On the fourth floor of the Shifa Hospital in western Gaza City, two five-year-old cousins lie side by side in beds, injured in the Israeli bombardment this week.
Kenan Hammad’s father was 35-year-old Hafez Hammad, targeted by Israel as an Islamic Jihad field commander who gave orders to launch rockets from the northern Gaza strip, where the family lives. He was killed in the attack and so were five other family members, including the boy’s mother, according to 54-year-old Amal Hammad, grandmother of one of the boys.
“The whole family was sitting together in their small garden, and suddenly a rocket struck the house,” Amal said. The boys “did nothing, they were not throwing rockets on Israel, they were just enjoying a Ramadan night,” she said. “What is the fault of these two children? They are not criminals.”
The six dead in the Hammad family, who were mourned by Islamic Jihad in a funeral ceremony, are among at least 100 Palestinians killed during the past week’s escalating conflict as Israel pounded the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip from the sea and air. Israel says it seeks to minimize casualties from its attacks on militants who have fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, by giving warnings to civilians to flee the vicinity of planned strikes.
Israel, like the U.S. and European Union, considers Hamas a terrorist group, with Islamic Jihad in the same category. The Israeli army has massed forces at the border and politicians have hinted at a ground invasion that would probably multiply the casualties. The last time troops were sent in, in 2009, more than 1,000 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died.
In Sderot, an Israeli town a few miles from Gaza, an afternoon siren yesterday sent shoppers at the Victory supermarket racing to the shelter in the paper goods section, behind stacks of disposable diapers.
It was the fifth rocket alert of the day, and customers no longer panic at the rising and falling sound of the alarm, said Eli Saad, 56, manager of the fruit and vegetable department. “It’s crazy that this is how we live, but somehow you get used to it,” he said. One Israeli civilian was severely injured by a rocket yesterday, the first such casualty on the Israeli side this week.
V for Victory
The Sderot supermarket is a landmark for visitors, with the ‘V’ in its “Victory” logo formed by two giant white fingers. Years ago, that was blown off the building’s facade by a rocket from Gaza, leaving only the Hebrew letters that spell “ictory.”
Israeli leaders have signaled they will seek a decisive victory over Hamas in the current campaign. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday that “no terror target is immune.” Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz has said the aim is to “wipe out Hamas’s military capability.”
Hamas leaders in Gaza have vowed to defy Israel. Their rocket-firing strategy has been slammed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who unlike Hamas has engaged in peace talks with Israel, the latest of which broke down in April. Abbas, whose Fatah movement holds sway in the West Bank, also denounced Israel, saying it’s “unacceptable that the Gaza Strip should undergo this type of aggression every two years.”
‘What Will Happen?’
Israel occupied Gaza for 38 years, and continues to subject the territory to an economic embargo after its withdrawal in 2005.
Two decades earlier Saad, the supermarket manager in Sderot, says he used to be a regular visitor to Gaza City, to buy produce. He said his weekly trips were curtailed after the Palestinian uprising began in December 1987.
“It’s a terrible shame because there are a lot of good people in Gaza,” he said. “Unfortunately, they have leaders who want to kill us.”
That last sentiment is mirrored by Majed Abu Maraheel at the hospital in Gaza. He’s there for his seven-year-old son Khaled, who was playing outside their house in Gaza city yesterday “when suddenly we heard a huge explosion.” Khaled is in a critical condition with a fragment of an Israeli missile in his head, his father said.
“I hope my son will overcome his injuries and come back to us,” Abu Maraheel said. “But what will happen to the others who lost their families?”