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From the field

Military bombs Hassan family home in a-Zeitun neighborhood, Gaza, killing pregnant woman and toddler

Ruins of Hassan family home south of a-Zeitun neighborhood, Gaza City. Photo by Khaled al-'Azayzeh, B'Tselem, 13 Oct. '15.Yihya Hassan and son Muhammad, 5, in their relatives' home. Photo by Khaled al-'Azayzeh, B'Tselem, 13 Oct. '15.
Yihya Hassan and son Muhammad, 5, in their relatives' home. Photo by Khaled al-'Azayzeh, B'Tselem, 13 Oct. '15.

On 11 Oct. 2015, at 2:00 A.M., the Israeli air force bombed the home of the Hassan family in the a-Zeitun neighborhood of Gaza. According to B'Tselem’s investigation, the home was hit directly by the bomb and was completely destroyed. The members of the family were asleep at the time. Nur Hassan, 25, the mother of the family, who was at an advanced stage of pregnancy, was killed, as was her daughter Rahaf, 3. Her son Muhammad, 5, and his father Yihya, 25, were lightly injured.

Yihya Hassan described the events of the night to B'Tselem’s researcher Khaled al-‘Azayzeh:

We were woken up in the middle of the night by a very loud explosion. The whole house shook. Nur shouted out, “What’s happening? What’s happening?” I told her that I didn’t know. I was just getting out of bed when there was another explosion and I fell on the floor. I tried to get up but I couldn’t. I started to tell Nur to recite the Shahadatein prayer, because I felt that the house was collapsing on top of us. Nur didn’t reply and I couldn’t see her because of all the rubble and earth that was covering us. I heard Muhammad and Rahaf shouting, “Dad, help, the stones fell on us.” I tried to calm them and said I’d get to them. I was covered in earth and rubble. Rahaf shouted out for help for about five minutes and then she fell silent. I realized that she was dead. I kept on talking to Muhammad and calming him for about twenty minutes, all the time trying to free myself from the rubble. With an effort I managed get my arm out. I felt the air touch it. I saw light and very slowly got the earth off me. I made a small hole to breathe through. I felt a flicker of hope and prayed to God that someone would come to save us.

The statement of the IDF Spokesperson published the morning after the attack declared that “last night, the IDF used Air Force planes to attack two weapon production sites belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization in the north of the Gaza Strip. The attack was carried out in response to high-trajectory fire toward Israeli territory earlier in the evening.”

This statement is inaccurate. The bombing did not target “two weapon production sites”, but rather the private home of the Hassan family. The house was located in a farming area and was surrounded by orchards. Yihya Hassan is a farmer and the family made a living from growing olives, fruit, and grapes. They also kept a chicken coop for their own consumption.

Relatives of Yihya and Nur Hassan live some 70 meters from the bombed home. In these relatives’ home, the windows shattered and several family members were injured as a result of the bombing. Muhammad Hassan, 23, a student, told B'Tselem’s researcher:

Muhammad Nasser Hassan, 23Two loud explosions woke me up. The window in my room shattered and shards of glass fell all over me. My mother was startled and the power of the explosion made her fall on her back. My brothers and sisters began to shout in fright. My sister Salsabil, 12, was injured in the shoulder.

I looked through the window and saw smoke rising from the direction of Yihya’s house. I telephoned him three times but he didn’t answer. I went out of our home with my father and my brother ‘Abdallah, 15. We walked towards Yihya’s home. It was completely destroyed. I heard Yihya shouting out for help from under the ruins. I tried to lift the earth off him and help him out, and my father and brother tried to free Muhammad. We didn’t know where Nur and Rahaf were. A few minutes later some people came and began to search for them. We managed to free Muhammad and with great difficulty we got Yihya out. Nur was lying next to him, dead. Ambulances took them to hospital. We kept on looking for Rahaf for about an hour, together with people from the civil defense. Eventually we found her under the ruins, lifeless.

B'Tselem does not know why the home of the Hassan family was attacked. B'Tselem’s investigation refutes the claim that the house was used for manufacturing weapons. The media reported that the house collapsed as a result of a strike on an adjacent training camp. However, this claim is incompatible with the fact that the bombing struck the house directly. The house was a civilian structure and as such, directing attacks at it is prohibited. Moreover, there is no adjacent structure nearby – the “training camp” mentioned in the media – whose bombing could have led to this result.

Ruins of Hassan family home south of a-Zeitun neighborhood, Gaza City. Photo by Khaled al-'Azayzeh, B'Tselem, 13 Oct. '15.
Ruins of Hassan family home south of a-Zeitun neighborhood, Gaza City. Photo by Khaled al-'Azayzeh, B'Tselem, 13 Oct. '15.

This bombing re-emphasizes the illegality of Israel’s longstanding policy of airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, with its repeated lethal consequences for civilians. In this particular case, the strike may have resulted from faulty intelligence. However, as it was carried out in circumstances under full Israeli control, including the timing of the attack, this lethal harm to civilians cannot be accepted.

In recent years, hundreds of Palestinian civilians have been killed by aerial strikes on their homes during Operations Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense, and particularly during Operation Protective Edge, as well as between the rounds of fighting. This growing body of experience indicates that the lethal outcome of these attacks for civilians in Gaza is inevitable. Despite this knowledge, Israel continues to implement this policy.

These outcomes are the inevitable consequence of the bombing of densely-populated civilian areas, given that the military fails to meet its obligation to provide civilians with effective warnings. Despite this, Israel continues to act is if this were a legitimate and lawful course of action.