A man holds a Palestinian flag in the smoke of a fire in the Gaza Strip. Photo from Pixabay by Hosnif Salah from December 10, 2021.

By Tareq Hajjaj / Mondoweiss

In complete darkness, a fire is burning in an entire block of tents in the Israeli-designated “safe zone” for displaced Palestinians, northwest of the city of Rafah. As people run in terror from the conflagration, the fire itself forms the only source of light, revealing the truth of what is happening in the displacement camp.

A man is carrying the body of a child. The body is missing a head. We can see dismembered hands extending from the mangled torso. The legs are also severed. The man holds the body aloft as if he wants to show everyone what happened here.

The video of the harrowing scene has since gone viral.

Another video posted by survivors shows a man with severe burns lying on his back with extended hands. The fire had consumed his body and disfigured him beyond recognition. People pulled him out of the fire and tried to extinguish some of the flames that were still burning his body.

In the background, fires are burning in more than 30 tents for the displaced in Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have been forced to move. The Israeli army announced that it had been targeting “senior” Hamas officials and that the airstrike was “precise.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later reportedly said it was a “tragic mistake.”  At least 45 people were killed, including 23 women and children, and 249 people were injured, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health. 

Mondoweiss gathered testimonies from survivors. Every account described experiencing a massacre, which gained particular meaning given that the Israeli army had told them to go there in order to avoid being harmed. The area where the airstrike took place was called the “Kuwaiti Peace Camp.”

This is not the first incident Mondoweiss has documented where the Israeli army has targeted people in “safe zones.” Neither was the Rafah massacre the only one on that day — the army carried out 7 massacres across Gaza that have left 66 Palestinians dead in the past 24 hours. 

Nidal al-Attar, displaced from Gaza City to Rafah, lives in a tent with his family 300 meters away from the site of the bombing. He stands in front of the camera with a wearied and frightened face and gives his testimony. 

“As you can see with your eyes, here was a food clinic,” he tells Mondoweiss. “People cook here every day and feed the displaced people in the camp. The place has turned to ashes, as you can see.”

“We came here based on the map published by the Israeli army,” he continues. “They told us to go to the Tal al-Sultan area, and here they are bombing us and bombing our food sources.”

Nidal says that he and his family were sitting in their tent when they heard four missile strikes. He later learned that the missiles had directly hit the clinic, the water well, and the adjacent tents in which some food and cooking utensils were stored. Nidal and his neighbors in the displacement camp rushed to rescue the injured, but when he arrived, he was surprised by the horror before him.

“We arrived at the place quickly, and the fire was still burning in the clinic and the neighboring tents. There were dozens of bodies and dead people, but we could not distinguish them from one another,” he says. “We did not know who had been burned. The bodies were completely disfigured and dismembered, and we were walking over the fire and the bodies in an attempt to get anyone out who was still alive.”

“This is a terror zone. It isn’t a safe zone.”

Nidal al-Attar

Nidal insists that the bombs that targeted the encampment were not normal, but American-made weapons that “Israel is testing on Palestinian civilians in Gaza,” he says. 

“We did not find anything,” he adds. “There was nothing that would require bombing. All we found were dismembered children, charred bodies, and scattered organs. We put them in blankets and took them out.”

“This is a terror zone. It isn’t a safe zone, as the Israeli army tells us,” Nidal says.

Taghreed al-Astal, 53, tells Mondoweiss that yesterday she had been preparing her tent for her family to sleep in before she was surprised by the terrifying sound. 

She was in a tent 350 meters away from the site of the bombing, but even then, the shrapnel from the missiles reached her tent. Her five children began to tremble in fear and ask her if they were all going to die and be burned alive. 

“They asked me if we were still alive,” she says. “I tried to calm them and tell them that it was over.”

“Our neighbor, an old man, was praying in front of his tent, performing the evening prayer,” she continues. “When the bombing happened, he was hit by the shrapnel. His brain completely fell out of his skull and fell to the ground before our eyes.” 

Taghreed says that she started checking on her children one by one to make sure they were safe and that they were not harmed. “My eldest daughter was outside the tent, and when the bombing happened, she came quickly to us and said to us, check me, am I alive?” She says that all the children and women in the area were screaming in fear.

Taghreed tells Mondoweiss that after today, she might be displaced another time. With what happened, she feels it is no longer safe here. “Yesterday, we were wondering with our neighbors in the camp whether this camp was safe, and my neighbor told me to rest assured, that the place is secure and nothing will happen to us. Today, this man died, along with his son. He was in front of his tent praying. I don’t know why he was killed.”

Hasan Isleih collected testimonies for this report. 

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Tareq Hajjaj

Tareq S. Hajjaj is the Mondoweiss Gaza Correspondent, and a member of the Palestinian Writers Union. He studied English Literature at Al-Azhar University in Gaza. He started his career in journalism in 2015 working as a news writer and translator for the local newspaper, Donia al-Watan. He has reported for ElbadiMiddle East Eye, and Al Monitor. Follow him on Twitter at @Tareqshajjaj

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