Gaza-based journalist Motasem A. Dalloul provides Red Lines host Anya Parampil with a frontline view of Israel’s attack and details his own travails as he and his family weather the bombardment of their neighborhood.
Parampil also speaks with Safwat Kahlout of Al Jazeera’s Gaza bureau about Israel’s targeted bombing of his office. He reflects on the pain he felt after the working space he shared with his colleagues was destroyed.
ANYA PARAMPIL: Hi everyone, I’m Anya Parampil, and this is Red Lines. On May 15th, the day Palestinians observed the Nakba, or catastrophe of their dispossession by Israel, the Israeli military destroyed the 11-story al-Jalaa building in Gaza city. This building was not only home to many families; it was the location of Al Jazeera’s and the Associated Press’s Gaza bureaus.
Israel undoubtedly knew this, and even called to tell journalists to get out before the bombing occurred. It claimed Hamas maintained a base of operations inside, but never produced any scintilla, but never produced a single scintilla of evidence.
Nor did Israel produce any evidence of military value on May 12th, when it destroyed the al-Shorouq building, another civilian tower that contained media offices, including one where I did live hits while I was reporting inside Gaza in 2018.
Back in 2014, during Israel’s last major assault on Gaza, it killed 18 Palestinian journalists and destroyed the Basha tower, the home of numerous Gaza news agencies.
Earlier The Grayzone spoke with Motasem al-Dalloul, a journalist in Gaza city who reports for Middle East Monitor. As you will hear, Israeli war planes were entering the sky while we spoke, preparing to bomb more targets among the densely populated area.
I wanted to start by asking you what the current situation around you is, where are you exactly, and what have you seen today?
MOTASEM DALLOUL: Today is the eighth day of the Israeli aggression on the Gaza strip. The most important thing is that the number of causalities, number of deaths and wounded has risen to 212. What is notable regarding the number of deaths is that, out of the 212 people who were killed by the Israeli attacks, there were 61 children and more than 20 women.
This means that more than one-third of the deaths, or the people who were killed are minors or women. This showed that the Israeli occupation is targeting civilian areas, is targeting civilian facilities, mainly residential buildings and commercial buildings.
And today was one of the fiercest days since the start of the offensive, because the Israeli jets have targeted the western coastline of the Gaza strip, which is on Rasheed Street, one of the main highways that connect the south of the Gaza strip to the north. They destroyed the whole street, all the street, from the north to the south, and cut the Gaza strip into parts. They claimed that there is a tunnel under this street, but they failed to prove that there was a tunnel.
Another thing is targeting the headquarters of the ministry of health. The headquarters of the minister of health, they targeted it directly. They hit a residential building opposite it directly without any warning. And several people were killed, and more than 10 wounded. And all the offices of the ministry of health were destroyed.
Another thing is that tens of thousands of people from the eastern part of the Gaza strip fled their homes, the eastern block of the other strip, from in the south to in the north.
They fled their homes because they feared that the Israeli occupation might carry out massacres, like what happened in 2014, when the Israeli occupation army launched the ground invasion. Without a warning, suddenly they started shelling at the homes of people on the eastern side of the Gaza strip and they killed tens of people while they were fleeing their homes.
Now there are more than 200,000 people who are internally displaced in the Gaza strip, about 40,000 in UN-run schools, and the others are living with their relatives who are in the center of the Gaza strip.
Something also notable is that there is no safe area in the Gaza strip. Everyone knows that Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas on earth.
So that when the Israeli occupation opens fire or carries out an air strike or bombardment, they kill, they hit people.
Yesterday, the night before yesterday, before last night, the Israeli occupation during the night destroyed a whole, an entire neighborhood in the center of the Gaza strip, in the center, in the center of the Gaza strip, in an area, which people didn’t think that it could have been targeted, and killed 42 people, after destroying their homes over their heads.
Another thing which is very important to highlight today is that the electricity plant, which is the only electricity plant in the Gaza strip, said that it will run out of fuel on Thursday, so there will be no electricity in the Gaza strip.
You know, we already don’t have electricity, we have only eight hours a day. During the war, we have only four hours a day. So on Thursday we will have no electricity at all.
