Israel’s Horrific Attack on a Refugee School in Gaza

This week, Israel bombed an UNRWA-affiliated school in a central Gaza refugee camp where thousands of Palestinians were sheltering. The attack killed dozens of civilians, mostly children — just one among several civilian massacres in the past 48 hours.

A Palestinian boy walks across the destroyed classroom at a school run by UNRWA that was hit during an Israeli army strike the day before, in the Nuseirat camp in the central Gaza Strip on June 7, 2024. (Photo by Eyad Baba / AFP via Getty Images)

Between the night of Wednesday, June 5, and the morning of Thursday, June 6, Israeli forces bombed al-Sardi school, a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) school sheltering hundreds of Palestinian families in the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza. The attack killed over forty civilians, most of them children. Health officials in Gaza expect that number to rise as dozens of casualties continue to arrive at hospitals, with many others still buried under rubble.

The massacre was carried out by Israel without prior warning, and despite knowledge that the school was crowded with displaced families, including sleeping children. According to UNRWA, over six thousand people were taking shelter.

Following the attack, the school grounds resembled a bloodbath. Remains of bodies were strewn across the area. Horrific footage shows Palestinians collecting body parts and remains of children scattered inside the bombarded school. Ayman Rashed, a shelter resident displaced from Gaza City who helped carry five bodies out from the wreckage, including an old man and two children, said the blast had shattered one child’s skull open. “It was dark, with no electricity, and we struggled to get out the victims,” he told Associated Press reporters.

Most of the dead and wounded were delivered to al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al-Balah. Families scrambled to search for their loved ones among the queuing bodies, amassed in the hallways where bodies were wrapped in blankets or plastic bags and laid out in lines in the hospital courtyard.

Doctors Without Borders described the scene at the hospital as “apocalyptic,” with over seventy dead and hundreds injured received since Tuesday, most of them women and children. The hospital’s morgue was teeming with grieving parents weeping for their loved ones. One heartbreaking video shows a bereaved mother kneeling on the ground to bid a last farewell to her slain child. “This is not war — it is destruction that words are unable to express,” said Abu Mohammed Abu Saif, the father of two children killed along with their mother.

A Slew of Massacres

Ismail al-Thawabta, a Gaza health official, told reporters: “This horrible massacre committed by the Israeli occupation is clear evidence of genocide, ethnic cleansing against civilians, including women and children and displaced people in the Gaza Strip.”

Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, has described the bloodshed as “horrific and shocking.” According to Lazzarini, Israel has bombed 180 UNRWA buildings since last October, killing more than 450 displaced Palestinians sheltering on UNRWA premises. So far, Israel has also killed over two hundred UNRWA workers in Gaza.

“We’ve seen this time and time again, to the extent that it’s almost become normalized. In previous conflicts, single incidents like this would cause shock and outrage and would be remembered forever,” Sam Rose, the director of planning for UNRWA, said after the attack. “Whereas it seems in this conflict it will be this one will be replaced by another in a few days’ time unless it all comes to an end. So, it almost becomes commonplace and mundane that these things are happening. We have normalized horror.”

US officials have attempted to justify the massacre. At a press conference discussing the bombing, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said that “Israel has a right to try and target those civilians.” (The State Department has since claimed that Miller meant Israel has a right to target Hamas amid civilian targets — but it is a morbidly telling slip.)

The massacre comes just days after Israeli lawmakers advanced a bill to label UNRWA a terrorist organization. It was a deliberate attack on the UN-run school, which had been declared a safe area for civilians. Israeli military spokesperson Peter Lerner told reporters yesterday that Israel intentionally bombed the school, adding that the military was not “aware of any civilian casualties.”

It is clear that the United States is complicit in the deadly assault. Fragments captured in videos and photos from the site show US-made missiles, GBU-39s, were used in the air strikes. This is the same weapon used in bombings near UNRWA sites in Rafah last week, which killed at least forty-five Palestinians sheltering in tents. Based on video analysis from the scene and a review by explosive weapons experts, CNN has reported that Israel used US-made munitions in its attack on the UNRWA school: “It marks the second time in two weeks that CNN has been able to verify the use of US-manufactured munitions in deadly Israeli attacks on displaced Palestinians, the first being a deadly IDF strike on a displacement camp in Rafah on May 26.”

Footage shows Palestinians in Gaza displaying the remains of the US-made missiles that were deployed in the massacre. As one Palestinian reporter said, “The missiles are American, and the crime and execution Israeli.”

The al-Sardi school bombing is just one of several civilian massacres committed by Israel in Gaza over the past forty-eight hours. On Wednesday, Israel pounded the Bureij and al-Zawaideh refugee camps and the town of Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, killing nearly one hundred Palestinians. Israeli forces then attacked — with US bombs and drones — a market gathering near Kashku Street southeast of the Zeitoun neighborhood in Gaza, killing thirty Palestinians, most of them children.

Yesterday in Tal al-Sultan refugee camp, west of Rafah, Israeli forces carried out a massacre of displaced children and civilians, whose dead bodies have been left scattered in the street. And these massacres have unfolded as Palestinians continue to pull bodies from the mass graves discovered in Jabalia refugee camp last week, where over 360 bodies have been uncovered so far.

