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The destruction on Ousamah Hussein’s roof. Photo by Khaled al-‘Azayzeh, B’Tselem, 16 August 2020
From the field

Israeli policy of bombing crowded areas in Gaza takes fresh toll: head injuries in two children and damage to homes

The Israeli military has reported that over three weeks, from 6 to 31 August 2020, it attacked more than 100 targets in the Gaza Strip using tanks and airplanes. During that time, Palestinians fired rockets at Israel and sent incendiary and explosive balloons into its territory. The UN listed one Israeli and five Palestinians – four minors and a woman – injured in these incidents. The Israeli attacks also lightly damaged a school and six houses in Gaza.

This continuation of Israel’s policy of airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, which includes bombing densely-populated areas, demonstrates yet again that the use of so-called warning missiles fails to achieve its professed goal. It also demonstrates how unreasonable it is to expect civilians to grasp within minutes, in the dead of night, amid panic and confusion, what they must do to in order to save their families, including young children, while forced to leave their property behind knowing that destruction awaits.

The August round of fighting ended with five Palestinians injured and seven structures damaged in the Gaza Strip. B’Tselem reiterates that Israel’s policy of airstrikes in Gaza, which has caused thousands of casualties, has a black flag flying over it. It is unlawful and immoral.

On Friday, 14 August 2020, shortly after 10:30 P.M., the Israeli military fired two “warning missiles” at a seven-house compound belonging to the Hussein family in the eastern part of al-Bureij Refugee Camp. The compound is home to 38 people. These “warning missiles,” as the military refers to them, are relatively small missiles allegedly fired to warn civilians of an impending strike and give them time to get away. The two small missiles, fired within five to ten minutes of each other, landed about 15 meters away from the compound. Ten minutes later, an assault missile landed in the same location. Four of the houses in the compound were damaged and two children injured: Rafif Hussein, (3) in the head and leg and Baraa Hussein (11) in the head. The children were taken to Shuhada al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al-Balah and discharged several hours later. The damage to the homes, some of which are made of bricks and some of tin, included shattered windows, cracked walls and destroyed belongings.

That night, Asmaa (27) and Ahmad (34) Hussein, the parents of Rafif (3) and Khaled (2), were getting ready to turn in for the night in their home, which is made of tin sheets, when Asmaa suddenly heard two “warning missiles” land nearby.

In a testimony she gave B’Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd on 16 August 2020, she said:

Rafif Hussein (3). Photo by Olfat al-Kurd, B’Tselem, 16 August 2020

Suddenly, I heard two warning missiles. My husband Ahmad went outside and stood by the front door, and Rafif ran after him. Then a missile hit some farmland behind our house. I started screaming and crying. I was afraid for Khaled, who is two years old. I picked him up and started looking for my husband and for Rafif. I found my husband at the entrance, holding Rafif. She had a gash in her right cheek and her mouth was full of blood. She was also injured in the right leg.

Rafif fainted immediately. We wet her face and she came to. I went out in my prayer clothes and we walked away from the house. When Rafif came to, she said: “Mama, the ground’s moving.” We went to ambulances that arrived after the strike and were parked near the house. We all got into one ambulance and went to Shuhada al-Aqsa Hospital. When we got there, they X-rayed Rafif’s head and did a blood test because they were worried she was hemorrhaging. Thank God there were no fractures or hemorrhaging. Rafif stayed in hospital overnight for observation, and we stayed with her.

In the morning we went to my family’s home in Deir al-Balah, rested there for a few hours and then went home. I was shocked when I saw the extent of damage to our house. The roof was broken and the house and yard were full of stones and sand. The walls were cracked. The house and all of our clothes smelled like sulfur because of the missiles that landed next to it. I cleaned the house and got rid of the sand and stones.