Another thing is that, when there is no electricity, sewage pumps will not operate, so there will be a very big problem as a result of the sewage. There will be no running water going to the homes.
Then because of the water pumps will mean water pumps will mud runs have people will have no water would have no.
You know, since the first day of the operation, Israel closed the Karam Abu Salam, the only commercial crossing for Gaza, so that food is going to run out, medical equipment to run out, medicines to run out, fuel will run out, everything needed for living will run out.
ANYA PARAMPIL: Yeah, how are people in Gaza reacting to the increased capacity Hamas has demonstrated during this war?
MOTASEM DALLOUL: For the people in general, war is something bad, something that everyone hates. However, this time people in Gaza love Hamas and the Palestinian resistance in general, which is united under the name of the joint room for the military factions, more than ever.
Why? Because they are seeing that Hamas, which is running the Gaza strip, which is the government, the real government here, are taking up arms and fighting the Israeli occupation without hesitation and without fearing that they will lose their positions and chairs. So the people are supporting them more than ever.
And the second reason that they get the people’s support is the development in the fighting equipment, which were made from primitive things, primitive materials. And there are a lot of people who like that, the way that Hamas could use primitive, primary materials to make these effective weapons, which is affecting the Israeli occupation.
They think that these newer ones, with longer ranges and a better effectiveness or effect, will push the Israeli occupation to relieve the siege of the Gaza strip, and to stop its aggression on the al-Aqsa mosque, and to stop, or to refrain from attempting to expel the families, the Palestinian families in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
These are the things that make people love or support the Palestinian resistance.
ANYA PARAMPIL: Are you safe? Was that the sound of jets flying above you?
MOTASEM DALLOUL: As I told you previously, there is no place safe in Gaza. I am not safe. My kids, my kids and my wife, I have to have, my kids are always, 24 hours, crying.
They are always crying and asking me to go to a safer place, but I cannot afford any safer place than where I am now. It is my home. And I don’t know where to go, because any place, any house, any residential building, any shop, any street, any car is subject to be attacked by the Israeli occupation without a pre-warning.
So we agreed, we reached an agreement, me and my wife and children, that we have to stay together, in order to support each other, and if we are targeted or hit, or if our house was hit, we die together.
This is the reality in the Gaza strip.
ANYA PARAMPIL: What do you tell your children? What do they understand? What do you tell your children? What do they think is happening?
MOTASEM DALLOUL: In the first day I told them it is thundering out and it is raining, and something like this. The second day, there is no rain. What’s happening dad? And they started to watch images and footage of people under the rubble, and dead people. However, I’m trying not to tell them or to let them see these things.
But they go to their Facebook and WhatsApp and they see everything. So this makes me unable to do anything for them. They are traumatized, whenever they hear the sound of an explosion, they start screaming. And I tried to, sometimes I can’t do anything because I myself, I’m scared, when there is something horrible.
Last night an Israeli jet hit a slaughterhouse that belongs to my brother. It’s beside my home. We were standing at the window, we started to hear explosions in the neighborhood, we stood at the window and they hit the slaughterhouse, and the pressure of the explosion pushed us inside. And all of us, including me, we were crying, and screaming, and we didn’t know what to do until the morning. This is a bit of a reality.
ANYA PARAMPIL: Yeah. It’s something that I don’t think anyone outside of Gaza can truly understand. So I want you to just, if we can end by, what would you tell journalists, especially in the West, who look at this situation and claim it is complicated, or they say Hamas fires rockets, and so Israel has the right to respond, and they look at this as two equal sides in a fight? What do you tell those journalists as a journalist yourself who’s living under this terror?
MOTASEM DALLOUL: The first thing I want to tell you is that my office was once in one of the high-rise building which were destroyed. The first high-rise building which was destroyed included my office, which is the Hanadi building, on the beach of the sea. And I lost my office.
The second thing is that I tell the Western journalists that the situation is not complicated. The question is very simple. There is land owned by a certain people. Other intruders came to these people, occupied their land, they committed massacres against them, the people who survived were expelled from their homes and their land, the intruders lived in these homes and used this land, and the people, the owners of the land, who remained in this land, they are dealt with as second class, you know, the Palestinians are separated or divided in two, and Palestine is divided in two.
