Ali Jadallah, the longtime war photographer, posted dramatic images from the site of his destroyed home in Gaza City on Tuesday, describing a profound sense of loss. His wife and two young children survived the attack, but the fear of what could come next was overwhelming.
“I pray to God that we make it out of this alive,” he said.
The next day, while photographing the funeral of a medic’s family at Al-Shifa Hospital, Ali overheard a conversation about an airstrike that had struck the neighborhood of Sheikh Ridwan, where generations of his family lived across multiple buildings. He ran to his car and drove straight home.
When he arrived, he found his father’s apartment building had been flattened by an airstrike, and his parents, siblings and extended family were trapped in the rubble. Rescue workers and residents were searching for survivors with makeshift tools unfit for the scale of the damage.
I met Ali, 33, on several reporting trips to Gaza, and he recounted what he witnessed in a phone interview with me on Thursday. Over his nearly 15 years as a war reporter, he has covered almost every major deadly escalation of violence on the enclave. He has photographed images that have become synonymous with Gaza: piles of rubble, corpses, grieving relatives’ despairing faces, funerals.
On Wednesday, however, he stood without a camera, filled with desperation.
Years of experience taught Ali that if there was a slim chance to find survivors, the rescuers would need to listen for their cries. He asked them for silence.
“I stuck my head into the opening and started asking: ‘Is anyone in there? Is anyone alive? If there is anyone, try to shout,’” Ali said.
A voice broke through. “I heard my mother saying, ‘Yes, yes,’” he said.
As rescuers dug out the rubble around his mother, Ali clasped her blackened hand and kissed it repeatedly, begging her to stay alive. He placed an oxygen mask over her mouth.
“We’re here with you,” he told her. “You just need to breath and pray.” He covered her eyes to block out dust. Video posted to social media showed him crouching over her.
His mother, Hayat Jadallah, survived, but the airstrike killed nearly every other member of his family.
From the debris, Ali and the rescuers pulled the bodies of his three brothers: Salah and Khaled, 27-year-old twins, who ran an online business; and Saleh, 20, a university student. Four of Ali’s female first cousins were also killed.
His retired father, Hassan Jadallah, and his 29-year-old sister, Duaa Jadallah, a medical worker, remained trapped under the rubble and were presumed dead. On Thursday, Ali was still searching, but the mass of twisted concrete seemed impenetrable, he said.
“Our arms hurt, and the hammers broke in vain,” he said. “No matter how much we dug, we removed one obstacle, only to find two more.”
A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces did not confirm on Thursday whether it had targeted the apartment building, in the Sheikh Ridwan district of Gaza City, offering instead a brief statement that said, “We’re at war.”
But videos posted to social media, along with satellite imagery reviewed by The New York Times, confirm that a building in the neighborhood was completely destroyed on Wednesday.
Israel continues to pound Gaza with airstrikes in retaliation for coordinated Hamas attacks on Saturday that left more than 1,200 victims dead.
On Thursday, Gaza’s Health Ministry reported that more than 1,500 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli bombardments since Saturday, including 500 children, and that more than 6,600 people had been wounded, including more than 1,600 children.
“This war is different; they aren’t calling you to tell you to stay away from a certain area or ask you to evacuate the office,” Ali said. “No, they are telling you to evacuate an entire block and they keep bombing that block. Anything that’s alive, they are destroying.”
Ali’s mother suffered injuries to her pelvis, right leg, her face and palms. She does not know that her other children, husband and other relatives were killed. Ali has not been able to tell her.
On Thursday, Ali lifted the bodies of his relatives onto the back of a truck. In keeping with Islamic tradition, they were all wrapped in simple white cloths.
For the second time in less than 24 hours, Ali attended the funeral of Palestinians killed by Israeli bombardments in Gaza. But this time, he took no photographs.
Malachy Browne, Wissam Nassar and Abeer Pamuk contributed reporting.