For residents of the central neighborhoods of Gaza City, the past nine days have been unusually brutal.
The prosperous heart of Gaza’s Palestinian society, in the past, conflict areas such as Tal al-Hawa and al-Rimal have been less affected by the periodic wars between Israel and Hamas that have rocked the coastal strip since 2008.
However, all that has changed in the latest round of conflict.
In the apartment blocks and houses from where Gaza’s professionals and businessmen saw from their windows the worst of the bombings of past wars, the conflict has returned home in recent days.
Over the weekend, Israeli attacks struck al-Rimal’s heart, killing 42 people alone on Wehda Street, the road that runs near Shifa hospital and runs through the heart of the district.
Another controversial strike brought down the Jalaa Tower, home to the Associated Press and Al Jazeera offices.
On Tuesday morning, an Israeli military spokesman, Hidai Zilberman, said that the al-Rimal district would once again be the focus of the attacks and would continue to be attacked throughout the day.
Most professionals living in the more affluent areas have not had to flee to a UN-run shelter. Instead, in the past, they have received relatives from further afield.
“Al-Rimal is the backbone of Gaza City,” said Taghreed Al-Omari, 38, who lives in a three-story building with her husband’s brothers and children.
“It is the most beautiful place in Gaza City. This time of year it is usually packed with people for the Eid holidays and beyond. But now it is empty, full of rubble and sadness.
“Now every day there are bombings in our area and there is a building that is collapsing. Most of the windows in the house are broken, we replaced it with plastic temporarily, and there are cracks in the walls of the house.
“I used to see my friends in other areas of the Gaza Strip. In this war I am receiving calls to control us. In similar periods of conflict in the past, my husband’s relatives came to our home to escape from their homes in different areas of the Gaza Strip. This time no one came to our house because the bombing is closer to us than to them.
“Usually people from border areas, most of them go to UNRWA [United Nations relief and works agency for Palestine refugees] schools as a refuge. We have never been through that experience. And if our house is attacked, we will go to the house of our relatives or friends.
Away from the narrow alleys of crowded refugee camps like neighboring al-Shati, where Hamas was born, those living in these areas are the minority who can afford to socialize and dine in the Gaza Strip’s restaurants and hotels, buy panels when electricity is scarce and it more easily survives its economic, security and social vicissitudes.
Made up of university professors, doctors, civil servants and businessmen from Gaza, they are a class, sometimes separate and often more secular, that historically has tended to be more critical of Hamas.
All of which raises the question of why areas like al-Rimal have been so affected.
While the Israel Defense Forces have spoken of Gaza City as a whole as the “nerve center” of Hamas, saying they are targeting Hamas assets and high-ranking leaders hidden among the civilian population, including claims of a huge network of buried tunnels, some Palestinians in Gaza believe the areas are under attack precisely because they are richer.
Mkhaimar Abusada, a political science professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza and a well-known analyst, has also noted that the middle class is much more affected than in previous conflicts.
“It is clear that pressure is being exerted on the middle class in Gaza by shelling the al-Rimal area harder. Forty-two people died on Wehda Street, which constitutes about a quarter of those killed during the war. “
A former Knesset member, Chaim Yelin, had suggested in 2018 that destroying al-Rimal, the main center of Gaza’s economy, would mean that “the elites will have no place to return to.”
But if it is a tactic to pressure an influential section of Palestinian society by bringing the war home to them and pressuring Hamas to stop firing rockets, Abusada is not convinced that it is necessarily effective.
“It seems that an understanding is being suggested in recent days: stop firing rockets towards Tel Aviv in return, we will stop the bombing of the Gaza towers.
“But I don’t think the pressure on Gaza’s middle class will push people to demand that Hamas stop firing rockets.
“Because there is no real economy in Gaza in the real sense. Gaza is not Beirut, it is not Cairo and it is not Amman. The Arab countries have something to lose, while Gaza has nothing to lose. “
For Muhammad Al-Mashlakhoun, 42, a father of four who works for a non-governmental organization and lives in an apartment on the fifth floor of a ten-story residential building in the center of al-Rimal, the last week and a half have been distressing.
“This war seems more cruel here than other previous wars,” he told the Guardian, describing his experience of the current fight.
“I have lived in Gaza my whole life. Previous wars [in 2008, 2012 and 2014] There was much more fighting in the border areas, but this time I don’t know why, there have been deliberate attacks in the center of Gaza City.
“There is shelling in many areas of the Gaza Strip, but these areas have not seen what has happened in al-Rimal and the center of Gaza City this time.
“Many neighboring buildings to ours were hit. Government headquarters and towers were bombed, including the Shorooq Tower, which is 100 meters from my house, as well as the Jalaa Tower, where AJ [Al Jazeera] and the Associated Press meet.
“And there was the Al-Jawhara tower, which is less than 500 meters from my house.
“What do I have to do? I don’t know. Should I go to areas further away from the center of Gaza City? There is no safe place in the entire Gaza Strip.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism