Mohammed al-Kilani was among a family of 55 sheltering in Sheikh Radwan, Gaza City. Then Israeli forces stormed their apartment, executing his father, wife and 12-year-old son
By Maha Hussaini and Mohammed Qreiqe for Middle East Eye
On 21 December, Mohammed al-Kilani was inside his apartment in the Sheikh Radwan area of Gaza City, performing dawn prayers with his father and brother.
The three men had barely begun when the relative quiet of the early morning was shattered by the sound of heavy weaponry targeting the building.
‘The walls started collapsing in on us,’ Kilani, 45, told Middle East Eye. ‘We did not know what to do. We all hid in one room.’
Having moved there earlier in the war to take shelter from Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza, the 55 members of Kilani’s family were all crammed into the apartment.
His wife and children were among them.
But 21 December marked an intensification of Israel’s bombardment of Sheikh Radwan, and the artillery fire brought down or seriously damaged the walls of the building.
The destruction was quickly followed by Israeli soldiers storming into the apartment. Kilani’s father, Hussein, went out to meet them, raising his hands in submission and asking them what was happening.
‘They shot him in the heart. He was killed immediately,’ Kilani said.
One of his sons, aged 12, was just behind his grandfather.
‘They threw a bomb on his abdomen. His intestines spilt out before my eyes. He was killed.’
When the family expressed shock at what had happened, an Israeli soldier fired another bullet into the boy’s dead body.
‘The soldiers then ordered us to take off all our clothes, including our underwear,’ Kilani said.
‘They kept the men on one side and the women on the other. My wife was holding the Quran as they led us out of the room. A soldier told her to throw it away. She refused. He shot her in the back and the bullet came through her abdomen.’
One of Kilani’s other sons was injured by the grenade that killed his older brother, while his sisters were also struck by shrapnel. The boy would later have 50 stitches in his leg.
While Kilani and his remaining family members were prevented from approaching the bodies of their dead relatives, they were forced to walk naked in a line to the nearby mosque before Israeli soldiers set fire to the apartment.
‘They ordered us to get out, along with the women, without any food, clothes or money, then they burned the apartment. We went down to the basement, completely naked, before they took us to the mosque near the house,’ Kilani told MEE.
‘They picked me, along with my 19-year-old son Khamees. They tied our hands and blindfolded us, then took us by truck to a border area near the sea. We didn’t know exactly where we were, we were blindfolded,’ he said.
Kilani said that for around 24 hours, Israeli soldiers ‘took turns’ torturing and humiliating him and his son, while preventing the elderly family members from using the toilet or drinking water.
‘They tortured us by putting glass and nails in our feet, and by leaving us naked on the seashore from about seven or eight in the morning until after 2am. We were left without food or water or anything that could keep us protected from the cold weather,’ Kilani said.
The 45-year-old said that if he or his son moved, the soldiers would hit them on the back with their weapons.
‘They were taking turns. Any soldier who passed by us would hit us. They refused to let us pee or drink. There were many elderly people among us. One of them told a soldier he was diabetic and the soldier told him to pee on himself. They were insulting us with very abusive words. The humiliation we experienced there, it wasn’t like anything we had seen in our lives.’
During their time in detention, Kilani and the other family members with him – all of them men – kept thinking about their children who had been killed back at the apartment and about who would bury them.
Kilani was held for about 24 hours. Since his release, he has not heard anything about his 19-year-old son, who was held with him.
‘I do not know whether he is alive or dead,’ he said.
A pattern of ‘executions’
On 27 October, the Israeli army launched a ground invasion into the urban areas, streets and densely populated neighbourhoods of the Gaza Strip.
Since then, Middle East Eye has reported on a number of cases in which the Israeli army has stormed civilian homes, executing family members and traumatising others.
On 21 December, the same day Kilani and his family were attacked, Israeli soldiers broke into the home of the Khaldi family in Sheikh Radwan, the same area of Gaza City as the Kilanis, shooting everyone present in a matter of minutes. The soldiers left behind one survivor, Moemen Raed al-Khaldi, who bled for days before being found by neighbours and taken to hospital.
The next day, in the same neighbourhood, six-year-old Faisal Ahmed al-Khaldi survived a similar incident, after Israeli soldiers shot his parents dead in front of him at his uncle’s house.
‘We were at home and the tank was [stationed] by the building’s door. One night, they broke down the gate and stormed in. The door to my uncle Mohammed’s [apartment] was locked, they broke it and entered. They shot everyone in the guest room,’ Faisal told MEE.
‘We were sleeping, I heard their [noise], so I asked my mum: ‘What is this sound?’ She told me: ‘These are Israelis.’
No sooner had she said that, they shot her, then they shot Dad.’
A week later, just a few kilometres away, Israeli soldiers executed 65-year-old Kamel Mohammed Nofal, a retired United Nations Relief and Works Agency employee, in front of his wife and disabled adult children while ‘he was trying to explain to them that his children could not understand the instructions,’ his relative, Jamal Naim, told MEE.
Escaping Sheikh Radwan
As the ground invasion of Sheikh Radwan intensified, Palestinian families looked to get out, only to find no shelter elsewhere.
Odai Ayman Deeb, who is from the neighbourhood, fled his home to al-Saraya, near the al-Rimal area of central Gaza City.
The area, which includes al-Wafa hospital, was besieged by the Israelis, who stormed the building Deeb and his family had moved to on 20 December. The soldiers separated the men and the women and gathered 17 male members of the family together in the corridor of the house, leaving the women in one room.
‘They took our IDs and names. We were all civilians, of course, no one was a resistance member,’ Deeb told MEE.
‘After we gave them the IDs, they executed 15 people, including my father and my little sister who was only a three-year-old child. The soldier shot her in the leg and she sustained injuries in the neck from shrapnel… They shot my brothers in the legs, before they gathered them in the guest room and fired shells on them. All of them were injured.’
Deeb, who is 20, was bleeding from the head and body, but survived despite the ‘torture practised against us’.
With Israeli forces still on the streets outside, he and his remaining family members had to keep the dead bodies of their relatives inside the apartment until the soldiers left the area a few days later.
‘After they lifted the siege on us, we went to al-Shifa [Medical] Complex to receive treatment,’ Deeb told MEE.
‘Then we returned to retrieve the bodies of my father and my sister. We buried them, while the rest of my siblings are still receiving treatment.’