Massacre at Nuseirat

June 20, 2024
cartoon by Carlos Latuff
Image by Carlos Latuff

The Israeli raid on the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza on June 8 was celebrated in the United States and Israel for rescuing four hostages held by Hamas.

However, the raid killed 274 people and wounded 700 — the largest number of Palestinians killed in one day since Israel’s war against the Palestinians in Gaza began on October 7. The carnage was intentional and, with the deliberate near total destruction of the health care system, many of the wounded were expected to die.

US President Joe Biden hailed the operation without mentioning the Palestinian deaths. Washington was complicit in the mass murder and mayhem in many ways.

Eyewitness reports published by Al Jazeera establish that Israeli soldiers knew where the hostages were being held and raided those homes, taking the hostages out by helicopter. The raid provided cover for the massacre.

Israel did not carry out the rescue by night when people were sleeping, but chose to carry out the raid during the day, when people were easy targets.

“Israeli forces started bombing from above, hitting the busy marketplace hardest, likely to spread as much panic as possible, as well as inflict maximum casualties,” reported Al Jazeera.

Maximum carnage

Jerry St Claire summarised the bloody aftermath of the massacre in CounterPunch: “The nearby Al-Aqsa Hospital was already overflowing with patients from the airstrikes of the previous few days, before it began receiving the wounded and maimed from the bloodiest day yet of Israel’s assault on Gaza.

“Al-Aqsa was already short on supplies, running low on drugs, water and power. The hospital’s hallways were already filled with moaning, bandaged patients, recovering from wounds and surgeries without painkillers. The staff was already overworked, tired and stressed out, when they heard the first explosions around 11 in the morning.

“Dozens of airstrikes were followed by volleys of small arms gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades. Some explosions seemed very close to the hospital. Someone said the IDF had called the hospital minutes before and warned the staff to evacuate because it too was a target. But the nurses and the doctors wouldn’t leave their patients. Maybe it was disinformation or just another rumor of a hellish war.

“Helicopters hovered overhead. Quadcopter drones darted in and out firing machine guns at the crowded streets. There was the unmistakable growl of tanks. The [Nuseirat] camp was surrounded. There was no way to flee. No air raid shelters to huddle in. No way out.

“Then the calls came for help, soon followed by the wounded, the burnt, the dying and the dead. The bodies of children and women, the old and young, shredded by shrapnel, riven with bullets, some with severed limbs and others with perforated eyes.”

Karin Huster, who was working at Al-Aqsa with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) at the time of the raid, said: “We had the gamut of war wounds, trauma wounds, from amputations to eviscerations to trauma, to TBIs, traumatic brain injuries. Fractures, obviously, big burns. Kids completely grey or white from the shock, burnt, screaming for their parents — many of them not screaming because they are in shock.”

St Claire continued: “The tempo of the attack increased. The bombings and the gunfire and the tanks and the helicopters. The frenzied sounds of a war machine at full-throttle. For thirty minutes it went on. For an hour. For an hour and a half. It seemed interminable for those seeking shelter on the ground, cowering in buildings and the hospital. And then it was over, finally. And there were only the cries for help from the shattered streets and collapsed buildings. The cries of parents carrying dead children in their arms, the cries of children looking at the gutted bodies of their parents.

“What had just happened? Why had this refugee camp at Nusierat, home of so many homeless people, so many Palestinian families who had been displaced by bombs time and time again, come under such a savage sustained attack from the air and the ground, an attack that destroyed 90 homes and apartment buildings? An attack of such fury that it left the streets scattered with severed arms and legs, the bodies of children and their mothers and grandfathers left to bleed out in the marketplace that seemed to be a target of the attack. What could possibly justify this slaughter, this killing, this destruction that one Palestinian refugee in Nuseirat said felt like ‘Doomsday’?

“When the Israelis finally left, they took four people with them, four hostages who had been rescued by Israeli commandos and evacuated in helicopters that were stationed at or near Biden’s hapless ‘humanitarian’ pier that had, coincidentally or not, just been reassembled and re-moored to the beach in central Gaza, after breaking apart in high seas last month."

The four rescued hostages “had been captured by Hamas on October 7 while attending the Nova rave just outside the Israeli security fence that pens in and isolates northern Gaza”, wrote St Claire.

“Nuseirat’s narrow streets were cratered, so clotted with rubble and bodies that ambulances couldn’t reach the victims, many of whom were wheeled to the hospital in hand carts and wagons. Many more were left to die on the streets from treatable wounds.”

The Israel Defense Forces claimed its aircraft had struck military targets on the day, wrote St Claire, and attempted to shift blame for the death toll to Hamas for “holding hostages inside civilian buildings”.

Moreover, photos of the released hostages showed they appeared healthy and showed no signs of ill treatment.

US Complicity

One of the freed hostages, Louis Har, was interviewed by Haaretz. He described his long capture as “hell”. When asked “did you hear the military around you?” He replied “all the time”.

“And did this give you hope or shake your confidence?” Haaretz asked.

He replied: “Our greatest fear was the IDF planes and the concern they would bomb the building we were in. I was a soldier myself once. But the feeling that it could be our own bombs, our own planes — that this is what would kill us — that’s very scary and very anxiety-inducing...”

“So you made your peace with the fact that you may not come out alive, and death did not scare you, but your greater fear was from the IDF activity. Correct?” The interviewer asked.

“From the IDF. We decided for ourselves, the whole gang of us together, that we wouldn’t resist [the hostage-takers] and wouldn’t cause conflicts. We respected each other, and we were calm. We weren’t worried that they’d do something to us all of a sudden. We didn’t object to anything. So I wasn’t afraid they’d kill me.”

These comments led some Israeli commentators to suggest that the released hostages were suffering from “Stockholm syndrome”, where captives begin to identify with their captors.

St Claire continued: “The Israelis said they came at mid-day as an element of surprise. But their own history of raids in Gaza and elsewhere says they usually come at night. This rescue operation was different. This rescue operation in broad daylight was designed to kill. To kill as many as possible, no matter who they were or what they were doing. To kill kids kicking soccer balls, young women standing in line at the bakery and old men carrying bags of flour and rice. It even killed hostages.”

Hamas confirmed after the attack that the IDF had also killed “three prisoners in the same camp, one of whom held American citizenship”.

“The Americans knew. The Americans helped. Did the CIA or Pentagon help with the targeting? It hardly matters. The Americans provided the bombs, the helicopters, the fighter jets, the bullets and the tank shells. The Americans watched the attack unfold. They watched from Biden’s pier. They watched from drones. They watched as the streets filled with blood, bodies and limbs.

“The Biden administration’s complicity in the Nuseirat mass slaughter shatters the last pretense of American diplomacy in the Middle East. It’s a sinister calculus that justifies killing and wounding 1000 people to rescue four — four people who could have been released through a ceasefire, a ceasefire the Biden administration claims it wanted to broker.

“The massacre at Nuseirat made clear once more that some lives are worth more than others. And to the Israelis and their American allies, at least, Palestinian lives don’t seem to be worth anything at all.”

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