In the midst of a relentless and unprecedented air and artillery bombardment in Gaza, the Hamdan family’s tragedy paints a harrowing picture of the human toll of the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Israeli airstrike struck their Gaza home shortly after evening prayers, resulting in the tragic loss of 35 family members spanning three generations, from 70-year-old Kamal to 7-year-old Rasmi.
Mohammed Hamdan, who survived the ordeal, was trapped under the rubble of his collapsing house for an hour and a half. Emerging from the debris, he discovered the heart-wrenching reality that he had lost his daughter Malak, brother Ahmed, nephew, nieces, and many cousins.
The ongoing conflict has exacted a devastating toll on countless families, with more than 10,000 people losing their lives, according to health authorities in Gaza. Israel’s military has encircled northern Gaza under the cover of a weeks-long barrage, with southern areas like Khan Younis, the Hamdan family’s home, also bearing the brunt of the bombardment. Israel’s stated objective is to dismantle the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, whose militants carried out a violent incursion into Israeli towns, resulting in the death of 1,400 people and the kidnapping of another 240.
For Mohammed Hamdan and his family, the war has brought an end to everything they held dear. “We were raised here, we lived with these children. I didn’t imagine that there would be all this destruction,” he lamented.
Khan Younis, originally established as a refugee camp in 1948, became home to Palestinians, including the Hamdan family, who fled or were displaced from their homes during the tumultuous events surrounding the creation of Israel. Regrettably, they were never allowed to return to their homes, and the refugee camp transformed into a city of narrow alleyways and concrete apartment buildings, enduring Egyptian rule, direct Israeli occupation, and eventually internal control by Hamas, all while being subjected to a strict Israeli blockade.
Conflict between Israel and Hamas
Over the past two decades, the cycle of conflict between Israel and Hamas has repeatedly washed across the Gaza Strip, showering missiles and shellfire on successive generations of Palestinian refugees, who make up more than half of the region’s 2.3 million population. Throughout these challenging years, the Hamdan family grew, and their Khan Younis home became the heart of their existence. “We used to play with both young and old. We used to sit outside during the summer. Sometimes we lit a bonfire. But look now. There is nothing but destruction,” Hamdan recalled.
The brother and nephew who were with Hamdan when their building collapsed did not survive. Emerging from the rubble, he was met with an utterly devastating scene. “I thought it was only us (who were hit). But then I found out it was the whole neighborhood,” he said. The neighboring Abu Sita and Abu Sultan families suffered a similar fate, with many members killed or wounded.
Israel has denied intentionally targeting civilians in its military campaign but claims that Hamas fighters often operate within residential areas. Hamdan’s surviving relatives who were not killed in the strike are now in the hospital, and their fate remains uncertain.
“We used to visit each other, sit together, make a fire, eat breakfast together. I used to visit my brother and my sister. Now none remain, no sister, no brother, and we won’t make a fire, we won’t gather,” Hamdan mourned. He particularly remembered his daughter Malak, 12, and her cousins Tala and Sila. “I used to love them, and they loved me. They used to come and play and laugh. I lost them now,” he said.