Gaza City, Gaza – On May 19, shortly after midnight, a reconnaissance missile struck the roof of the Muhareb family home in Rafah in the south of the besieged Gaza Strip.
Two minutes later, an Israeli warplane fired another missile, which crashed down two floors of the house, but somehow did not explode.
“My brother and his family, who live on the second floor, were wounded by the reconnaissance missile,” Waseem Muhareb told Al Jazeera. “My four-month-old baby was in a coma for two days, and my eight-year-old granddaughter Layan was in intensive care units for 10 days with bruises all over her body.”
The extended house of the Muhareb family, inhabited by 36 adults and children, has been ruined. The second missile had crashed into one of the children’s rooms before landing on the first floor.
“There was no warning,” said Waseem, whose family is now in rented accommodation nearby. “The whole ordeal happened in the space of three minutes.”
Risks and dangers
The next day, the bomb disposal team arrived and removed the unexploded ordnance as well as the remains of the reconnaissance project.
The team, which operates under the interior ministry, has carried out 1,200 missions to neutralize, disarm and destroy unexploded ordnance and dangerous ammunition in Gaza’s residential areas since May 10, when Israel began an 11-day bombing raid. of the coastal enclave.
The escalation of violence followed a crackdown by Israeli forces on protesters in the compound of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem. Hamas, the Palestinian group that governs Gaza, has issued an ultimatum for Israeli forces to withdraw from the area around the holy site, which is also sacred to Jews, who call it the Temple Mount.
After the ultimatum expired, Hamas fired several rounds at Jerusalem and shortly after Israel launched airstrikes on Gaza. The Israeli bombardment continued for 11 days and killed at least 260 Palestinians, including 66 children, according to health authorities. Races shot by armed groups in Gaza have killed at least 13 people in Israel. Hamas and Israel agreed to a ceasefire on May 21.
The bombing of Gaza caused it widespread damage to infrastructure, including the destruction of 1,800 housing units, 74 public buildings, 53 educational facilities, and 33 media offices. The damage to a water desalination plant has also left more than 250,000 Palestinians without drinking water.
Captain Mahmoud Meqdad, an explosives engineer at Gaza’s interior ministry, told Al Jazeera that the 70-man bomb disposal team has not suffered one casualty during its work since 10 a.m. may, despite the lack of vital protective equipment.
“The team does not have protective vests or high-tech equipment that could reveal the presence of explosives,” Meqdad said. “They just have a simple equipment, like a box of tools that can be found in almost every family.”
The engineer said that, under a 13-year Israeli blockade of Gaza, the entry of protective equipment used by bomb disposal teams into Gaza has been banned.
Meqdad said the main risk associated with working during the Israeli offensive was the possibility that the team could be targeted.
“The second risk is the type of ammunition that Israel dropped, how dangerous they are, and whether the assigned technician could calibrate all of that with the rudimentary equipment at his disposal,” Meqdad said.
The last step in the process of collecting and neutralizing unexploded ordnance is to transfer them to the central warehouse, located in Rafah, in preparation for their destruction.
Meqdad said the latest offensive witnessed a new type of weapon used for the first time on the Gaza Strip – the GBU-31 and GBU-39 Joint Direct Attack Ammunition (JDAM) explosives. Developed to penetrate heavily fortified military sites, the two-ton explosives were used to level skyscrapers housing residential apartments, as well as commercial and media offices.
Training and experience in the field
The bomb disposal team was set up in 1996 when the Palestinian Authority ruled Gaza. The first team was given a course by U.S. experts, and in 2006, the team was reinforced by the addition of more engineers and technicians.
After the Israeli mortality 2008-2009 offensive in Gaza, the UN Mining Action Service (UNMAS) has begun operations in addition to training the interior minister’s bomb disposal team.
Between 2014 and 2020, UNMAS responded to 876 requests for explosive device disposal (EOD), directly eliminated and destroyed 150 large aerial bombs containing 29,500 kilograms of explosive materials, and supported the release of 7,340 explosive war remnants (ERW).
Meqdad said new recruits to the bomb disposal team receive their training from current employees, based on their years of experience working in the field.
“During the last 10-11 years, no one working in this field has left Gaza to receive training abroad,” he said.
“Every day can be your last”
Asad al-Aloul, who has been the head of the bomb disposal team for the past eight years, said his job is the most dangerous in the security division, which includes police and security agencies. internal.
“The choice to work in this field is our choice and a mark of honor while eliminating all harms and dangers that threaten our citizens,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Just working in explosives engineering means you’re a martyr,” he added. “Every day you leave at work can mean your last day on earth, so any mistake means it will be the last mistake you make – without exception.”
In 2014, three technicians from the bomb disposal team they were killed, in addition to a foreign journalist and a Palestinian translator present on the scene, following an attempt to disarm a missile in northern Gaza.
Despite the risks of the job, al-Aloul said he did not consider stopping the job.
“Who else will take and protect our children from injury or death, knowing all these risks?” he said. “We are working to provide a better future for the next generation so we don’t have to live with amputations caused by a missile or an explosive bomb.”
“Every day sees death, but the savior is God.” It’s an honor to die while defending our people. ”