And the ongoing wave of racism proves that they aren’t treated, they haven’t been treated equally, like the Jewish people, because, when they just go out to the streets in solidarity with the Gaza strip and Jerusalem, the Jewish people, the Jewish residents attack them and carry out attacks against them.
The people, the Palestinians who are living in the territories occupied in 1967, they aren’t citizens, they have no identity. Because first thing, they aren’t Israeli citizens, this is clear, but Israel considers them Palestinian citizens, but they aren’t free to travel or leave these territories or enter these territories without Israeli permission.
Even if there is a Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian Authority is just equipment in the hand of the Israeli occupation. If Israel doesn’t want any Palestinian in the 1967 territories not to leave, the Palestinian Authority cannot give him the permission to leave. Or the same thing, if a Palestinian is outside of these territories, and wants to return back to these territories, and Israel doesn’t want him to go back home, the Palestinian Authority cannot do anything for him. So they have no identity, they have no citizenship.
The Israeli occupation says that it is not our fault, it is the Egyptian restrictions, you can travel there, but Egypt is closing the crossing. But it is known for everyone in the world that Egypt closes the crossing with Gaza, by the orders of the Israeli occupation.
ANYA PARAMPIL: Yes, unfortunately I have to leave it there for now. Motasem al-Dalloul, thank you so much. And, and please, I still hear, I think sounds around you. So I hope you have some place you can go to take cover, but we’ll be thinking of you. So thank you.
MOTASEM DALLOUL: You know that Gaza has no shelters at all? No, no bunkers. So ok, thank you for having me. And I hope you that you send me an important yes. Keep me in your prayers, please.
ANYA PARAMPIL: Earlier The Grayzone spoke with Safwat Kahlout. He was among the journalists forced by Israel’s military to evacuate the al-Jalaa building before it was destroyed on May 15th, and works as Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Gaza. We spoke over the phone due to the lack of reliable internet in Gaza.
Safwat, thank you for your time this evening. I wanted to go back to the date of May 15th. What happened to you as you were working at the al-Jalaa building?
SAFWAT KAHLOUT: So what happened is that our neighbor, he knocked on the door and he said, he told us, informed our boss, the bureau chief in the office, that he received a phone call from the Israeli intelligence that Israel was bombarding our building and that we had one hour to evacuate immediately.
We thought, we started to lift as much as we could, equipment, covers, audio machines, anything that we could bring with us. And we rushed outside with our neighbors, of course, lots of children, women, all together. They had been trying to save their lives.
Then we all stood outside of the building, and we started reporting from outside the building.
We heard about the Israeli justification afterward, not immediately. It was scary, we were panicking. It’s a mix of fear and, let’s say, sadness, you know. Fear because your place is going to be bombed, and you are within, like the target is continuous with the Israelis. So this is the fear. The sadness, because you have to leave everything behind you, 11 years of work, 11 years of memories, 11 years of ceremonies and celebrations with your colleagues, you know.
Al Jazeera or let’s say the office was our second home. The colleagues, you know, after this long, long time working together, we became like one family, sharing everything together, even the personal ceremonies, the personal experiences, the happiness, sadness, etc. Like in many places, you know, by the time we became one family.
So you’re leaving that behind you in one second, with all the memories, with all the things that you have together, it was really very sad. And it’s all so traumatic. We still have the trauma.
ANYA PARAMPIL: Why do you think Israel attacked this building as well as others which house media?
SAFWAT KAHLOUT: This is not my role to judge the Israeli army, but, you know, we have been reporting the truth. I don’t know why, if they have a problem with telling the truth, or they have a problem with people reporting and showing reality, you know, and what is going on, people killed, homes destroyed.
I am a journalist, and my role is to tell the truth and to tell facts.
From what I saw, I heard that they justified this, they said this building was used by military, or for military purposes or intelligence or whatever, which is a thing that we have never seen, after 11 years. I can say that this building is a residential building. We know each other, we know everybody living there.
We know the people living there, because you know, we are close, in the same building, living here. So even you could see children growing in front of you, who live next to you, they are living here. But we have never seen any suspicious thing.
