The traces of the Israeli drone strike that killed 28-year-old Samaher Qdeih are all around her family home. A large indentation in a sandy courtyard marks the point of impact. Shrapnel is etched in the trunk of a lemon tree and the side of the house it stands next to. Water drips slowly out of a cracked pipe around shards of glass and plastic that litter the floor. A nearby concrete wall is stained with blood.
Samaher died on November 17, day four of Israel’s assault on Gaza, when she rushed home with her brother, Nidal, at 9 pm, after hearing the bombs begin to fall in their neighborhood in the southern town of Khan Yunis. The drone strike hit as the two were crossing the family courtyard to seek shelter indoors. Samaher was killed instantly, her family says. The blood-soaked blanket they covered her with is still piled in a corner. Twenty-seven-year-old Nidal’s leg and arm were badly wounded and he was eventually evacuated across the Rafah border crossing to Egypt for medical help, escorted by his father.
Forty days earlier, Samaher had given birth to her first daughter, Mayar. When the motherless baby is brought out wrapped in a blanket, her great uncle—who had been standing quietly to the side, resting both hands on his cane—begins to sob heavily, kissing Mayar on the forehead before being gently pulled away and consoled by family members.
“We have seen death with our eyes,” says Samaher’s sister.
Samaher is one of more than 160 Palestinians killed during Israel’s eight-day assault on Gaza. Of those who died, more than 100 were civilians, including thirty-four children, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Some 1,000 were wounded, all but thirty of them civilians. Meanwhile, countless others—who do not figure into most casualty figures—are suffering from deep emotional trauma.
“The children don’t sleep, they still feel the booms, they are afraid all night,” says Heba al-Attar, a 33-year-old mother of four from the village of Beit Lehia in northern Gaza. Heba describes how the children saw a farmer blown apart in an airstrike near their house. Her 13-year-old daughter, Dian, was particularly affected. Ever since the 2008–09 Israeli attack on Gaza, Dian has been gripped by fear of the deafening booms of falling bombs. During the latest offensive, she shook and sobbed uncontrollably at night. Now, “I have to always sit and hold her in my arms,” Heba says wiping away tears with the corner of her headscarf. “She can’t walk without holding my hand. She is always terrified.”
After a week of bombardment, Israeli warplanes dropped swarms of leaflets on Beit Lehia and other villages in the north ordering residents to evacuate their houses or face an impending attack. The strikes started shortly afterwards and the al-Attars left in a terrorized panic, leaving their belongings behind. As the bombs fell they walked the six kilometers to Gaza City, seeking refuge in a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency that was housing more than 1,800 people.
Men, women and children flood the three-story New Gaza Preparatory Boys’ School, pacing through hallways, staircases and dilapidated classrooms in a ceaseless stream. They carry with them the scant belongings of the displaced: blankets, thin metal pots, rumpled clothes and swaddled babies.