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August 14, 2018

Israeli Military Razes Palestinian Cultural Center in Series of Airstrikes

GAZA, PALESTINE—The al-Meshal Foundation in the Gaza Strip, one of the few cultural centers in Palestine, has been completely destroyed in a series of airstrikes that Israeli military forces launched on Thursday, August 9. Eighteen people suffered minor injuries in the attack.

The Israeli Defense Forces said that it targeted the five-story building, which housed a theater, library, an Egyptian community center, and offices for several cultural organizations, because it was allegedly being used as a headquarters for Hamas. Artists and other creatives who regularly worked at and visited the foundation have vehemently denied these allegations.

For twenty-three-year-old Hanin al-Holy, Israel razed the building because it lifted the Palestinians' morale. “They only targeted the building because they insist on destroying anything that brings life to the Gaza population,” he said in an interview with Middle East Eye. “Al-Meshal centre was a symbol of culture, something that reinforced our Palestinian identity. They targeted it because art is, too, a form of resistance.”

Idrees Taleb, a twenty-seven-year-old theater director who was preparing a new production at the center, said the structure had nothing to do with Palestinian political factions. He had left the building at 3:30 PM the day of the airstrikes and when he returned around 6 PM he said he was shocked to discover that it was no longer standing.

Israeli Defense Forces posted video footage of the bombing on Twitter and wrote that the building served as the office of Hamas militants. “The strike was carried out in response to the rockets Hamas fired at Israel, one of which was fired at the city of Be’er Sheva, which is more than twenty-four miles from Gaza,” an IDF spokesperson wrote.

According to Haaretz, the Israeli military claims that last week Gaza fired some two hundred rockets at Israel, marking the first time it has launched a rocket attack since the 2014 Gaza war. More than thirty rockets were intercepted by the country’s defense system. One woman was seriously injured as a result of the attack.

In return, Israel launched missiles at Gaza overnight on Wednesday, August 8, and struck 150 targets in the territory. Three Palestinians were killed in the airstrikes, including a twenty-three-year-old pregnant woman, her eighteen-month-old toddler, and a thirty-year-old man, who was allegedly associated with Hamas. Following the escalation of hostilities between Israel and Gaza, they supposedly agreed on a ceasefire late Thursday. However, there have been conflicting reports in the media about whether an agreement was actually reached.

On Friday, the Palestinian Ministry of Culture in Gaza held a press conference on the ruins of the al-Meshal Foundation and dozens of people gathered to protest the attack. Among the demonstrators were members of the band al-Anqaa (the Phoenix), who lost their equipment when the center was destroyed. “Israel's message is clear,” band manager Eid Musabbeh told Middle East Eye. “Destroying such a prominent cultural building in Gaza has only one meaning, that its war is not only against armed factions and Palestinians but also against anything that has to do with the Palestinian identity.”

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