The Violence In Gaza, Through The Lens Of One Family's Losses

Jul 15, 2014
Originally published on July 15, 2014 5:16 pm

Cloaked in black from head to toe, Iman el-Kaas cries in her mother's home in the Gaza Strip. Iman is in mourning.

Her husband, Anas el-Kaas, was killed by an Israeli attack that hit their apartment in Gaza early Friday morning. He was 33 years old, a pharmacist with two young children. They had just moved in a few months ago.

"I thought that apartment was gift, but it was the place he would be killed," Iman says. "Why? Why did they kill him?"

About twice the size of Washington, D.C., the Gaza Strip has sustained more than 1,500 Israeli airstrikes over the past week. It's the third such war with Israel since 2009.

The el-Kaas family, one with no apparent connections to any militant groups in Gaza, has been repeatedly touched by tragedy. Anas, the younger of two grown children, was killed last week. He and his brother lost their parents in a similar attack nearly six years ago.

By Israel's own count, its military has hit more than 1,500 targets in the Gaza Strip during a week of conflict, resulting in nearly 200 Palestinian deaths so far. More than 1,000 rockets have been fired by militants in Gaza toward Israel, including more than 100 that landed Tuesday.

One of those killed a civilian near Gaza's northern border with Israel, a man in his 30s that the Israeli media says was in the area to help distribute food and drink to soldiers stationed there. He is the first Israeli to be killed in the current conflict. Several other Israeli civilians have been critically wounded.

Israel's stated aim is to kill militants and destroy weapons used against Israel. The military couldn't immediately provide information about the target when Anas el-Kaas was killed in Gaza. Iman el-Kaas says her husband was just a charming pharmacist.

As we talk in her mother's home, there is a boom — a hit outside, as if to emphasize the unpredictability of Israeli attacks.

It's not clear if this is a warning or a mistake. There is never an explosion.

The next day, Iman returns for the first time to the apartment where her husband died. Her husband's brother, Ghassan el-Kaas, comes too. It's also his first visit since Anas was killed.

Ghassan takes the marble stairs two at a time. In the apartment, his feet crunch over chunks of concrete and broken glass. He stops just outside what used to be the living room door.

"He was dead here," Ghassan says. "This is his blood. He can't get out of the room."

Neighbors say two strikes hit in quick succession, much closer together than the "knock on the roof" rockets Israel sometimes uses to warn residents to leave — not five minutes between hits, says Ghassan, but seconds.

"I don't know what to say. I'm just going to lose my mind. He's my only brother," Ghassan says. "And in the war in 2009, and I lost also my father and mother. Also in the house."

This time, he got a call at 3:30 in the morning about his brother. The other time, he found his parents' bodies.

"I lost contact with them five days before ending of war. I can't reach them with any phone or anything," he says. "When war stopped, I went home and found them dead. Both of them dead."

The el-Kaas family has long ties in Palestinian politics, but not with Hamas or an Islamic faction. The father worked with Yassar Arafat, the Palestinian leader Israel counted as a terrorist until the Oslo peace deal in 1994. The el-Kaas family came to Gaza then. A childhood friend, Sayeb Abu Rabiya, says the father trusted Israel.

"He always said Israelis have very good intelligence and technology. They recognize who they want and when to hunt him," Abu Rabiya says. "He was telling people, don't run away. If you are wanted for the Israelis, they will get you. If you are not wanted, stay. They know you are not wanted. They will not harm you."

In the strike that killed Anas on Friday, neighbors say maybe Israel got mixed up. An organization on the first floor of the building might have had Hamas connections, some say. The previous apartment owner might have had militant ties. Anas had been studying in Cuba on a scholarship when his parents were killed. He rushed back, then stayed. But friend Abu Rabiya says Anas didn't like it much in Gaza under Hamas.

"He was very smart, very active guy, young guy. He always was very stylish," Abu Rabiya says. "Like wearing a cut shirt and shorts and sunglasses, walking his dog on the beach. Acting like the European guys."

