A bulldozer unloads the bodies of Palestinians killed in Israeli...

A bulldozer unloads the bodies of Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes and turned over by the Israeli military during a mass funeral in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2023. Credit: AP/Fatima Shbair

BEIRUT — To a degree never seen before, Israel’s air and ground campaign in Gaza is killing entire Palestinian families.

Entire bloodlines, sometimes four generations from the same family, have perished in single airstrikes or a series of airstrikes on members of the same family sheltering together from the bombs. Often there is no warning.

An Associated Press investigation identified at least 60 Palestinian families where 25 people or more were killed in bombings between October and December. It was the deadliest and most destructive phase of the war, now in its ninth month.

Here are the key takeaways from the AP analysis:

No one left to document the toll

Several families have almost no one left to document the toll and thousands cannot account for all their dead because so many bodies remain under rubble.

The AP review encompassed casualty records released by Gaza’s health ministry until March, online death notices, family and neighborhood social media pages and spreadsheets, witness and survivor accounts, as well as a data from Airwars, a London-based conflict monitor. AP also geolocated and analyzed 10 Israeli strikes, among the deadliest in the war, between Oct. 7 and Dec. 24. Together the strikes killed more than 500 people.

Among the hardest hit are the Mughrabi family: more than 70 were killed in a single Israeli airstrike in December. The Abu Najas: over 50 were killed in October strikes, including at least two pregnant women. The large Doghmush clan lost at least 44 members in a strike on a mosque and the total soared over 100 weeks later; by spring, over 80 members of the Abu al-Qumssan family had been killed.

“The numbers are shocking,” said Hussam Abu al-Qumssan.

No warning, no access

Gaza was under siege before the war, but since Oct. 7 Israel and Egypt have totally blocked access for outside reporting teams or independent investigators. Hundreds of local reporters juggled covering the relentless Israeli bombings – 6,000 in the first five days of the war – while running for their own lives and seeking shelter for themselves and their families.

In the first month after Hamas deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which killed about 1,200 people, Gaza’s health ministry said 300 Palestinian families lost over 10 members. That’s twice as many as during the devastating 51-day war of 2014.

The 10 strikes analyzed by AP mainly hit residential buildings, homes and shelters where parents, children, grandparents were huddled together for safety. In no case was there an obvious military target or direct warning to those inside. The Salem family has lost at least 270 members in all.

At one point the Salems raised a white flag on their building, which was in the midst of a battle zone. They told the army they will not leave because they said nowhere was safe.

Over 170 members of the family were killed in two bombings eight days apart. Three strikes over four weeks killed 30 al-Agha members; and a series of strikes in a refugee camp in December killed 106 people from at least four families. A Dec. 24 attack was the first time Israel admitted “mistakenly” striking next to its intended targets.

In one attack in the crowded Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza, Israeli bombs erased an entire block of buildings. Nearly 40 members of the Abu al-Qumssan family were killed, while the toll for that Oct. 31 attack remains unknown. Unusually, Israel identified a target, saying it went after a senior Hamas commander.

Why it’s part of the war crimes and genocide cases

Israel has said it takes measures to mitigate agains t civilian harm. In past conflicts, it often directly warned civilians about to be targeted. But in this war, that method is rarely used, replaced by evacuation orders for entire areas that not everyone can or will obey.

When civilian deaths are involved, the laws of war come down to a question of proportionality, whether the military advantage justifies the destruction.

The world’s top court, the International Court of Justice is considering whether Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. The killing of families across generations is a key part of t he case.

Separately, the International Criminal Court prosecutor is seeking arrest warrants for two Israeli leaders for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including for the intentional killing of civilians, as well as for three Hamas leaders over crimes connected to the Oct. 7 attack.

Craig Jones, a lecturer at Newcastle University who studied the role of Israel’s military lawyers, said Israel has clearly relaxed its standards for civilian casualties, fueled by anger over the Oct. 7 attacks and domestic politics.

The law of war allows for a “sort of rushed form of warfare” with higher civilian casualties where a military needs to respond quickly and in changing circumstances. But “Israel is just so clearly violating the law because it’s pushing the rules so far,” he said.

How the deaths affect the Palestinian future

The deaths of so many Palestinian families will reverberate for generations. Kinship reaches far beyond the nuclear family in Gaza. Compounds, frequently multiple buildings of three stories or more, are occupied by an entire bloodline.

When the Salem family home in northern Gaza was destroyed in 2009, Youssef and his brothers chipped in to rebuild it for their father and uncles. It was damaged again in 2014. Now it is a skeleton, torched from the inside.

Palestinians will remember entire families that have disappeared from their lives, said Ramy Abdu, chairman for the Geneva-based EuroMed Human Rights Monitor, which monitors the Gaza war.

“It is like a whole village or hamlet has been wiped out.”

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