My office itself has never been used for any suspicious or illegal activity. And it’s well-known for everybody, for the whole world. It’s one of the most important titles for facts, for reporting, for use, as a media office also. This is Al Jazeera it’s well known for everybody.
ANYA PARAMPIL: In 2014, Israel killed 18 journalists. Does Israel deliberately target reporters in Gaza?
SAFWAT KAHLOUT: Gaza, the Gaza strip is a very small place, and it’s very crowded. And the Israelis are controlling and dominating the skies, sea, and borders of Gaza. They are using a very sophisticated and advanced technology to watch and control the Gaza strip.
So I believe they can distinguish between the journalists and the non-journalists, wanted people or non-wanted people. But sometimes when you think or believe that you are above the law, you don’t care about the results.
But yes, 18 journalists, you know, it’s not like one we can say by mistake, or two by mistake. So I think with the journalists it’s a big number to say that they were targeted or hit by mistake.
ANYA PARAMPIL: What would you like to see governments and press freedom organizations in the West say to support those of you who have lost your offices or are under attack?
SAFWAT KAHLOUT: First of all, to put into consideration, that, you know, the population of Gaza are innocent, and they have nothing to do with the Israeli considerations and with the Israeli conflict. And also I believe that the international community also, all those related press organizations should work with the Israelis and find a solution for the Palestinian journalists, I mean by finding a solution that establishes a fair body that could follow up with Palestinian journalists, or a committee that can follow up or coordinate between the Israelis and the Palestinians, through a legal, or through a special institution to guarantee the safety and the security of the Palestinian journalists.
You know this, we work day and night, and neither we nor our families feel safe. A few minutes ago, or a few hours ago, I received a call from my wife telling me that our neighbor received a warning call from the Israelis to evacuate his house. So should I keep reporting or should I go and take my children and sit outside and wait for the Israelis to bombard my neighbor’s house? He’s a Gaza resident also, and he has the right to live secure, safe with his children.
The Israelis know everybody, know every house in Gaza, they know, they have the map of everything in Gaza. The Israeli intelligence over the past few years, they collected everything, all the information about people in Gaza.
So they can find a way, through, or I mean the international community can find a way to negotiate with the Israelis, through a special body, to make pressure on them, to put, to find a way to protect us and to guarantee our freedom of expression.
Also the Israelis, by the way, some Palestinian journalists are deprived and they’re banned from traveling. Not, I’m not talking about myself, I’m talking in general, but Palestinian journalists, they have been receiving, by the way, lots of invitations to go attend conferences, to visit their headquarters all over the world. But still, you know, the Israelis, they ban them, because we need a permission from the Israelis to leave.
So we need a special committee, we need a special body that can coordinate between the international community from one side and the Israelis on the other side.
So like everybody in the world, you know, like every journalist in the world, everywhere, the journalists should be free to move, to live, and to practice life at the minimum of safety standards.
ANYA PARAMPIL: And finally, since you say the situation is changing rapidly and that you have to go, can you just describe the humanitarian situation you’ve witnessed, and what you’ve seen in the field?
SAFWAT KAHLOUT: Look Gaza is only 360 kilometers squared. It’s a very flat and very small place. 2 million people living in this area. 15 years of an Israeli blockade resulted in destroying the economy of Gaza. 50% are unemployed. Two-thirds of the population of Gaza depend on food parcels and food aid introduced by either international humanitarian organizations or local ones.
So most of the population now became poor because of this siege. The health education, sports, social, all life aspects have been damaged and collapsing because of this siege.
Adding to that you have one year of Covid-19, and the health system is collapsing after 15 years of siege.
So adding to that now eight days of escalation. You can see destruction everywhere, local residential areas have been collapsed, hundreds of people killed, hundreds of people injured. The hospitals are crying, they cannot deal with the huge waves of population, of injured people. Thousands also now they have, they were forced to leave their homes because of the heavy shelling, now they are taking from UN-run schools as shelters.
You know, now the whole world is talking about, or dealing with, or applying special preventative measures for Covid-19. Now people, 40 and 50 people in one room, used by refugees, because they have to leave their homes.
So all life aspects are collapsing. All life aspects are damaged, all life aspects.