On Thursday, August 9, the al-Meshal Foundation, a cultural center in Gaza housing the region’s second-largest theater, was decimated by Israeli military forces. The five-floor edifice housed a library, an Egyptian community center, offices for cultural associations, and a theater for arts and dabkeh. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) targeted the structure as an alleged Hamas headquarters.
Around 6:30 pm local time, Israeli warplanes launched missiles into the building, leveling it to the ground. Surrounding buildings were faced with residual structural damage. Eighteen Gazan civilians were wounded in the attack and sent to al-Shifa Hospital for minor injuries. Reports indicate that neighborhood residents received phone calls from Israeli forces before the attack, cautioning them to evacuate prior to the destruction.
al-Meshal existed as one of few operating cultural centers in Palestine. Alaa Qudaih, an 18-year-old artist who is warmly referred to in her community as “the youngest photographer in Palestine,” has expressed her sadness surrounding the center’s destruction. She told the Middle East Eye, “I used to visit the al-Meshal centre regularly because I am interested in art and theatre, especially that there are no real cinemas in Gaza.”
The Middle East Eye reported that the center had been preparing for an upcoming play during the Eid al-Adha holiday break, “Anesthesia Syringe.” Edrees Taleb, an al-Meshal employee of over 8 years, told the publication:
We finished the preparations at about 3:30pm, and I went home to have some rest. When I came back at around 6pm, the building was gone. I am shocked and suffocated … Israel says its forces targeted the building because part of it was used by Hamas. But I have been there for more than eight years, there has never been anything related to any political party. Not in the past, and not recently.
An IDF spokesman told the press the attack was “an expression of the IDF’s intelligence and operational capabilities, which will expand and intensify as necessary.” Hamas has responded to the demolition, saying the IDF identified the wrong building, their actual headquarters located across the street from the celebrated cultural institution.
The IDF posted military-view video footage of the missile launches. They report, “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 24 miles from Gaza.” Israel’s Housing Minister Yoav Gallant, an advisor on the Israeli security cabinet, said yesterday, “Whatever is needed to protect our citizens and our soldiers will be done, no matter what the price will be in Gaza.”
Violence has been escalating in the region throughout the week. On Wednesday night, an Israeli airstrike killed three Palestinians: a man, and a 9-months-pregnant woman and her 18-month-old daughter. The mother was buried with her child, and her husband was sent to the hospital with injuries from the same attack. There have been a series of raids and bombings throughout Gaza in the past 48 hours, including what reports suggest is a bombing a mosque and water infrastructure by the IDF. Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations says that over 180 rockets and mortars were launched toward Israeli territory from Gaza during this period.
Hamas leaders said late Thursday that a truce had been reached with Israel to conclude the recent frenzy of violence, though an Israeli official denied the claims. Reports say the agreement was facilitated with support from Egyptian government intelligence and the United Nation’s Middle East envoy.