Overnight Israel was responsible for eight more massacres throughout Gaza and Rafah, killing over eighty Palestinians. These include bombing the Barback family house, killing eighteen, and a family house in the town of Abasan, east of Khan Yunis, killing ten Palestinians, most of them children. Today Israel bombed a residential building in the al-Zaytoun neighborhood in Gaza City, killing eleven Palestinians. The bombarded refugee camps are filled with grieving parents bidding farewell to their slain children.

Continuing US Complicity

While the death toll in Gaza has now exceeded thirty-seven thousand Palestinians, including over fifteen thousand children, and even as the United Nations has now added Israel to its blacklist of countries that harm children in conflict zones, the United States continues to lavish Israel with bombs and other weapons, in flagrant violation of its own binding policies around weapons transfers. “Just from a legal perspective within US domestic law, there’s a much wider body of rules that is being ignored right now,” said Josh Paul, who worked on arms-transfer policies before becoming the most senior US official in the State Department to resign over the war in Gaza. “The arms are just continuing to flow.”

Unsatisfied with merely arming Israel, some US politicians have gone to a new extreme of signing their own names on US bombs bound for Gaza. The al-Sardi school massacre comes days after former US presidential candidate Nikki Haley visited Israel and signed “finish them” on US bombs that have been used to slaughter children in Gaza. Footage shows rows of internationally prohibited white-phosphorus shells lined up behind Haley’s back as she signed the bombs. Haley’s stunt was perhaps inspired by Senator Lindsey Graham, who visited Israel last month and advised Israeli leaders to annihilate Gaza with a nuclear bomb while boasting about US bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The tragic reality is that Israel has already become an exceptional purveyor of mass death without needing to rely on nukes. A new report by Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor shows that Israel dropped over seventy thousand tons of bombs on Gaza in two hundred days, surpassing the number of bombs used in the World War II bombings of Dresden, Hamburg, and London combined. It’s also twenty times more bombs than the United States dropped on Iraq in six years of war.

The United States continues to collectively punish Palestinians by defunding UNRWA, even after European countries have restored funding to the impoverished refugee aid agency, making the situation in Gaza look ever more dystopian. Doctors in Gaza describe the besieged strip as “hell on earth.” UN officials warn of a cholera outbreak in Gaza, among other fatal diseases killing children, while mass deaths due to starvation are being recorded throughout the ravaged strip. On Wednesday, two food security reports said many Palestinians in Gaza had been killed by months of extreme hunger, most of them children, and two UN agencies are predicting that over a million people are “expected to face death and starvation” by the middle of next month.

This comes amid horrific new reports that the Israeli military has been torturing and raping Palestinian captives in detention camps, kidnappin Palestinian children, and using Palestinian families in Gaza as human shields, while Israeli soldiers have forced children to strip for searches while abducting the rest of their families in the Qarara area in southern Gaza.

Horror Throughout Palestine

Meanwhile, genocidal threats continue to pour forth from the upper echelons of the Israel’s government. In a recent interview with an Israeli radio station, Israeli minister of heritage Amichai Eliyahum renewed his pledge to annihilate Gaza as he reiterated a common genocidal trope about Palestinians: “They are not human beings, they are human animals.” Meanwhile Itamar Ben-Gvir, national security minister of Israel, has recently announced Israel’s intention to fully reoccupy Gaza and build Jewish settlements on the ruins of displaced Palestinians. Cheered on by their extremist leaders, Israeli soldiers continue to celebrate and document their own crimes in Gaza, with one Israeli soldier filming himself detonating Palestinian neighborhoods in Gaza and dedicating it to his mother while chanting: “This is yours, mom.”

And Gaza is not alone in being subject to Israel’s genocidal war machine, which has been grinding all over Palestine. Since last October, Israeli forces have killed over five hundred Palestinians in the West Bank, in what the UN human rights chief has described as “unprecedented bloodshed.” The holy city of Jerusalem has fared hardly better. Marking the annual Flag Day, or Jerusalem Day, which for Palestinians marks Israel’s occupation of Arab Jerusalem and the start of apartheid, and incited by Ben-Gvir’s calls to occupy the al-Aqsa Mosque, on Wednesday a mob of over one thousand Israeli settlers stormed through the Muslim Quarter into the Muslim holy site in Jerusalem, sacred to two billion Muslims. They assaulted Palestinian worshippers and Palestinian journalist Saif Qawasmi, attacked Palestinian shops in the Old City and chanted genocidal slogans including “Death to Arabs” and “May your village burn.”

Israel continues to act with impunity in Gaza and beyond. In its brutal war on Palestinians, Israel seems to be emboldened by essentially unconditional military and diplomatic support from the United States, bolstered by a new congressional bill to sanction the International Criminal Court after it issued arrest warrants for Israeli officials, and a bipartisan invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress.

Colombian president Gustavo Petro offered a fiery condemnation of the United States’ role in the ongoing genocide in his acceptance speech for the Great Medal of the State of Palestine on Monday: “The bombs in Gaza are not fired by simple Israeli soldiers: it is big capital in the world, centralized, coordinated, influencing the governments. . . . The Nazis are in power. They rise through financial capital; they manage to run the government of the USA.”