Israeli attack on Gaza kills entire families in effort to assassinate resistance leaders

Tareq S. Hajjaj

Mondoweiss  /  May 10, 2023

The only possible outcome of the recent Israeli airstrikes on residential sites in Gaza was a massacre, but Israel conducted them anyway. The delayed response from resistance factions might signal new resistance tactics.

On May 9, the people of Gaza woke up to the sound of bombs as over 40 Israeli warplanes launched an overnight military operation against the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ). For most people, it was just one more night of terror in the never-ending cycle of Israeli bombardment, but for some families, it was the night that would change their lives forever. 

Later that afternoon, thousands of people participated in the funeral of 13 of the martyrs at the Omari Mosque in Gaza. Only three of the slain were PIJ members, senior leaders of the armed resistance movement in the Gaza City and Rafah areas. The rest were civilian noncombatants, killed while asleep in their beds. 

The Gaza Ministry of Health released a statement that evening documenting the death toll of 15 people after two more people were killed in Khan Younis south of Gaza, while over 25 people were injured. 

The overwhelming majority of the casualties and injured were civilians, as even the families of the PIJ leaders were targeted, in addition to their neighbors — in a place like Gaza, people are not always aware of who their next-door neighbors are in the dense residential buildings. 

This was what happened with the family of 55-year-old Jamal Khaswan, the owner of a residential building in the al-Rimal area of Gaza. He was killed alongside his wife and his eldest son, a doctor. They were in their home, on the floor above the apartment where Israel killed senior PIJ leader Tareq Ezz al-Din alongside his wife and two children. 

In the al-Nakheel area east of al-Shuja’iyya, two young sisters were killed in their beds — Iman Adass, 17, and her sister Diana, 19, who was due to be married next month. The Israeli raids in that area targeted senior PIJ leader Khalil al-Bahtini, a 45-year-old father of 7. His 4-year-old daughter, Hajer, and his 40-year-old wife, Laila Hiji, were also killed in the strike. 

This same scene can be seen all across the Gaza Strip, as civilians are targeted without knowing the reason why, and without having engaged in any armed resistance activity. 

“We can’t think of a single reason why our two precious flowers were killed,” Ihab Addas, the brother of the two sisters, told Mondoweiss

His sister Diana had been ecstatic at the prospect of starting her new life and was already packing her bags to leave her father’s home. “Instead, she left us for the grave forever. The family will never be able to see her as a bride,” Ihab said.

Only possible outcome was a massacre  

The Israeli attack took all of Gaza by surprise. Targeting the three PIJ leaders, the Israeli army made no effort at a so-called “precision” strike, and there was clearly no intention to avoid civilian casualties. The strike was not at a military site but targeted the PIJ commanders in their homes as they slept among their families and children. The only possible outcome was a massacre, and Israel did it anyway. 

“The Israeli strike targeted Khalil al-Bahtini’s bedroom. He was killed with everyone else around him, his wife and his little daughter,” a close family member who spoke on the condition of anonymity told Mondoweiss. “His other sons and daughters survived because their rooms were separate. But what is most difficult is that those six children had to wake up in terror and discover in the next room that their parents and their little sister were all dead.”

As a PIJ member, al-Bahtini often took exaggerated precautions to protect his family, staying away from them most of the time to avoid such a tragedy. He was not able to live a normal life or participate in family events, missing everything to avoid posing a danger to them. Extended family members would often take his place to shoulder parenting responsibilities, and while he is now known as a senior PIJ leader, before the attack Bahtini was simply known as a member of the PIJ without any details known about his rank and position. Yet the moment Bahtini spent a brief period of time with his family, Israel assassinated him.

“Today, the children woke up to find that their parents were dead and their home destroyed. With no home and no parents, where do you imagine they should go?” Bahtini’s family member told Mondoweiss. “The streets? Their relatives’ homes? An entire family has been destroyed. They lost everything.”

“It’s unfair and unacceptable for any human to live in such conditions with no value given to their life,” he continued. “What sin did those kids commit to suffer this fate?” 

“They were civilians, they were far away from any armed activity. They were sleeping in their beds. They can’t kill an entire family just to get one person. What fault should these children suffer?” 

New resistance tactics

In the aftermath of the Israeli strike, Palestinian factions in Gaza have not responded as of the time of writing. The military wing of the PIJ, the al-Quds Brigades, has called upon the people of Gaza to support the resistance and exercise patience in facing the Israeli attack.

The joint room for the Palestinian resistance factions in Gaza released a short statement vowing that Israeli leaders will pay a heavy price for their attack.

“Israel prepared for this attack months ago,” military analyst Khalid Safi told Mondoweiss. “The Israeli government waited until the end of the Jewish holidays to start a military operation against Palestinians. Ben-Gvir’s incitement for the assassination of resistance leaders in Gaza was clear. He was clearly urging the government to start a military operation.”

The comparatively muted response of the resistance groups so far, especially considering that Israel just assassinated three of its senior leaders, has led military analysts to predict that a new trend of resistance in Gaza might emerge in light of this premeditated and calculated attack.

“The factions in Gaza usually respond quickly to these attacks, and with anger,” Safi clarified. “But this time, the factions are adopting a different strategy. They are still assessing what their response should be, because they do not want to fall into a trap of the Israeli government’s making that is designed to address its own internal [issues] by killing Palestinians.” 

“This is especially the case because Israel has already prepared itself for the PIJ response,” Safi added.

Indeed, shortly after the massacre, the Israeli government was already warning its citizens in nearby towns bordering Gaza to partially evacuate. The Israeli government has prepared for what it has grown to expect from the resistance and what it sees as the typical predicted Palestinian reaction to Israeli massacres. But Safi believes that the fact that the resistance has not yet fired any rockets from Gaza has confused the Israeli government, leading to discord in its internal front.

As for when and how the resistance might respond, Safi believes that the resistance might choose to respond in a different time and place. 

“It may be a response from a different location. In the recent past, we have seen rockets fired from Lebanon,” he clarifies, believing that the Palestinian factions in and out of Gaza are planning for a more coordinated and collective response. “It may be a Palestinian operation instead of rocket fire.” 

“We expect a tough response from all the Palestinian factions,” Safi continued. “The factions will not allow Israel to divide the resistance by targeting the leaders of one group. The factions will respond with one hand, because this involves the fate of all Palestinians, not only the PIJ.”

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