Israel bombed a residential tower in an upscale Gaza neighborhood on Saturday, injuring around 22 civilians, including 11 children. The 12-storey tower, Al-Zafer 4, was completely razed.
Asia Mathkour, the daughter of the owner of Al Zafer Company, which encompasses 14 towers including the one that was leveled, was in her house 20 meters across from Al-Zafer 4 when the attack happened. Global Voices spoke with her about her experience.
She said at around 6:30 p.m. she noticed Al-Zafer 4 residents were evacuating:
Women and children were screaming and yelling, saying that they got an evacuation order. Some families immediately left the area seeking safety and we took some in our own house. We had around 30 people in our home, mostly elderly, women and children. We were all terrified. Everyone left their apartments without having the time to take anything with them.
A man got a call from the IDF telling him that there was an old disabled lady on the 7th floor and told him to get her out. At that time, I was rushing through the house, helping people go to the basement as it was the safest place at the time. No one actually believed that the whole building was going to be destroyed. Everyone thought that the IDF was perhaps targeting apartments in the building since that's what the IDF had been doing to residential buildings.
30 minutes passes and the building's roof was hit with a drone strike. We thought that was it. Moments after, the IDF called one of the residents who was staying with us in the apartment. She was too scared to answer so my mother answered. They asked if all the people have evacuated Al-Zafer 4 and my mother replied yes. My mother then asked her “which apartment are you targeting so that we know where to hide?”. He replied, “we are bombing the whole building.”
My mother was shocked. She asked them why they were targeting the whole building. He just replied ‘salam salam’ (‘peace, peace'. A way of saying Goodbye) and hung up the phone. Within the minute we heard two huge bombs. We were all in shock. My brother went to check and immediately came back downstairs to announce that it's completely gone. I rushed up the stairs to see what had happened. I couldn't believe my eyes. I rushed to my room and began taking photos.
After witnessing this and seeing the building in ruins, I had a panic attack. I rushed back downstairs and it felt like no one had really grasped what had just happened. A man goes outside to see and comes back yelling “everything is gone!”.
Soon after, the Red Cross’ ambulance arrived. They asked everyone to evacuate my house and the area, telling us that Al-Zafer 1, the building right besides ours, was threatened as well! We evacuated as fast as we could with nothing but a handbag with our passports. I can't explain the feeling we all felt at the moment. It is without a doubt the worst night my neighborhood had ever gone through.
Mathkour tweeted what she saw:
The worst incident the worst experience I had to ever witness and go through! 45 families all homeless! #GazaUnderAttack
— Aasia Mathkour (@Asia_Mathkour) August 23, 2014
The whole feature of my neighborhood is completely changed and destroyed! pic.twitter.com/TR2VhIW6eu
— Aasia Mathkour (@Asia_Mathkour) August 24, 2014
She challenged Israel Defense Forces’ explanation that there was a Hamas operations room in the building. “That is a lie,” she said. “There is a resident on the rooftop who is pro-Hamas, but the building did not host any Hamas Operations Room. In fact, most of the residents that lived in the building are from Fatah.”
Hamas and Fatah are rival political factions in Gaza.
Mathkour further questioned IDF's motives:
And even if we accepted their story that there was an apartment used by Hamas, why would they bomb and bring down the whole building? The IDF never brought down civilian buildings simply because it hosted Hamas members. We thought that the IDF only targeted specific targets rather than whole buildings. Whatever reason they made up or will make up would never justify destroying a building housing 44 families. They are now all homeless.
She offered a grim theory of why IDF bombed the building:
The building was built to be very resistant. It's simply impossible that one bomb could bring it down. We all believe that Israel is only testing their new weapons on us. That's the only reason this would happen! For one bomb that explodes twice and bring a 12-storey apartment building is a whole other level of war crime and insanity. We have never seen a bomb like this!
The experience has left the neighbourhood reeling, she said. “I lived across the building I used to see everyday,” she said. “We are all numb. We are all shocked. We just can't believe that the whole building is just gone. Imagine how the residents are feeling! They have nothing now.”
At the time of writing, the death toll in Gaza stood at 2,110, including 567 children and 75 families. Seventy-two percent of Palestinians killed in this offensive are civilians, according to the UN. The death toll for Israel stood at 68, including one child. The percentage of Israeli civilians killed is 5 percent, with the majority of deaths being IDF soldiers.