Not only is the State of Israel killing men, women and children its military is also attempting to destroy the media as it attempts to cover this assault on the people of Palestine.
Al Jazeera 5.15.2021
An Israeli air raid flattened a building housing residential apartments and the offices of news organisations, including Al Jazeera and AP, in Gaza.
Youmna al-Sayed had less than an hour to get to safety.
But with just one elevator working in al-Jalaa tower, an 11-storey building in Gaza City housing some 60 residential apartments and a number of offices, including those of Al Jazeera Media Network and The Associated Press, al-Sayed made a dash for the stairs.
“We left the elevator for the elderly and for the children to evacuate,” the Palestinian freelance journalist said. “And we were all running down the stairs and whoever could help children took them down,” she added. “I myself helped two children of the residents there and I took them downstairs – everyone was just running quickly.”
Moments earlier, the Israeli army, which has been bombarding Gaza for six straight days, had given a telephone warning that residents had just an hour to evacuate the building before its fighter jets attacked it.
Al Jazeera’s Safwat al-Kahlout also had to move quickly. He and his colleagues “started to collect as much as they could, from the personal and equipment of the office – especially the cameras”, al-Kahlout said.
But more time was needed.
“All I’m asking is to let four people … to go inside and get their cameras,” he told the officer. “We respect your wishes, we will not do it if you don’t allow it, but give us 10 minutes.”
“There will be no 10 minutes,” the officer replied. “No one is allowed to enter the building, we already gave you an hour to evacuate.”
When the request was rejected, Mahdi said: “You have destroyed our life’s work, memories, life. I will hang up, do what you want. There is a God.”
The Israeli army claimed there were “military interests of the Hamas intelligence” in the building, a standard line used after bombing buildings in Gaza, and it accused the group running the territory of using journalists as human shields. However, it provided no evidence to back up its claims.
“I have been working in this office for more than 10 years and I have never seen anything [suspicious],” al-Kahlout said.
“I even asked my colleagues if they’ve seen anything suspicious and they all confirmed to me that they have never seen any military aspects or the fighters even coming in and out,” he added.
“In our building, we have lots of families that we know for more than 10 years, we meet each other every day on our way in and out to the office.”
Gary Pruitt, president and CEO of AP, also told Al Jazeera: “I can tell you that we’ve been in that building for about 15 years for our bureau. We certainly had no sense that Hamas was there.”
AP journalist Fares Akram said he had been sleeping in the office after a long night of reporting when his colleagues began shouting, “Evacuation! Evacuation!” Akram grabbed what he could – a laptop, some electronics, and a few things from his desk – before running down the stairs and jumping into his car, he wrote in a written piece after the attack.
When he was far enough away, Akram stopped the car and got out to look back at the tower. He said he witnessed drone strikes hit the building, followed by three more powerful strikes from F-16s.
“At first, it looked like layers of something collapsing. I thought of a bowl of potato chips, and what might happen if you slammed a fist into them. Then the smoke and dust enveloped everything. The sky rumbled. And the building that was home to some people, an office to others and both to me disappeared in a shroud of dust,” Akram wrote.
Al-Sayed, who has been covering Israel’s bombardment for Al Jazeera and has worked for AP, said she could not understand what threat a building housing families and offices for lawyers, doctors and media workers could pose.
“Where is the alarm from this? Where are the Hamas or any military members that could be in this building?” the Gaza resident asked.
“The people here, the residents, all know each other. The first five floors are for offices that are [closed] during this time of escalation. So basically what is [still here] are the two media offices of Al Jazeera and AP and the residential apartments.”
Still, at 3:12pm (12:12 GMT), the first Israeli strike came. Five minutes later, al-Jalaa tower crashed to the ground after being hit by three missiles that sent a dark cloud of dust and debris into the air. There have been no immediate reports of casualties.
“Years of memories, years of work in this building, suddenly, everything is rubble,” said al-Kahlout, about the tower from whose roof he often broadcast from. “Just vanished.”
Islam az-Zaeem, a lawyer who worked in the building, was at home when his cousin – the owner of the Johara building that was flattened overnight on May 13 – knocked on his door and told him al-Jalaa was about to be destroyed.
“I ran to the building and saw the residents and other employees gathered outside,” az-Zaeem told Al Jazeera.
“I went inside and took the stairs since the electricity was out and the elevators weren’t working. I was hysterical, and fell down several times in the dark, shouting and crying.”
Az-Zaeem, who said nine legal associates and four interns worked on his floor, left the building five minutes before it was levelled.
“Even after the building fell, I kept shouting that I’d forgotten to lock the door to my office,” he said. “Imagine that.”
The building, built in the mid-1990s, was one of Gaza City’s oldest high-rises.
Fares al-Ghoul, the executive director for the Mayadeen Media Group, said his company was previously based in the Shorouq building, which was destroyed by Israeli missiles on May 13.
“The upper floors of Shorouq were targeted in the 2014 war,” he said. “In 2019, we moved the company to al-Jalaa building because we thought it would be safer, since it accommodated the offices of international media agencies.”
“Now both have been destroyed,” he said.
The bombing of al-Jalaa, widely condemned as an attempt to “silence” journalists covering Israel’s offensive, came just hours after an Israeli air raid at Shati refugee camp killed 10 members of the same family – eight children, two women – celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the religious festival marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
At least 145 Palestinians, including 39 children, have been killed in the Gaza Strip since Israeli air raids on the coastal Palestinian territory began on Monday. About 950 others have been wounded.
With additional reporting by @LinahAlsaafin.