GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Sleep away from windows, stock up on food, get the family car off the street – these are the lessons Gazans have learned in previous rounds of fighting between Israel and the territory’s Hamas rulers.
This time, some are adding “change houses” to the list as Israel increasingly targets homes of Hamas activists, making it difficult to guess where missiles might hit. Over the weekend, Israeli airstrikes struck the homes of some two dozen Hamas activists, killing 24 civilians.
For ordinary Gazans, moving sometimes doesn’t help.
Pediatrician Sami Dawood moved twice. On Sunday, he evacuated his wife and three children from their high-rise apartment in Gaza City’s Tel al-Hawa neighborhood after a missile hit the roof. Fearing Israel would strike the building again, the family moved to the home of his father-in-law near the Palestine Stadium in the center of the city. Early Monday, while the family was asleep, missiles hit the stadium as a suspected rocket-launching site.
“Now we are back home again,” said the 40-year-old doctor.
Gaza City housewife Amal Lubbad lives across the street from a house flattened in an airstrike Sunday. The blast, which killed 11 members of the Daloo family, including a Gaza policeman, also blew out the windows of her home.
The 39-year-old Lubbad, her husband and eight children spent a restless night, sleeping on the floor in the room farthest from the Daloo house, but there was no airstrike.
“We were afraid,” she said, adding that the family has nowhere else to go. On Monday, she and her daughters swept up the glass shards as bulldozers in the alley below cleared away the ruins of the Daloo home.
At a bakery, bank teller Jibril Alawi bought 250 pieces of pita bread for his clan of 35 – his immediate family and the wives and children of his four brothers who all live in the same building. He said they take turns going on vital errands to minimize exposure to risk.
Like others in Gaza, the Alawis have moved mattresses into inner hallways and rooms away from windows.
Still, sound sleep is impossible in Gaza these days. The massive booms from the airstrikes, often just minutes apart, rattle windows. The wailing of ambulances and the buzz of unmanned spy planes, or drones, make up the background noise.
Hani said she and her children feel scared when they hear the bombardment.
“But a few minutes after that, we start to cheer and laugh when we see another rocket landing in Tel Aviv,” she said of attempts by Hamas to strike Israel’s main metropolis.
Photographers in white lab coats hanging around the emergency room of Gaza’s largest hospital, Shifa, are part of a different type of Hamas battle: They are members of a Health Ministry team documenting deaths and injuries in the fighting.
The head of the group, Ashraf al-Kidra, keeps journalists updated with casualty figures. In the long term, he hopes the information will serve as the basis for possible international legal action against Israel.
“We learned a lesson from the last war,” said al-Kidra, referring to Israel’s previous major offensive against Hamas targets in Gaza four years ago. Casualty figures at the time were hotly disputed, with Palestinians saying most of some 1,400 people killed were civilians, while Israel gave a lower figure and said most were militants.
Now, he has two-member teams deployed at each of Gaza’s 13 hospitals. They work in 12-hour shifts and update him with each new casualty. Equipped with two mobile phones and a walkie-talkie, the former physiotherapist and acupuncturist says he has barely slept since the offensive began Nov. 14.
After more than a decade of on-and-off fighting with Israel, Gazans are not easily shaken.
A warning in Arabic by Israel’s military that “Hamas is gambling with your fate and playing with fire,” delivered Sunday by briefly taking over the frequencies of local radio stations, elicited mostly amusement.
A group of men hanging around a Gaza City taxi office tried to outdo each other in making fun of the warning.
“Let’s get some warmth from the fire that Hamas is using to burn us,” one of them joked.