Palestinian Arts Centre Razed by Israeli Air Strikes in Gaza Strip
Locals dispute the Israeli military’s claim that the building served as a headquarters for Hamas security forces
A Palestinian arts centre located in the west of Gaza City was destroyed on Thursday by a series of Israeli air strikes. The Israeli military said that they had targeted the Al-Meshal Cultural Center, as it was being used as headquarters by Hamas. The Palestinian-Islamist organization, in control of the Gaza Strip, later claimed that the Israeli Defense Forces had taken out the wrong building, and that their headquarters was in fact positioned across the road.
An Israeli spokesperson initially said that the targeted building housed Hamas’s interior security forces, who were using it for military purposes and as an office for ‘active unit members’. The IDF said that they had carried out the strike in retaliation for rockets fired by Hamas at Israel.
Palestinians disputed the claim, with one local telling Israeli newspaper Haaretz that ‘the attacked building is an art and culture centre which has no political or security use […] There is no reason to target this building other than harming a Palestinian cultural symbol.’ The building is said to have hosted a library and Egyptian community centre, as well as an arts theatre.
Theatre director Idrees Taleb told Middle East Eye that the building had no relation to any political party: it had ‘nothing to do with Palestinian political factions.’ A young artist, Alaa Qudaih, lamented the reduction of the arts centre to ruins, telling the news organization: ‘I used to visit the al-Meshal centre regularly because I am interested in art and theatre, especially since there are no real cinemas in Gaza.’
The destruction of the arts centre followed an intense wave of bombing, with Israeli officials saying they had hit 150 targets in response to 180 rockets launched from Gaza. Palestinian victims included a nine-months-pregnant woman and her toddler. Reuters reported a truce, facilitated by Egypt, following the violence.
Conflict at the Gaza-Israel border has escalated since the start of weekly protests demanding Palestinians’s right to return to homes in Israel at the beginning of March, with many civilians killed in the March to Return demonstrations. Israel claim that such protesters have been deployed by Hamas. In April, the Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja, who had worked with the artists Ai Weiwei and Basma Alsharif, was shot dead by Israeli snipers while covering the clashes.