Gaza’s al-Batsh massacre survivor: 'I saw bodies torn to pieces'

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Palestinian children stand next to graves ahead of the funeral of 18 members of al-Batsh family who were killed the previous night in Israeli strikes that hit their house as they were targeting Hamas police chief Tayseer al-Batsh on July 13, 2014 in Gaza City. (Photo: AFP-Thomas Coex)

By: Mohammed Suliman

Published Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Om Mohammed was expecting her two sons Mohammed, 17, and Qusay, 12, to come back from Tarawih prayers (additional prayers performed during Ramadan) so that they could be together again, chat and watch TV or perhaps, during these times, listen to the latest news of the ongoing Israeli onslaught on Gaza, which by then had almost completed its fourth day. The next day, Om Mohammed was on the news herself. Her sons, too, and her entire family were on the news. They were consistently referred to as the “18” or “17” family members killed; and in very rare cases they were mentioned by name.

Gaza – Seventeen is the number of people killed when, at around 10:30pm on Saturday night, two missiles fired by an Israeli war jet hit the house of 50-year-old Majid al-Batsh, in al-Tuffah area, east of Gaza City.

“As soon as they walked into the house, I heard a huge blast, and the house was falling apart, it was crumbling down on our heads,” Om Mohammed, who is married to Majid’s brother, recalled in agony.

“There was thick smoke, and I didn’t know what was happening. Next thing, I woke up in the hospital and asked my relatives about my sons,” the bruised woman fought back tears as she remembered the details of the aftermath, “they told me they would be here in a bit.”

She broke down, tears streaming down her cheeks.

The airstrikes turned al-Batsh’s family home into a massive heap of rubble, which neighborhood residents as well as journalists gather around and exchange detailed accounts of the unspeakable atrocity. Two adjacent houses which belonged to Majid’s brothers were also severely damaged in the assault, which witnesses say shook the whole neighborhood.

“All of my family has gone,” Om Mohammed, who is still in the hospital, told Al-Akhbar. “They killed my two sons, my two brothers-in-law, their sons, my cousins, everyone. All my beloved ones have gone.”

The Israeli airstrike was allegedly targeting 48-year-old Tayseer al-Batsh, the Gaza police chief, while he was on a visit to his cousin’s house. He survived the attack (while sustaining injuries), but his cousins and their families did not.

According to al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, a Gaza-based human rights organization, of the 17 killed, six of them were children, and three were women, including one pregnant woman. Sixteen others were injured, including three children and three women. Four of the injuries were described by medical sources as “critical.”

Majid, whose house was the main site of the ruthless Israeli assault, was killed along with his five sons, Bahaa, 28; Jalal, 26; Mahmoud, 22, Khaled, 20, and Ibrahim, 18. The deadly airstrike also killed Majid’s two child daughters, Manar, 13, and Marwa, 7, and his wife Amal, 49. Majid’s brother Alaa, 41, survived with injuries. Alaa lost three of his children: Yahya, 18; Anas, 7, and Samah, 20. Other relatives include one-year-old Amal, 41-year-old Nahed, and 59-year-old Azeeza.

Wiping out families

Since the start of the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip on July 8, Israeli occupation fighter-jets have, on several occasions, targeted civilian houses killing entire families. The death toll has topped 200 and is steadily increasing with nearly two-thirds of those killed being civilians. On July 10, al-Hajj family’s house in Khan Younis refugee camp was hit by an Israeli missile killing eight civilians. Two of them were children, and three were women. Two days earlier, also in Khan Younis, the Kaware’s family home was bombarded with several heavy missiles killing seven civilians, of whom six were children. At least 28 others were injured in the attack. On the same day, July 8, Israeli jets fired two heavy missiles at Hamad’s family house in the north of the Gaza Strip. Six people were killed as a result, all six were civilians, including three women.

Grief-stricken by the loss of her two sons, Om Mohammed wondered how she will live the rest of her life, as she felt there is nothing left for her to live for. Om Mohammed described how she spent the past 17 years raising her sons and waiting for Mohammed, her eldest, to grow up and finally attend university.

Mohammed participated in his high school exams in Gaza, known as Tawjihi, last month and, anxiously anticipating his results, told his mother he would make her proud of his “impressive grades.” Mohammed, however, did not live to even celebrate his truly high results.

“They’ve stolen my happiness. I wish he had lived to know his results,” she said, while drying her tears. “I used to ask him what he’d study at university, and he’d jokingly tell me, ‘let’s hope I pass first!’”

Twenty-six-year-old Ahmed al-Batsh was also injured in the strike. Ahmed was at home with his family, which is next door to his uncle’s targeted house. He says 17 members of his extended family gathered at his house to visit each other as they normally do during the holy month of Ramadan when suddenly a huge blast hit his uncle’s house.

“I found myself on the ground, and I could hardly breathe because of the smoke and dust,” Ahmed describes the incident to us. “I stood up. I couldn’t see anyone, but I could hear screaming and moaning. I groped my way out of the house and saw bodies lying on the ground, some amputated and others torn to pieces.”

Ten days into the Israeli onslaught on Gaza, Israeli forces have destroyed over 1,400 houses, nearly 270 completely destroyed.

Speaking to Al-Akhbar over the phone, Om Majid, who lost her six sons and several of her grandchildren, says she does not know how or when they were killed. “Why they would kill one-year-old Amal?” she asked, sorrowfully.

Asked about her younger son Qusay, Om Mohammed described him as “innocent” and “the most beloved kid” in the family.

“Everyone loved him,” she said, “and he loved football. His friends would always come to ask him to play with them. He used to sit with people older than him and chat with them about the World Cup.”

Om Mohammed said she wishes that she had died along with her two sons rather than be left on her own to grieve over their loss.

“I just want to hug them and die,” she said mournfully.

Follow Mohammed Suliman on Twitter | @imPalestine

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