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From the field

Bilal al-Astal recounts bombing that killed 9 in Gazan café, where he and others were watching a World Cup match

Searching for bodies in the sand the day after the airstrike. Photo: Fares Akram, 10 July 2014
Searching for bodies in the sand the day after the airstrike. Photo: Fares Akram, 10 July 2014

Yesterday, Wednesday 9 July 2014, after I ate the meal that breaks the Ramadan fast and prayed the a-Tarawih [Ramadan] prayer, I went to the Waqt al-Marah café [a.ka. Fun Time Beach] to watch the soccer World Cup semi-final between Holland and Argentina. The café, owned by the a-Sawali family, is constructed of palm fronds. It's on the Khan Yunis beach, in the al-'Izbeh area, about 30 meters from the water and 200 meters from the first line of houses. There were about 13 people at the café, all men. We knew that Israeli airplanes were bombing several places in the Gaza Strip at the time, but we thought that the café was safe.

We watched the first half of the match together. We drank tea and coffee and there was a relaxed mood. We didn't hear any airplanes nearby. Suddenly, there was a loud explosion. By the time I realized what was happening, I found myself buried under a pile of sand and dirt. I choked on the sand and could hardly breathe. I manage to get my head out of the sand. The rest of my body was stuck and I started calling for help. It was dark, but I could see that most of the café had been destroyed. It had simply disappeared, replaced by a huge hole in the ground. The people who had been inside were buried under the sand.

A few minutes later, neighbors and ambulance teams reached the site and tried to get the injured people out. People dug around my body and pulled me out of the sand. I was taken to hospital by ambulance. My legs were severely injured. My whole body is bruised. The doctors examined me in the hospital and took X-rays. They found that my legs had serious fractures. Some of the bones were crushed.

People who visited me in hospital told me that nine people were killed in the bombing. Three of them were my relatives. Two other relatives were injured, one of them an 11-year-old boy. I'm still in hospital.

Bilal Walid al-Astal, 41, father of nine, lives in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. He gave his testimony by phone to Iyad Hadad, B'Tselem's field researcher in Ramallah, on 10 July 2014.

The café’s shop sign. Photo: Fares Akram, 10 July 2014
The café’s shop sign. Photo: Fares Akram, 10 July 2014

Concerning testimonies about the "Protective Edge" campaign:

With the current military campaign ongoing, B’Tselem is taking testimony from Gaza residents, mainly by telephone. B’Tselem verifies, to the best of its ability, the reliability and precision of the information reported; nevertheless, in these circumstances, reports may be incomplete or contain errors. Given the urgency of informing the public about events in Gaza, B’Tselem has decided to publish the information now available. When the military campaign ends, B’Tselem will supplement these reports as needed.