Gaza Strip, Palestine — At least 36 people were killed in a five-day spate of violence in Palestine and Israel between May 9-13. In the Gaza Strip, 34 Palestinians were killed, including over a dozen civilians and numerous children. In Israel, a Palestinian man and an Israeli woman were also killed in the violence. More than 190 Palestinians and 40 Israelis were injured, and over 243 housing units were severely damaged or destroyed, internally displacing 1,244 Palestinians, according to the independent analysis provider ACAPS.
The death and destruction spawned from what Israeli forces called “Operation Shield and Arrow.” Airstrikes targeted leaders of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) movement, or Islamic Jihad movement, assassinating them along with some of their family members. The PIJ in turn responded with over 1,400 rockets.
Unicorn Riot was on scene to document many destroyed Palestinian housing units and speak to some of the owners. We filmed as rockets were fired into Israel — some of which were destroyed by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system. Unicorn Riot also documented the massive funerals in Gaza.
After the death of Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan in an Israeli prison on May 2, 2023, over 20 rockets were fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip, provoking, in part, the following operation. Adnan had been arrested on Feb. 5 for the 13th time and immediately started a hunger strike after he was placed on administrative detention — Israel’s controversial practice of holding prisoners indefinitely with no trial date and no access to lawyers.
Adnan died as he entered his 87th day of hunger strike. His death was immediately condemned and many blamed Israel for medical negligence. Palestine’s Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh called Adnan’s death “an assassination.”
Adnan was a well-known resistance figure and was once a leader in the PIJ. Founded in 1981 with the mission to create an independent Palestinian state, the PIJ is the second-largest armed Palestinian group in the Gaza Strip behind Hamas, who has governed the territory since 2007.
Both Hamas and PIJ are labeled as ‘foreign terrorist organizations’ (FTOs) by the U.S. and Israel, while many Palestinians and their supporters consider such groups to be elements in a legitimate armed resistance campaign to overturn the illegal Israeli occupation. PIJ leaders were heavily targeted for assassination during Israel’s Operation Breaking Dawn that killed at least 44 Palestinians last August.
On May 9, 2023, one week after Adnan’s death and the 21 rockets, Israel launched Operation Shield and Arrow. According to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), the operation started with targeting “three Islamic Jihad senior operatives … responsible for launching rockets toward Israel over the last month and were planning future terrorist attacks against Israel.”
The first wave of strikes targeted PIJ members and what Israel called “weapons manufacturing facilities.” At least 15 Palestinians were killed and 20 others wounded from the May 9 strikes. Three commanders in Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the PIJ, were killed: Jihad Al-Ghanam, Khalil Al-Bahtini, and Tariq Ezz El-Din. The Ministry of Health said that women and children were among the victims — several were wives and children of the commanders.
A spokesman for the Israeli army, Richard Hecht, told reporters that 40 aircrafts participated in the Israeli raids, adding, “We achieved what we wanted to achieve.”
The army said that the three targeted leaders were among the most prominent planners of the movement, and they were involved in operations that recently targeted Israelis. “We did our best to focus our strikes” on the targets, and “if there are tragic deaths, we will investigate,” said Hecht.
Among the dead was also the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Al-Wafa Hospital, Dr. Jamal Khaswan, who also held Russian citizenship. He was killed along with his wife and son. The Russian Representative Office in Palestine expressed its regret in a tweet.
A couple days later, dozens of rockets were launched from Gaza targeting Israeli territory. According to local sources, the rockets were fired at Israel in retaliation for the IDF’s continued bombings. In response, Israel pressed ahead with a series of airstrikes.
On Friday, May 13, 2023, Israeli forces assassinated the head of the operations unit of the Al-Quds Brigades, Iyad al-Hassani, considered the most prominent military figure of PIJ.
The sixth leader in the Al-Quds Brigades assassinated in a three-day span, Al-Hassani was responsible for the Operations Unit of the Military Council. Al-Hassani’s assistant Muhammad Abdel-Al was also killed in the strike. Five of the six leaders killed were members of Al-Quds’ Military Council.
The Israeli bombings caused significant damage to the water, electricity and other infrastructure networks in the Gaza Strip. At least 2,943 housing units were damaged in Gaza, on top of the 243 destroyed or severely damaged homes. Agricultural land was also damaged.
“We lived our whole lives here, learned here, aspired here in this house. In an instant, the house became rubble.” Abdel Masry spoke with Unicorn Riot about living with four families and 16 people in a house that was just bombed by Israeli forces in Beit Lahiya in the Gaza Strip. Masry said Israeli forces and came and told him and his family they needed to leave as the house was to be bombed.
“The Israeli army called us to evacuate the house before they would blow it. The children collapsed and women collapsed in devastation. Taking as much as possible and quickly, we evacuated the house with the children and women. We went out into the street, and they contacted us again telling us to move farther because the explosion will be huge. Suddenly, the house was bombed by a drone missile, and moments later there was a very strong explosion. The whole area shook, and we were then on rubble.”Abdel Masry, house was bombed by Israeli airstrike in May 2023
See ACAPS full report (pdf) on the May 9-13 “escalation of violence in Gaza.”
Since 1967, Israel has occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Israel has effectively created an apartheid state, building illegal settlements and systematically violating the human rights of Palestinians while controlling their movements.
Israel has also imposed an air, land and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip since 2007, causing a continual humanitarian crisis with the 2.3 million people living in Gaza.