The author of this story is anonymous for their safety.
Gaza City—Thousands of Gazans from border areas fled their homes and their strawberry, carrot and cabbage farms to seek shelter Sunday as they feared a devastating Israeli ground incursion would be launched at any time.
“Huge attacks from Hamas will lead to a huge response from Israel,” Salma Ahmed, 31, told The Daily Beast. “I hope the international community can do something, I am praying for Allah to end this.”
Ahmed and her six children left their home in the Al-Attarah area of northern Gaza after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Gazans to run if they wanted to avoid Israel’s military response to a brutal attack by Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants this weekend.
Hundreds of Israeli civilians were slaughtered and whole families, women and old people were taken hostage and dragged back to Gaza during the biggest co-ordinated attack on Israeli soil for 50 years.
Ahmed fears the response from the Israel Defense Force, which was humiliated by Saturday’s sneak attack, will be more powerful than anything the Palestinian people have faced in more than a decade.
“Both sides have to make efforts to end this because we are tired of the long wars. I think this will be more aggressive than the 2014 and 2021 wars,” she said. The family fears their strawberry, carrot and cabbage crops will be destroyed by the time it is safe for them to return.
Reprisal bombings and drone attacks against Gaza began on Saturday night with strikes against 426 targets including banks, commercial and residential buildings, including a 14-story tower that held Hamas offices as well as dozens of apartments.
Netanyahu vowed to “take revenge for this black day” in a Saturday night address. “All the places that Hamas hides in, operates from, we will turn them into rubble,” he added. “Get out of there now,” he said. On Sunday, the Israeli Cabinet officially declared war.
It wasn’t until May Mohammed’s husband, a strawberry farmer, received a text message direct to his phone from the Israeli army that they decided to flee. Mohammed, 50, who has nine children, showed the message to The Daily Beast on her small Nokia cell phone. “To the residents of the Gaza Strip, for your safety, you must evacuate your homes immediately and seek refuge in shelters. We can’t be blamed for those who have been warned,” it read.
The difficulty for Palestinian families is finding somewhere to go.
“There are no shelters we can escape to other than the UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees] schools,” she said. “I came here with my children and my married daughter with her two children, and we couldn't even bring any materials, not even blankets.” She was still wearing the prayer clothes she was in when they decided to flee to the school where they should be safe from missile strikes.
The road through the only crossing between Gaza and Israel at Erez was obliterated in an Israeli airstrike yesterday after Hamas gunmen attacked soldiers and broke through the checkpoint. In any case, it is virtually impossible for the average Palestinian to obtain the correct permits to escape through the checkpoint.
The Rafa checkpoint between Gaza and Egypt re-opened Sunday but you need paperwork approved by the de facto Palestinian government and the Egyptian authorities to get through, which would be extremely difficult in the current crisis.
While the two mothers The Daily Beast spoke to were more concerned about protecting their families one man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was pleased with the Hamas attacks. “This is like a victory. It was like a dream, we didn’t expect that one day we would go through the border into Israel,” he said. The 53-year-old unemployed man who lives in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, said: “This will make Israel weaker in negotiations, including releasing prisoners and lifting the siege of the Gaza Strip.”
Abu Obaida, a spokesperson for al Qassam, Hamas’ military brigades, sent a statement on Sunday suggesting that further attacks would continue. He announced, “the replacement of many brigade members that infiltrated inside the separation fence with new brigades.”
Since dawn on Sunday morning, the Israeli army started to escalate its attacks on Gaza. In an unusual step, they targeted the houses of Hamas’s political leadership—not just members of the military wing. There were no reports of politicians being hurt but many of their relatives are believed to have died.
The night too was heavy with shelling. Three residential towers: Al-Watan commercial, Falstine tower, and Al’Klouk towers were hit. The damage to buildings in Gaza City left huge quantities of rubble in the main streets.
The majority of houses in Gaza have had their internet switched off since the first hours of the attack. Electricity supplies decreased to only four hours per day across the Gaza Strip and the water supply in the central zone was disrupted by the decision to cut off supplies from the Israeli side.
The death toll in Gaza is already over 300 according to the ministry of health who said 12 members of one family—the Shbats who live in Beit Hanoun—had been killed in the strikes. Many families lost multiple members from the Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip last night, including two families living in the same building, who lost nine children (and 16 people in total) on a strike on their house near the border of Khan Younis.