Gaza City: F-16 at Midnight

Israeli Massacre in the Al Daraj Neighborhood

Revolutionary Worker #1161, August 4, 2002, posted at

A little past midnight on Monday, July 22, in the Gaza City neighborhood of Al-Daraj, people were watching television, chatting in the family rooms or on the roofs of the apartment buildings, preparing to switch off the lights. Most of the young kids had already gone to sleep. The close of another day under Israeli military occupation.

No one heard the approach of the Israeli Air Force F-16. The U.S.-made warplane swooped over Gaza City. Then it dropped a laser-guided bomb packed with 1,000 pounds of explosives on the Al-Daraj neighborhood.

"Suddenly I heard a terrible explosion," said Naima Zaino. "I never heard such a noise." She grabbed her six children and ran for safety. Her husband was on the roof with a neighbor. The neighbor was killed; Naima's husband survived, with head wounds from shrapnel.

When the dust cleared, the people of Al-Daraj saw with horror that three apartment buildings were completely pulverized. The only things left where the buildings had stood were chunks of cinder block and concrete, twisted metal, and scraps of clothing. Other buildings nearby were heavily damaged.

And from the ruins of the buildings, the people of Gaza City dug out the bodies of the victims of this cold-blooded massacre--10 of them children. More than 140 people were injured, some very seriously.

The youngest of the 16 who died was 2-month-old Dina Mattar. The next day, her tiny body, wrapped in a Palestinian flag, and the bodies of others who perished in the F-16 bombing were carried through the streets in a funeral procession of 100,000 people.

Israeli military and government officials said that the air strike was a "precision attack" intended to assassinate Salah Shehadeh, a top military commander of the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas. The huge laser-guided bomb from the F-16 killed not only Shehadeh and another Hamas member but also Shehadeh's wife Leileh and their 14-year-old daughter--and a dozen other people who had no connection to Shehadeh.

The morning after the bombing, Israeli premier Ariel Sharon--fully aware of the civilian deaths-- declared that the F-16 operation was "one of our major successes."

At the Mattar household, in the building next to where Shehadeh was staying, the upper floor rooms collapsed on the lower rooms, killing Dina, her mother, and four other children. Several other family members were hospitalized.

Dina's grandmother, Halima, said, "We felt it was safe. We were laughing, watching TV." Then the bomb hit. "I could see all the floors coming down." Halima's son is one of those who were seriously injured. Breaking into sobs, Halima said, "How can I tell my son he lost his wife and children?"

A Calculated Provocationby Israel

As the news of the F-16 bombing of Gaza City spread, there was outrage throughout the Middle East and around the world--and top Israeli officials attempted to cover their asses. Government spokesmen claimed Sharon and his defense minister had not been told about potential civilian casualties when they signed off on the F-16 strike. An Israeli military official said, "We wouldn't have done it if we knew what the consequences would be." Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said he was "sorry" about the civilians killed in the attack--while defending the assassination of Shehadeh, who the Israeli government accused of planning suicide bombings and other attacks.

But such shameless attempts to deny responsibility cannot wipe away the truth. Gaza City is one of the most densely populated places on earth, where people live in crowded buildings that stand close together on narrow streets. It does not take sophisticated military analysis to know that a one-ton bomb dropped anywhere in Gaza City--in the middle of the night, without any warning--would kill many ordinary people.

The Sharon government gave a green light to the F-16 assassination bombing, knowing full well that many residents of the Al-Daraj neighborhood would die.

It has also come out that the Israeli government went ahead with the air strike when they knew that Palestinian forces were about to issue a call for a halt to military attacks against targets not directly tied to the Israeli armed forces. According to The Times of London, "The Palestinian declaration to end suicide bombings that was wrecked by Israel's air strike on Gaza on Monday contained an unprecedented call for an `immediate' end to all attacks on Israeli civilians, according to a copy obtained by The Times . The 249-word document had been approved by senior members of Yassir Arafat's Fatah movement and the Tanzim--officials closest to its armed wing--and their most militant cells, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades."

