didn’t manage to evacuate our company’s equipment,” the 31-year-old said. “We decided not to risk it and go into the building. The time was very limited and people in the surrounding residential area were very afraid.”
Qadada founded Planet for Digital Solutions in 2017 and grew the company to employ 30 people.
“Since the targeting and levelling of the building, the question of ‘why’ has never left my mind. Why was it targeted?” said Qadada. “The staff and me, all of us, are in a collective shock state.”
Israel says the buildings are being targeted because they are being used in part by fighting factions in Gaza, arguing that this makes them “legitimate” targets. But Qadada said the strikes increased the suffering of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip by weakening its already devastated economy and taking away livelihoods.
“The youth here are striving to find stable job opportunities, but in a blink of an eye we lose everything,” he said.
Lama Mohamed, a 30-year-old journalist, said Hanadi had a special place in her heart as she had spent her honeymoon there.
“The apartments have a fantastic view of the sea,” she told Al-Jazeera. “These are not only buildings, but these are places that constitute landmarks of Gaza City, which many people have special memories of.”
At least 83 Palestinians, including 17 children, have been killed and hundreds wounded since Israel began its offensive on Monday, according to the health ministry in Gaza.
The escalation began after Palestinian armed groups fired hundreds of rockets towards Israel, in what they said was a response to the violent storming by Israeli police of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound last week that wounded more than 500 worshippers.
Muhammad Deif, the shadowy commander of the armed wing of Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, had also warned Israel to back down from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem, where Palestinian families are facing imminent forced displacement from their homes in favour of Jewish settler groups. Seven Israelis have also been killed in the rocket attacks, according to Israeli officials.
With a population of two million crammed into 365 square kilometres (140 square miles), the Gaza Strip is one of the world’s most densely populated areas. Unlike Israeli towns and cities, there are no bomb shelters for its residents to take refuge in.
In the early hours of Wednesday, another building located just two kilometres (1.2 miles) away from the site of rubble where Hanadi once stood was also targeted by Israeli fighter jets.
Al-Johara building on Jalaa Street was hit by a quick succession of missiles which caused extensive damage but not the collapse of the nine-storey tower. The building, which mainly houses a number of media and production companies in addition to a few residential apartments, had earlier been targeted by warning missiles. The nearby structure that houses Al Jazeera Media Network, located a street behind Al-Johara, also suffered some damages.
Reem Jarour, daughter of the owner of Al-Johara, expressed her deep sadness over the bombing of the building in the centre of Gaza City.
“May God compensate us,” the 30-year-old wrote in a Facebook post. “My father spent all his savings on this building.”
Jarour and her siblings all lived in the building, but were warned to leave after the Israeli military sent messages to their phones informing them about the imminent targeting.
“We will rebuild, block by block”
On Wednesday night, as the death toll in Gaza increased and the Israeli bombardment showed no signs of easing, another high-rise building was completely flattened.
Located on Omar al-Mukhtar Street in the heart of Gaza City, the Shorouq building is one of the oldest tower blocks in the coastal strip and one of its most famous landmarks. Built in 1995, it houses multiple TV channels and media offices, and a popular saying is that every journalist in Gaza has spent time in the building at one point.
Amal Shurrab, whose father helped establish Shorouq, recorded its collapse from her home.
“Shorouq is known to everyone, it’s a marking point when you give an address to a taxi driver,” she told Al-Jazeera. “The area it’s in is very lively, with many shops, and is always crowded with people.”
Shurrab’s family owned several offices and companies in the building.
“Unfortunately, we’ve lost everything now,” she said. “At least we lost the building, and not our lives. Every structure that gets destroyed we will rebuild with our own hands, block by block.”
Shurrab said there is no justification at all in “viciously” destroying the building.
“The companies that had rented spaces in the building lose their business, and make-up and clothes warehouses are now gone,” she said. “What threat did they pose?”
According to Shurrab, the building’s guard had also received a message from the Israelis telling him he had 10 minutes to vacate its premises.
Israel then sent homing missiles to determine which areas the F-16 missiles would later target.
“What was very strange is that when these missiles eventually struck the building, there was no noise,” Shurrab said. “It seems the missiles were pressurised, designed to suck in the air,” she added.
“The building collapsed and flattened a row of shops,” Shurrab continued, noting that “without any warning, surveillance missiles also targeted a commercial street directly opposite Shorouq.”
Shurrab said the warnings that Israel sends to occupants of buildings and the “warning missiles” are all part of the psychological torture inflicted on the Palestinians in Gaza.
“Israel does not care about killing civilians,” she said.
Linah Alsaafin is an online producer with Al Jazeera English
Maram Humaid is a Palestinian journalist from the Gaza Strip