Middle East Eye / October 7, 2023
When fighters stormed Israeli territory, Gaza’s residents knew that ferocious retaliation would soon arrive.
Dozens of fighters, mainly belonging to the Hamas movement, crossed from the enclave into towns and kibbutzim in southern Israel, as hundreds of rockets were fired overhead.
In Gaza, meanwhile, thousands of Palestinian families fled their homes to relatively safer areas, in anticipation of Israeli retaliation. Hundreds took refuge in schools run by UNRWA, the United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees.
“We have fled our home in the Shujaiyya neighbourhood and came here as it would be safer than our home,” Kamal Ubaid, 31, told Middle East Eye as he carried his child along the Tal al-Hawa street in southern Gaza.
“We did not bring anything with us, we did not have enough time to bring clothes or blankets for the children to sleep on. But what’s important is to remain safe until this war is over,” the father of five said.
Ismail Haniyah, the political leader of Hamas, said that the attack came in retaliation for Israel’s ongoing assaults against Palestinians and violations of Muslim holy sites including occupied East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.
“We warned them about the ongoing oppressive blockade on Gaza, which has witnessed four or five wars, resulting in tens of thousands of martyrs, casualties, and destroyed homes,” Haniyeh said.
“Gaza is living through this tragedy, in this vast prison, where two million people rely on some aid and limited alleviation [of blockade] to endure the hardships as if they expect our people to accept this bitter reality in silence, while events unfold in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel is at war.
Buildings levelled in Gaza
When the Israeli retaliation arrived, bombs rained down on residential areas of the Gaza Strip.
A 14-story residential tower housing dozens of media offices in the middle of Gaza was knocked down by Israeli air strikes.
The building, which comprised at least 100 apartments, was struck by fire from several Israeli fighter jets, reducing it to rubble.
Dozens of other military and residential buildings have been targeted across the Gaza Strip, as part of what Israel now calls “Operation Iron Sword”.
Targeted buildings included the home of Hamas leader Yahya al-Sinwar; the Charitable Institutions Building in the south of Gaza; and the al-Hashem building in Gaza’s north, which housed a local NGO and 15 housing units.
An estimated 200 Palestinians and 200 Israelis have been killed in the ongoing fighting and bombing at the time of writing.
Overwhelmed by the large number of casualties, the Gaza health ministry called on residents to donate blood.
On Saturday evening, Palestinian fighters controlled several areas of southern Israel and were locked in battles with Israeli troops.
Hamas said dozens of Israelis had been kidnapped. The Israeli military acknowledged hostages had been taken.
‘This time it’s different’
Although residents of Gaza have experienced multiple Israeli attacks since the beginning of the blockade in 2007, many believe that “this time it’s different”.
Dina Basel, a resident of western Gaza City, said she fled her home once she heard that Palestinian armed factions had launched rockets toward Israel.
“I did not wait until the Israeli attack began, I knew it would take a few hours until the Strip would be devastated by hundreds of air strikes,” the mother of two girls told MEE.
“We have experienced this before, but this time we expect it to be more violent. In normal times, when Israel initiates the attacks, thousands are killed and injured. This time, when we [Palestinians] launched it, the impact could be tenfold more devastating.”
According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, as of February nearly 2,000 homes were still in ruins from previous Israeli attacks during the past decade.
At least 100 families in Gaza remain displaced as a result of the damage caused by Israeli attacks in 2021 and 2022 alone.
Israel has been maintaining a tight air, land, and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip since 2007, following the Hamas electoral victory that year.
Since the imposition of the blockade, Israel has launched four major military attacks that have devastated the strip’s infrastructure and killed thousands.
Maha Hussaini is an award-winning journalist and human rights activist based in Gaza