Iman, Anas' wife, says he had dreamed of moving the family to Latin America.

But that dream is gone with this war. Sitting on the floor of their apartment, she picks through scraps of wood and wall searching for some trace of him. She leaves with his navy baseball cap and a chunk of concrete in her hands.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The Gaza Strip is only about twice the size of Washington, D.C., but it has seen more than 1,500 Israeli airstrikes over the past week. And this is the third such war between Israel and Hamas. NPR's Emily Harris met a family with no apparent connections to Hamas, that has repeatedly been touched by tragedy.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Iman al-Kaas is mourning. Cloaked in black from head to toe sitting in her mother's house, she shakes a set of keys with her soft, pale hands.

(SOUNDBITE OF CRYING)

HARRIS: Al-Kaas' husband, Anas was killed by an Israeli attack that hit their apartment early Friday morning. He was 33 years old, a pharmacist with two young children. They had just moved in a few months ago.

IMAN AL-KAAS: (Through translator) I thought that apartment was a gift, but it was the place he would be killed. Why? Why did they kill him?

HARRIS: Israel's military has hit more than 1,500 targets in the Gaza Strip in a week of conflict. Israel's stated aim is to kill militants and to destroy weapons used against Israel. The military couldn't provide information by airtime about the target in this case. Al-Kaas insists her husband was just a charming pharmacists. Today, al-Kaas returned to her apartment for the first time since her husband died there. Her husband's brother, Ghassan al-Kaas came too.

GHASSAN AL-KAAS: This is the first time to see my brother's house. So yeah, I'm just surprised.

HARRIS: He takes the marble stairs two at a time. In the apartment, his feet crunch over chunks of concrete and broken glass. He stops just outside what used to be the living room door.

G. AL-KAAS: He was dead here. This is his blood. He can't get out of the room. They said, oh, it's the first bomb and we take five minutes to get the next spot - no, seconds.

HARRIS: Neighbors say two strikes hit in quick succession - much closer together than the knock on the roof rockets Israel sometimes uses to warn residents to leave.

G. AL-KAAS: I don't know what to say. I'm just going to lose my mind, and he's my only brother. In the war in 2009, I lost also my father and my mother also in the house.

HARRIS: This time he got a call at 3:30 in the morning about his brother. That time he found his parents brothers.

G. AL-KAAS: I lost contact with them five days before the ending of the war. I can't reach them with any phone or anything. When the war stopped, I went to the house and I found them dead. I found them in the apartment - both of them are dead.

HARRIS: The al-Kaas family has long ties in Palestinian politics, but not with Hamas or an Islamist faction. The father worked with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader Israel counted as a terrorist until the Oslo peace deal in 1994. The al-Kaas family came to Gaza then. A childhood friend, Sayed Abu Rabiya says the father trusted Israel.

SAYED ABU RABIYA: (Through translator) He always said Israelis have very good intelligence and technology. They recognize who they want and went to hunt them. He was telling people don't run away. If you are wanted for the Israelis, they will get you. If you are not wanted, stay. They know you are not wanted, they will not harm you.

HARRIS: In the strike that killed Anas al-Kaas last Friday, neighbors say maybe Israel got mixed up. An organization on the first floor of the building might have had Hamas connections, some say. The previous apartment owner might have had militant ties. al-Kaas had been studying in Cuba on a scholarship when his parents were killed. He rushed back, then stayed, but friend Abu Rabiya says he didn't like it much in Gaza under Hamas.

RABIYA: (Through translator) He was very smart, very active guy - young guy. He was always very stylish - liked wearing a cut shirt and shorts and sunglasses walking his dog on the beach acting like the European guys.

HARRIS: al-Kaas' widow, Iman, says he had dreamed of moving the family to Latin America, but that dream is gone with this war. Sitting on the floor of third apartment, she picks through scraps of wood and wall searching for some trace of him. She leaves with his Navy baseball cap and a chunk of concrete in her hands. Emily Harris, NPR News, Gaza. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.