The Washington Post

In Gaza, 11 members of a Palestinian family are killed in a single strike

A neighbor walks through the Balata family home, where 11 members of the same family were killed, in the Jabalya area of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. Two families were taking refuge when an air strike hit the home. (Max Becherer/Polaris Images for The Washington Post)

The Balatas, like many Palestinian families, disliked Israel but also sought to distance themselves from Hamas.

For more than three weeks, as the conflict has stretched on, the Balatas’ lives have revolved around how to best protect their large family, extending over several generations, in one of the most war-torn enclaves in Gaza. Now, trapped between the ambitions of Israel and Hamas, they have paid a heavy price.

Eleven members of the family were killed in a single strike Tuesday, their bodies now buried in two fresh graves on a sandy hilltop cemetery near their homes. The corpses — one man, eight women, a boy and a baby — were shrouded in white, in accord with Muslim custom.

As the conflict rages, displacing hundreds of thousands, U.N. and Palestinian officials say some families have made a macabre calculation: to split up, with each group seeking refuge in different parts of Gaza. If one part of the family gets killed, others will live on to help the survivors and keep their dynasty alive.

But most families, officials say, still move together as a source of strength and comfort. Some are now living with other relatives, further increasing their familial size, while others have taken shelter in U.N.-run schools and other refuges. The war, though, has increasingly tracked them down in their havens.

“Unfortunately, many families have lost whole portions of their family,” said Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which is assisting some 200,000 Palestinians in its 85 schools. “The families gather together as a kind of protection, psychological mostly. . . . It’s a cultural thing. They say, ‘If we die, we die together as a family.’ ”

The Balatas, too, opted to stick together.

Three days ago, Naim Balata, 45, an electrician, arrived at his elder brother’s house with his wife, six daughters and sons Yahya, 7, and Allah, who is in his early 20s. They had been warned by the Israeli military to leave their section of Jabalya because of an impending offensive against Hamas militants. There was another reason: Their roof was not made of concrete, so they worried a shell or rocket could pierce it, relatives said.

After lunch Tuesday, Naim took a nap, as did his brother, Abdul Karim. The women cleaned up and chatted, reconnecting. That is when the first hit occurred, an explosion that tore through the house, sending bricks, metal and dust flying, recalled Abdul Karim who had woken up and ran outside, along with his son and wife.

Then a second one came, throwing Abdul Karim to the ground. When he got up, he ran back into his house to help his relatives.

“I found my nephew, Yahya, on the ground and picked him up,” Abdul Karim said. “Half his face was ripped apart.”

Nearby lay his grandson and namesake. He was 14 months old. His hand was nearly severed, and he was covered in blood but still alive. When he saw him, Abdul Karim lost consciousness. An ambulance arrived and took the infant to the hospital.

Children paying a terrible price in Gaza

Family members later found the bodies of Naim, his wife and his six daughters in the rubble. They were all in his bedroom, as if they had gone there to wake him up after the first explosion. The body of Abdul Karim’s 18-year-old daughter, Hadeel, was also in the debris.

By nightfall, the Balata family had buried their dead in the cemetery, steps away from the house. On Wednesday morning, the baby died of his injuries in the hospital. He was later placed in one of the graves.

At a memorial service Wednesday afternoon, Allah Balata sat solemnly in a chair. Now, he was the last surviving member of his family, the only one who will carry on his father’s name. Allah showed a photo in his cellphone of his brother Yahya proudly clutching a certificate for scoring high marks on his final exams.

Neighbors and local officials, in interviews, said the family was not linked to Hamas or any other Palestinian militant faction. Abdul Karim, a driver with a Palestinian news agency, said he had no ties to the insurgency and does not understand why his house was attacked.

There were dozens of men at the service, held in a building where 52 members of the Balata family lived. But unlike at most wakes in Gaza, there were no calls for revenge, no vocal denouncements of Israel. There were also no Hamas flags or Palestinian flags.

When asked whether he felt Hamas was partly responsible for his family’s woes, Abdul Karim did not quickly reject that idea or extend unwavering support for the resistance, like many Palestinians in Gaza typically do in interviews.

“I am against violence and killing from both sides,” Abdul Karim said. “The Israeli children are precious for them. Our children are precious for us.”

He added that he hoped Hamas leaders will meet with other Palestinian factions and work out a lasting cease-fire with Israel. He did not insist, as many Gazans have done in recent days, that a cease-fire must come only if all Palestinian demands are met — or that Hamas should fight Israel until that happens.

“Of course I support the peace process. Who likes their family to get hurt?” Abdul Karim said. “All of us have psychological problems. We all need shrinks in Gaza.”

Moments later, he clutched a passport-size photo of his daughter, Hadeel. She, too, had scored excellent marks on her exams. She wanted to become a doctor and join the United Nations, said her father, his voice trailing off, representing the hopes of upward mobility for every Balata.

“They have destroyed my family’s future,” Abdul Karim said.

Outside, another artillery shell exploded in the distance, and an Israeli drone buzzed overhead relentlessly in the clear, blue sky.

Sudarsan Raghavan has been The Post's Kabul bureau chief since 2014. He was previously based in Nairobi and Baghdad for the Post.


Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments

Sign up for email updates from the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

You have signed up for the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

Thank you for signing up
You'll receive e-mail when new stories are published in this series.
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
What can babies teach students?
Unconventional warfare with a side of ale
A veteran finds healing on a dog sled
Play Videos
A fighter pilot helmet with 360 degrees of sky
Is fencing the answer to brain health?
Scenes from Brazil's Carajás Railway
Play Videos
How a hacker group came to Washington
The woman behind the Nats’ presidents ‘Star Wars’ makeover
How hackers can control your car from miles away
Play Videos
Philadelphia's real signature sandwich
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
Europe's migrant crisis, explained

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.