The New York Times: The dreams of the Abu Al-Awf family were buried by an (Israeli) raid in Gaza

The New York Times published a report in which it referred to the Israeli massacre of the Abu Al-Awf family in Gaza City.

In the report, she pointed out that when Israeli air strikes were hitting Gaza City for the sixth consecutive night, Dr. Ayman Abu Al-Awf climbed the stairs of the building that his family built four decades ago, and it was quieter than it had seemed all day. The Abu Al-Awf building, located in an affluent shopping area on Al-Wahda Street, was the last place he believed the occupation would strike.

He returned to his apartment on the third floor at 12:30 a.m., after working 16 hours managing the coronavirus task force at the largest hospital in Gaza. He could hear the bombs, but mainly from the TV in his living room. His upscale neighborhood was considered so safe that in wars, relatives from elsewhere in Gaza would spend the bombardment on his apartment.

In the next room, his son Tawfiq, a high school student, was studying for his science exam. On one floor below, Dr. Abu al-Awf's father, a scientist named Tawfiq, was preparing food for a late meal. Upstairs, Shaima, his cousin's daughter, a dental student, was texting her fiancé.

Minutes later, they were all dead. At around 1 a.m. on Sunday, May 16, an Israeli airstrike killed 21 of the 38 people in the building that night. The twenty-second female citizen died of her injuries about three weeks later.

The airstrike on Al Wahda Street that night was highlighted by the appalling death toll of civilians and the destruction of nearly entire families. That attack, which also destroyed another apartment building on the street, was the bloodiest event in the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, killing a total of 44 people.

The fragile ceasefire was put to the test this week after militants sent incendiary balloons to Israeli settlements, and Israel responded with air strikes.

But the raid on Al-Wahda Street remains emblematic of the debate over whether Israel could avoid killing civilians when it targeted what it said were military targets. And to what extent Hamas bears the responsibility.

What is indisputable is that the group of mostly upper-middle-class families who inhabited the five-storey Abu al-Awf building was destroyed in an instant. The building housed the families of a doctor, scientist, waiter, shopkeeper, and psychiatrist. For the family that owned it - the Abu Al-Awf family - it embodies 40 years of hopes and aspirations.

“There are still many memories in the place...but they are buried by the Israeli bombing,” said Riad Eshkuntana, a 42-year-old waiter who lost his wife and four of his five children.

The conflict began a few days ago, shortly after 6 pm, on May 10, when Hamas fired six rockets at Jerusalem. Hamas said it was responding to Israeli actions in Jerusalem, including police raids on the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the planned expulsion of Palestinian residents — provocations that demanded a strong reprimand.

The Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, said in an interview that on the morning of May 16, several Israeli planes fired 11 missiles along 200 yards of Al Wahda Street, "with the aim of destroying a tunnel and a command center, beneath it," according to the occupation's allegations.

"Colonel Conricus said that the army did not know the exact location of the command post nor how far it extended under the neighboring buildings. He added that when the bombs exploded deep in the ground, they unexpectedly dislodged the foundations of the Abu Al-Awf building," he said.

Hamas has acknowledged building a network of tunnels in Gaza, but in a press conference on May 26, Yahya Sinwar, the leader of the movement's political wing in Gaza, denied that any of them lie under civilian areas, dismissing the accusation as "baseless."

The Abu Al-Awf family, the owner of the building, lived in Gaza before the arrival of thousands of Palestinian refugees after the Palestinian Nakba in 1948, giving them a prestigious social status. Abu Al-Awf, 50, runs the internal medicine department at Al-Shifa Hospital.

His relatives said that his father, Tawfiq Abu Al-Awf, 80, had for decades been a senior chemist for a UAE oil company. The doctor's cousin, Raja, who lived with her four children in a third-floor apartment, was a psychiatrist.

“It's a well-known address,” said Muhammad al-Shanti, 29, who runs a bakery across from him. “When you call a taxi, you can say 'Wait for the taxi near the Abu Al-Awf building.'”

Like many Gazans, the majority of the building's residents have never left the Strip. The Israeli and Egyptian blockade, imposed on the Strip in 2007, has severely restricted Gaza's population in one of the world's most densely populated regions. It also contributed to severe shortages of fuel and electricity: even the Abu Al-Awf building received electricity for only eight hours a day.

However, its inhabitants had dreams. His brother said Tawfiq, the doctor's son, had hoped to study chemistry at college. His second cousin, Shaima, was to marry her groom in just two months.

The family said that the Abu al-Awf family moved to the area in 1960. Ismail Abu al-'Awf, the head of the family, had made a fortune making pastries and trading real estate. He bought a villa with a large yard in the Rimal neighborhood, which at the time was an undeveloped area on the outskirts of Gaza City.

In the early 1980s, as his family grew, he demolished the villa and built the building that became known as the Abu Al-Awf Building. At the time of the airstrike, the building consisted of eight apartments, including five that were used by Abu Al-Awf.

After the Oslo Accords, interim peace agreements were signed between Israel and the Palestinian leadership-in-exile in the 1990s, and senior Palestinian leaders returned to Gaza, greatly increasing investment. And high-rise buildings appeared across the Rimal neighborhood. Suddenly, it became a crowded shopping area.

That scene changed in the first decade of this century, after Hamas, which does not recognize (Israel), won the elections and then seized power in Gaza. This separated the Strip from the occupied West Bank and led to several wars with Israel.

During all of these wars, the Abu al-Awf compound remained a sanctuary hosting relatives from more dangerous parts of Gaza.

“We went through many wars, but our place was always safe,” said Omar Abu Al-Awf, the doctor’s 16-year-old son.

After staying in the hospital late that night, an ambulance driver drove Dr. Abu Al-Awf to near his apartment, and the driver says the doctor seemed elated and happy to be home.

Half an hour later, the doctor lay in front of the TV on a mattress he had pulled from a bedroom, Omar recalls. When the airstrike began, Omar instinctively jumped to his feet, grabbed his little sister, Tala, 12, and pulled her into the driveway.

His father was still lying in bed. Then the building collapsed.

Shaima Abu al-Awf's fiancé, Anas al-Yazji, lives nearby and heard the explosions, so he sent Shaima a text message telling her: "Hide." But the message did not reach her.

Tala was killed in Omar's arms while he was cuddling her under the rubble, and they were found by rescuers on Sunday afternoon, 12 hours later. Of the five family members living in Dr. Abu Al-Awf's apartment, only Omar survived.

Riad Eshkuntana, who used to live on the fourth floor, is a descendant of the refugees who fled to Gaza in 1948. He says this is the second time his family has lost their home in three generations.

Abeer Abdel-Al, 38, a cousin of Dr. Abu al-Awf, lived in an apartment so close to her relatives' destroyed building that she would pass food to them through a narrow alley. But Dr. Abu Al-Awf has now passed away. The Abu Al-Awf building disappeared. And with it, four decades of family history. "It's like there was a tree and it was cut down," says Abeer.


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