29 Jul 2014

What it feels like to be under Israeli fire

Some Gazans are tweeting that this was the worst night of bombardment that the city and the Strip have ever witnessed. I can’t go out and verify yet but local agencies are saying 11 Palestinians are dead. I suspect it is more.

Meanwhile the Israeli army says it lost five dead after Hamas infiltrated through tunnels to Nahal Oz, inside Israel.

I will just describe what it felt like to be under sustained bombardment.


For the first three hours there was constant use of exploding flares, mainly fired from artillery. These are not standard illumination flares but bang very loud. They emit orange light so the typical thing you see in your darkened bedroom is shadows creeping up the wall.

It frightened the five-year-old in me, and must have terrified Gaza’s children. Whatever military purpose these flares have, using them in a sustained barrage against a civilian area had the effect of causing mass fear.

Punctuating that is artillery fire in the distance, where the two sides’ clash on the ground.

But the most devastating and terrifying things are the strikes. This is not a “barrage” – these are strikes with single weapons against single targets. But they are massive. They shake the ground, blowing the windows out of blocks facing them. Reports suggest among the targets was the pro-Hamas TV and radio station al-Aqsa.

Though these are laser and satellite guided weapons, they create huge impacts, much bigger for example than the standard iron bomb the Germans dropped on London in WWII.

Those in any building hit like this are most likely going to die, and there is a high risk of death or injury to anybody nearby. In addition, since nobody is aware of what is being struck, or why, this too creates the impression that anything, or anybody, can be struck at any time.

Sleep is impossible and these earth-shaking impacts must also create the risk, and fear, of nearby apartment buildings collapsing.

If you have knowledge of hi-tech military hardware it is possible to rationalise these strikes as “pinpoint”. However the effect on the population in the midst of them is to create terror and disorientation.

For me “modern” life consists in knowing that if I get suddenly sick I can call an ambulance; that if somebody robs me I can call the police etc. Here, you have to go to bed at night knowing there is nobody with any power to move or help you, and lucky if you have electricity.

We will go out and assess the damage soon.

I have just lived through the first space-enabled bombardment of a modern city. The air attack on Baghdad in 2003, though massive, was aimed at a state and a military; this one was aimed at a state woven into shops and pharmacies, and in extremely dense, low-quality mid-rise housing, with very poor infrastructure to start with.

Follow @paulmasonnews on Twitter