Why the Israeli army is expanding its invasion of Gaza City

Tareq S. Hajjaj

Mondoweiss  /  July 8, 2024

The Israeli army is besieging Gaza City a week after its Shuja’iyya invasion began. People are forced to sleep in the streets with nowhere left to go and residents say Israeli forces are encountering fierce resistance.

The Israeli army’s invasion of Gaza City’s eastern Shuja’iyya neighborhood has entered its second week, and it is now spreading to other parts of the city. The entire city is being put under siege, with its some 300,000 remaining inhabitants trapped in the middle with nowhere to go.

The Shuja’iyya invasion started from the east as the Israeli army launched a surprise attack without prior warning to its residents. People suddenly found army tanks between their homes, leading people to begin leaving the al-Nazaz, Al-Mantar, and Al-Mansoura areas in droves. The people who remained were located in the northern and southern regions of Shuja’iyya.

The Israeli operation has followed a clear pattern so far. Military forces launch incursions into different neighborhoods at different points, storming one area after the other until they have deemed the resistance there eliminated. Often, the army encounters more fighting than expected, prompting an even wider invasion of large urban swathes in an attempt to snuff out the resistance. The operation swallows up more neighborhoods, and the army issues evacuation orders to the residents that have remained. Often the evacuation area is the same location in which Israeli forces operate.

On Sunday, July 7, the army ordered residents of different areas in Shuja’iyya such as Al-Daraj and Al-Tuffah, as well as residents of Gaza’s Old City, to leave their areas and head west. After residents obeyed the army’s orders, they found Israeli tanks coming in from the direction they were told to flee, indicating that the city was being surrounded from all sides. Thousands attempted to reach the United Nations headquarters in western Gaza but found the tanks stationed there, too. Gunfire, missiles, and “fire belts” surrounded them, leaving the displaced with nowhere to turn to.

Many of these refugees have been forced to spend the night in the street, especially after the army bombed a school two days ago housing a large number of displaced people in western Gaza City, killing dozens of Palestinians.

Testimonies gathered by Mondoweiss from Shuja’iyya residents confirm that the Israeli army operations continue to be met with fierce resistance, with several residents describing the marked intensity of the army’s artillery fire and airstrikes across the neighborhood.

Residents tell Mondoweiss that the bombing in al-Shuja’iyya, Al-Tuffah, and the Old City does not stop. Several say the bombardment is “incomparable” to anything they have experienced so far.

Sleeping in the streets

Lina Hajj Ahmad, 31, who lives in the Daraj neighborhood, tells Mondoweiss that two days ago, she was preparing a meal for her four children when she heard people outside her house screaming and running in the streets. She did not finish preparing the food, instead going outside to find out what was happening. She learned that their area had just received an evacuation order. Her husband was out of the house, but she carried what she could and left with her children without waiting for his return.

On the way, she managed to meet up with her husband. They stopped to try to read where they were going, but when the sound of the bombing began and the advance of Israeli tanks could be heard in the distance, they began to run without deciding upon or knowing their destination.

“Even though I never left Gaza City, I have been displaced over ten times,” Lina tells Mondoweiss. “I can no longer count the number of times I had to carry my family and leave the house without anything to guarantee my return to my home.”

“Every time we return to our home after the most recent displacement, we find new parts of it destroyed or damaged,” she continues. “We try to restore it as much as possible, but I don’t know what will happen this time. They are blowing up entire residential areas and people don’t know where their houses are anymore.” 

Throughout the night, she kept hugging her children and holding them in her arms, attempting to make them feel a little safer. They all slept on the ground, along with many other families in similar circumstances. When morning came, they carried their luggage again and started to search for shade from the sun’s heat.

Many similar testimonies continue to come out of Gaza City describing how displaced residents are gathering in what remains of public squares and parks, where they sleep out in the open. All other civilian shelters continue to be bombed, including Al-Ahli Arab Hospital, which was attacked in two raids and threatened with evacuation to prevent people from moving there.

When residents of the eastern parts of Gaza City heeded army orders to move west — only to be encountered by more tanks — eyewitnesses say that the resistance confronted the incursion coming in from the west.

Residents of the area say that the resistance has not stopped in Shuja’iyya. Several report that the army is trying to establish huge military zones in the neighborhood, which they say it is preparing by clearing large tracts of land after blowing up the housing blocks that used to be there. The army then sets up military sites by parking dozens of military vehicles there.

As large parts of the city become turned into military zones, instructions for where residents should go invariably lead them to dead ends or even more death and destruction.

“They are pushing us into a trap to kill us,” Lina tells Mondoweiss. “Anywhere we go, we find nothing but death, constant bombing, and dismembered bodies.” 

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