North Africa, West Asia

Eyewitness to massacre one night in Khuza’a

Before the operation started, the Israeli army ordered the residents of Khuza'a to evacuate their homes. Almost 70% of the residents left their homes to go to UN shelters or relatives' houses in relatively safe areas, while around 3,000 people decided not to leave.

Sarah Algherbawi
30 July 2014

Khuza'a is a 4000-acre town that lies east of Khan Younis city in the southern area of Gaza, with a population of almost 11,000 people. On Monday night, July 21, the Israeli forces started to bomb Khuza'a heavily with the aim of destroying it. Before the operation started, the Israeli army ordered the residents of Khuza'a to evacuate their homes. Almost 70% of the residents left their homes to go to UN shelters or relatives' houses in relatively safe areas, while around 3,000 people decided not to leave.

Mahmoud Ismail, one of the eyewitnesses of the massacre, explained the reasons behind 3,000 people not leaving their homes in response to the IDF orders. He said, "Neglecting Israel orders of evacuating our homes was a decision that each of us has made individually, and not at all heroic. It is just that many of us did not have the emotional capacity to sleep away from home; others thought the operation would be over very fast and it wasn't worth the effort of evacuation; while the majority like me didn't expect in their worst case scenario that they will witness the worst nightmare of their lives in the coming few hours".

It began with a bombing raid that cut off the main road that linked Khuza'a with KhanYounis, another one then destroyed the power transformers, another damaged the mobile networks, and a fourth destroyed the landlines - leaving Khuza'a with no electricity, internet, mobiles, or telephones, and completely disconnected. People spent the whole night in complete darkness, hearing nothing but the noise of shelling, warplanes buzzing, and the shattering glass of falling windows. Fragments of bombs hailing down reached everywhere! Danger surrounded every corner of the house and everybody.

Mahmoud's mind was besieged with tens of ideas and scenarios that might happen, just as black as the darkness around him. He was counting the number of shells, and trying to anticipate where they'd fall, whose house was bombed? is it coming to ours? which mosque? what kind of bombs are they using? is it tanks or F16s … ? Countless questions with no answers but the sound of bombs.

The next morning, the ICRC (after hundreds of appeals by residents to save the lives of people, evacuate the injured, and pull out the dead) told them to leave their homes and go to the entrance of the town to secure their exit. The trapped 3,000 people left their homes in a legion similar to their predecessors some sixty-six years ago. They reached the entry point with extreme difficulty, but were surprised by a welcome party of Israeli tanks instead of ICRC ambulances, that then and there started to shell and shoot every moving body. People rushed back in the opposite direction. But in the meantime, tens were killed and injured. Mahmoud, his family, and other people whom he didn't even know, managed to reach a house that contained 50 people distributed between three rooms who were reckoning that if they spread out as much as possible, this way they might lessen the death toll.

The second night was more horrific, children were crying and screaming, they were terrified and thirsty; as the IDF had bombed the town's water tanks, leaving residents with no water to drink. Mahmoud and many others were waiting for the morning light, and hoping that the light would bring some hope.

The light came up, along with a sound of a bomb hitting their shelter. What was even worse than the sound of a bomb was the silence that followed. Everything was hit, and grey dust was all you could see. Were his mother, brother, still alive? He checked if he still had his feet, and began to run. It took minutes to reach his house, and shortly afterwards the house was hit with yet another bomb. He ran again with hundreds of people in different directions. Whenever they thought they knew the direction of the shelling, they would try to run away from there.

On the streets they were stepping on tens of dead bodies and injured people were left to bleed in their path. Many faces were familiar to Mahmoud, but they had to jump over bodies to save their own lives. Till they finally put a distance between themselves and Khuza'a.

Why and how Mahmoud, his family, and a number of other families survived, he doesn't know. It's luck and nothing more than luck. They left people behind them who were not so lucky, and till this moment the actual number of martyrs in Khuza'a is unknown. The only thing Mahmoud knows for sure is that a lot of bodies are still under rubble.

P.S all the facts and quotes used in this article are the result of following up Mahmoud's account with him on Facebook and Twitter.

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