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When a family dies under Israel’s bombs, part of Gaza’s history disappears

Gaza City – In the midst of harrowing numbers of Palestinian deaths and injuries under Israeli bombardment is a smaller figure: 20.

Twenty families have been erased from Gaza’s cohesive society, in which everyone knows everyone else going back generations.

All the living generations of the 20 families have been wiped from the civil registry, as Palestinians say.

For seven consecutive days, the Gaza Strip has shaken under relentless Israeli air attacks. On Thursday, Israel said it had dropped 6,000 bombs on Gaza, or an average of 1,000 per day.

The death toll in Gaza has now risen to at least 1,799 Palestinians, 60 percent of whom are women and children, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. A further 6,388 people have been wounded.

Entire neighbourhoods lie in ruins and blackened rubble. The Israeli army said it is bombing in response to a surprise attack on Israel by the armed wing of Hamas last Saturday, which killed 1,300 people and wounded more than 3,000.

Israel’s declared aim is to eliminate Hamas and dismantle its infrastructure, but it is the civilians trapped in the densely populated Gaza Strip who have borne the brunt of Israel’s bombing.

‘I saw death today’

In the Jabaliya refugee camp, 31 members of the Shihab family were killed in an attack. Other families had come to their building to hide, thinking it was safe.

A total of 45 people were killed in the attack on Jabaliya. The youngest victim was a two-month-old baby.

In Deir al-Balah, at least 15 members of the Azaize family were killed – some of the dead could not be found in one piece.

In Gaza City, Hassan al-Batniji lost his entire family in one attack.

Asmahan al-Barbari’s Gaza City home was bombed after she and her family returned to it, thinking they were safe.

Al-Barbari said everyone had rushed out of the house when they got an SMS warning from the Israeli military that they would be bombing the house.

“We grabbed our emergency bags that are always ready by the door, and ran,” she said. “After we stayed away for the usual time, we headed back, thinking the danger was over.”

Al-Batnaji’s house was bombed in the middle of the night as the family lay sleeping. “We [found] ourselves buried under the rubble in the dark,” he said. “I screamed their names to find out if they were still breathing.

“I saw death today. It didn’t take my life. [It took] my family’s. I wish I was killed too. … I will mourn them for the rest of my life.”

His neighbour Mahmoud al-Shanti told Al Jazeera: “We were about 30 people in our house – elderly women, children – because so many families had fled their damaged areas to escape the violent attacks.”

Al-Shanti, al-Batnaji and al-Barbari were all at Al-Shifa Hospital being treated and hoping to find safety.

Al-Shifa has emerged as a comforting spot for many of Gaza City’s residents, who go there seeking news, an internet connection or a few minutes or electricity.

It is struggling to treat everyone, however, as Israel has stepped up its 16-year blockade of Gaza and is refusing to let necessities in, including food, water, electricity and medicines. The “complete siege” means there is a severe lack of the most basic and essential medical supplies.

Adding chaos to panic

Overnight from Thursday to Friday, the Israeli army dropped leaflets over Gaza ordering Palestinians to leave northern Gaza and Gaza City and head south.

Just over one million people live in the area Israel wants to clear, and while thousands did head south, many people stayed where they were because they could not arrange transport, chose to stay in their homes or heeded a call by Hamas to ignore Israel’s demand.

Israel’s attacks on residential areas have filled hospital corridors with injured people, some falling to the floor due to the lack of available beds, surgical rooms and intensive care units.

At the moment, much of the discussion being had to solve this situation has revolved around the idea of humanitarian corridors to allow Palestinians to leave Gaza. The suggestion to open an overland crossing into Egypt was rejected by Cairo, which did agree to open the crossing for humanitarian aid.

But Palestinian officials in Gaza argued that the urgency of the situation demands more immediate action to stop the bombardment and prevent further deaths and human suffering.

Health Ministry Director Munir al-Barsh said the Israeli air attacks have “criminally and systematically targeted residential blocks”, which means that a majority of the victims are civilians.

“The bombing is targeting everyone, including homes, health facilities and ambulance crews,” he said at a press conference on Thursday.

Israel says it will keep on targeting Hamas and resistance groups in Gaza.

Palestinians in Gaza are left living under the falling bombs and in the destruction, facing hunger, the lack of clean drinking water and the potential spread of infectious diseases.

As the number of victims rises and more and more families disappear from Palestine’s rich tapestry of history and culture, there is a bewildered note to the mourning as people try to come to grips with what these disappearances mean.

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