Since the attack, Rafif has been emotionally unwell. She’s in shock. Her cheek is still swollen and she cries all day. I can feel that she’s terribly anxious. I stay by her side all day and can’t leave her for a moment. She also started bedwetting at night. We can’t sleep at home and go to my family or my husband’s family at night. I feel anxious and unstable all the time, and I’m exhausted. Every time there’s an escalation, I get terribly anxious. I want to live somewhere safer, but my husband is unemployed and we can’t buy a different house and leave the refugee camp. Every time there’s an escalation, the army fires at our area. Until now, we’ve been very lucky we haven’t been hurt. Our family’s homes haven’t been damaged either. I can’t go on like this, with all the fear and anxiety. Every time there’s a strike, I feel I’m going to lose someone from the family.

Ousamah Hussein (47), a married father of five and an office worker for the Hamas government, was at home with his family when he heard observation planes in the area. Immediately after that, he heard a “warning missile” strike farmland behind his house, and the house was hit by shrapnel. Ousamah and his family left the house and waited outside, next to it. After a second “warning missile” struck and he heard fighter planes in the area, Ousamah started warning his siblings and their families to leave the area. Then an assault missile struck a patch of land nearby.

Ousamah Hussein holding a piece of the missile that landed near his home. Photo by Khaled al-‘Azayzeh, B’Tselem, 16 August 2020

In a testimony he gave B’Tselem researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh on 16 August 2020, Ousamah said:

Suddenly, there was a huge blast in the plot and it shook the whole area. A big cloud of black smoke covered everything. I couldn’t see a thing. I heard shrapnel and clots of mud landing around us, among the houses. The women and children started screaming in panic. I thought my house had been destroyed by the force of the missile. After a few minutes, we started checking on each other.

Then I saw one of my nephews, Baraa (11), emerge from among the houses shouting, with his hand on his head. I grabbed him and checked him, but didn’t see any bleeding. I asked, “What happened to you?” He said he’d been hit in the head by a rock. We washed his head and calmed him down.

After about an hour, Baraa felt dizzy and nauseous and said his stomach hurt. We called an ambulance that took him to Shuhada al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al-Balah.

During the strike, the power was off, and the dark made the fear and panic worse. The power came on again around 11:30 or midnight, and I started checking the houses. I found cracks in the walls of my house and shattered windows, mostly on the east side, close to where the missile landed. I climbed up to the roof and found parts of the wall around it broken and the water tank’s solar panels destroyed. I checked the house of my brother Samir (39), right next to mine. There were cracks in the walls and some of the tin roof was ruined, as well as the fridge, the kitchen windows and the bathroom doors.

Baraa’s mother Jacqueline (35), a married mother of five, described the damage to her home and the difficulties Baraa is still suffering in the wake of the attack in a testimony she gave B’Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd on 7 September 2020:

Baraa Hussein (11). Photo by Khaled al-‘Azayzeh, B’Tselem, 16 August 2020

When I got home, I found a disaster. The strike shattered the windows and created cracks in the kitchen and the floor all over the house. It destroyed all the water tanks on the roof. The house was filled with bits of the missile and with parts of blocks and sand. My husband is a simple clerk with the Palestinian Authority and makes 1,500 NIS (approx. 445 USD) a month. He worked very hard to build our house, and we don’t have money to repair what the bombing destroyed. Winter is coming in a few months. I really hope we manage to fix the house.

After the attack, Baraa stayed home and didn’t go to school. He was dizzy and exhausted. He’s still suffering from anxiety and fatigue. He gets scared when he hears airplanes in the sky, and doesn’t like to be reminded of what happened that day. For about two weeks, Baraa lost control of his bladder because he was so anxious. It got so bad that I had to sleep next to him and hold him the whole night. His father and I would take him on walks outside the house to make him feel safe and help him get back to the way he was before – before the bombing.

Sometimes, in the evening, he refuses to leave home. Even when I send him to get a few things from the store nearby, he refuses and says he’s scared. I thank God he’s okay and hope he gets back to his former self . My children keep saying they want to leave this house and move somewhere safer, far away from the bombs.