GAZA CITY -- Thousands of Palestinians filled Gaza City’s main square on Thursday to celebrate their "victory" in the latest round of violence with Israel, even as rescue workers were still sifting through the rubble of a home in the neighborhood of El Nasr on the city's outskirts.
Earlier in the week, rescue workers frantically combed through the three-story house, which was reduced to rubble by an Israeli airstrike that killed 12 people -- ten from a single family that included four children. Israel claimed it was home to a high-ranking commander with Hamas’ military wing.
The incident -- or, as Palestinians here describe it, "the Dallo massacre," in reference to the family that lived there -- has become one of the defining moments of the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza.
After eight days of fighting -- 1,500 Israeli airstrikes and 1,500 Palestinian rockets fired, according to Israel Defense Forces -- both sides emerged claiming to be victorious: Palestinian factions for "resisting" and "withstanding" the might of the world’s fourth largest military; Israel for dealing Hamas a blow while minimizing the casualties of Hamas rockets on Israel.
But in the small farming community of Attatra, there were no winners.
Walid, 42, and has family were at home on Tuesday night when the Israeli military began dropping leaflets on their farm. Even before the leaflets hit the ground, Walid knew it what they were -- a warning sign. The Israeli military ordered them and their neighbors to evacuate their area immediately.
In 2008, Walid was sitting at home when the same leaflets fell on his house. Back then, he did not heed the warning. Instead he and his family remained on their farm. During that Israeli ground invasion of Gaza, Walid’s brother was killed, Walid’s home was destroyed and their farm, the source of their livelihood, razed.
His is one of a thousand similar stories. This time around, he knew what a ground invasion would mean for his family. So he didn’t chance it. Once he saw the leaflets fall he packed his children and wife in the back of a car, grabbed whatever blankets, sheets and clothes they could, and headed to his sister's house where along with 40 other extended family members they took shelter until a ceasefire went into effect on Wednesday evening.
There are no early warning systems, no bunkers or shelters to find a moment of refuge in the chaos of war for the people of Gaza. There is no Israeli-style Iron Dome system to protect them, just "Naseeb" – the Arabic word for destiny.
As the shops opened up and storekeepers surveyed the damage, families began setting up mourning tents to welcome condolences for those who died.
Near NBC News' hotel, a mourning tent was set up for 44-year-old Mohammed Saeed Al Qaddada. He was a member of Fatah, Hamas’ political rival that Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the American-backed Palestinian Authority, belongs to.
He was killed by an airstrike on his car while he was with fighters ferrying weapons and rockets, according to family. He was not loyal to Hamas, but felt compelled to join their ranks when Israel began another attack on Gaza.
At the Red Crescent ambulance dispatch center in Tel el Hawa, first responders worked nonstop for eight days. It’s not uncommon for the men and women here to spend days at a time away from their homes and families.
On the day our crew spent a few hours with them they were dispatched multiple times, all to rescue or treat casualties from Israel’s attacks -- including a young child suffering from shock after a wall in the family home collapsed.
The plight of the first responders pales in comparison to the doctors at Gaza City’s main hospital. Poorly equipped, understaffed and inadequately trained, doctors and nurses worked endlessly to treat -- sometimes unsuccessfully -- the flow of patients. By the end of the fighting, the death toll stood at 162 people killed, according to hospital officials.
The painful reality of Gaza is that even after the fighting, the return to "normal" is far from it.
Blockaded since 2006 and under siege since 2007, Gaza has become a tough place to live. The U.N. predicts it will be uninhabitable by 2020. Stifled, underdeveloped and destitute, Gaza is a place where residents wait for their "Naseeb" to change.
At a small auto mechanic shop a young technician named Wissam was covered in the grime of grease, car oil and dirt. His shop had reopened for the first time in days. He was not expecting any patrons on Thursday but for him it was important to get back to normal.
"Don’t feel sorry for those who died in this war, they are martyrs and will go to heaven," he said. "Feel sorry for those us who will have to stay here trapped in Gaza."
Back at the Dallo house, the workers sifting through the rubble made a gruesome discovery. Days after the attack and hours after they had begun once again to clear the rubble, they found the body of seven-year-old Ranin and the body of 35-year-old Mohammed el Dallo -- raising the death toll to 164.
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