Just a few hours before the F-16 bombing, a Palestinian official close to Arafat reportedly met with Hamas leaders in Gaza to discuss this cease-fire declaration. According to reports in the Israeli and international press, Hamas had agreed to the declaration with some conditions, such as the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Sharon and other top Israelis knew that the bombing of Gaza City and the assassination of Shehadeh would undermine the cease-fire declaration and result in calls for revenge by Hamas. The F-16 strike was a very deliberate act of provocation by Israel--and it fits right in with the pattern of reactionary provocations by Sharon.

In September 2000, before he became premier, Sharon made a highly publicized visit to Haram al- Sharif, a key site in East Jerusalem, accompanied by 1,000 Israeli soldiers. Sharon intended the visit as an arrogant declaration of Israeli control of East Jerusalem, which the Palestinian people consider their historic capital. He knew this would be seen as an attempt to humiliate the Palestinian people and flaunt Israeli power and that it would torpedo the Oslo peace process that he opposed. After seven years of bitterly disappointed hopes in the peace process and with increasing recognition that their national survival was at stake, the Palestinian masses rose up in outrage and resistance to Sharon's provocation. In response, the Israeli army gunned down 90 youth who were throwing stones, and they sent tanks, combat helicopters, and troops into Palestinian areas.

Since becoming premier, Sharon has ordered a series of assassinations of Palestinian leaders, takeovers of Palestinian political offices, and other provocations--and then used Palestinian responses as justification for more attacks.

Now, after the F-16 bombing and Hamas's calls for revenge, Israel has stepped up the clampdown on the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the name of "security precautions." More than 700,000 Palestinians in the West Bank have already been under strict military curfew for many weeks, allowed to go out of their houses for only a few hours at irregular intervals. On July 24, Israeli tanks and bulldozers rolled into Gaza City, flattening several buildings that Israel claimed housed workshops where rockets were made.

Sharon's calculated undermining of the Palestinian cease-fire declaration reveals the reality behind Israel's repeated claims that they are acting in "self-defense." Their actions are those of unjust occupiers, hell-bent on crushing any resistance by the people under occupation. These are the brutal acts of a settler-colonial state that is armed and backed by the world's most powerful imperialists and built on stolen Palestinian land. The F-16 bombing of Gaza City is part of a 50-year trail of terror carried out by the Israeli state to deny the Palestinian people their homeland and national rights.

U.S. Hypocrisy

In Washington, the Bush administration spokesman called the F-16 bombing of Gaza City a "heavy-handed action." These words come from cold-blooded imperialists who have killed hundreds of ordinary people in Afghanistan in the name of their "war on terrorism." Just a few weeks ago, on July 1, U.S. warplanes bombed villagers at a wedding celebration in southern Afghanistan, murdering dozens of people.

The U.S. government denounces any armed actions by Palestinians, including actions against Israeli occupation troops, as "terrorism." But when the Israeli military, using powerful U.S.- supplied weapons, attacks Palestinian towns and villages, the U.S. government says Israel is only acting in "self-defense." U.S. officials may sometimes caution Israel to "exercise restraint" or--as in the case of the F-16 bombing--issue a few words of rebuke when they want to distance themselves from the most vicious actions by Israel. But, under the standards of U.S. imperialism, the actions of Israel are never terrorism.

Behind this difference in the way the U.S. uses the word "terrorism" is a basic truth: The U.S. backs Israel because this settler-colonial state serves the interests of U.S. imperialism. And U.S. imperialism is an enemy of the real interests of the Palestinian people and their just struggle for liberation and independence.

Worldwide attention has focused on the fact that the F-16 jet fighter used in the Gaza City bombing was made and supplied by the U.S. Israel has more than 200 F-16s--part of their huge arsenal of jet fighters, tanks, combat helicopters, nuclear bombs, and other weapons The U.S. supplies this monstrous military machine with $3 billion in yearly aid.

After the Gaza City bombing, U.S. officials said they would "look into" whether Israel violated the rules for the use of U.S.-supplied weapons. But no U.S. official talked of a cut-off or reduction in the massive flow of U.S. weapons to Israel. Meanwhile, any attempt by Palestinians to obtain guns or other crude weapons are treated by the U.S. as more evidence of "terrorism."


At the Al-Daraj neighborhood, the last of the victims of the F-16 bombing was pulled out of the rubble Wednesday--a four-year-old boy. On the walls of the half-ruined buildings next to those that were completely destroyed, someone had written in English: "This is the American weapon. This is the Israeli peace."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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