Palestininans walk through rubble past a mini ferris wheel set up for Eid al-Fetr festivities after an Israeli strike in Beit Hanun on July 26, 2014.
GAZA CITY, Gaza—It was the first day of Eid, the Muslim celebration that caps the end of Ramadan, a day meant for celebration, joy and fun. But in Gaza, the day ended with bloodshed. More than 50 children were standing in line, waiting for their turn on a ramshackle ferris wheel, when a bomb hit, blasting the day of joy into a day of mourning.
I stayed in Gaza for only five days. I write ”only” because the civilians are trapped there. They can't flee because the borders with Israel and Egypt are closed and, on the other side, there is only water patrolled by Israeli military. That is why people refer to Gaza as the biggest prison in the world.
During my short time in Gaza, I spent a lot of time at Shifa, the main hospital. I've covered numerous conflicts and wars in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen during my ten years as a journalist, but I've never seen so many dead or wounded children. “It's a war against the children,” I heard several foreign journalists say. By that they meant that even if it isn't Israel's intention to hit the kids, the fact is hundreds have already died, killed by Israel's bombs.
During my fourth day there, ambulances carried untold wounded children to the hospital and — if the kids were lucky — their grieving parents, too. How many mothers and fathers did I not see at that hospital, distraught by grief or staring ahead of them with vacant eyes because they'd been told their child had died and they would never be able to hug or kiss their child again.
We pride ourselves on professional distance to events. But it was unbearable. Many times I broke down. I had to remove myself and find somewhere to cry, unobserved. And just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, it got worse.
Hearing that her child was dead, a mother fainted. A father, told that his son would never rise from the hospital bed again, began shouting ”Allahu Akbar,” ”Allahu Akbar” with a quivering voice, as if the invocation of God could somehow help him, now that his child was gone for good.
A boy was trying to walk down the hallway in the hospital, leaning on two adult family members. He wasn't older than 12. Half of his face was shattered. For the rest of his life, he will bear the mark of war. People will look away from his mutilated face when they see him walking down the street. Another kid, a five-year-old girl with burns all over her body, is also scarred for life.
A three-year-old boy was so frightened by the bombing that he ran from his father's arms, falling in his panic and getting a concussion. Next to the boy was a little car toy, donated by a charity to celebrate Eid. The young father was standing next to the boy's bed, caressing his son’s cheeks. He was trying to be brave but he had tears in his eyes. Once in a while the child threw up. The father did his best to comfort the kid.
Before I left, I went over and gave the father a hug. I have 6-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter, and I could imagine what the young father was going through. “May God be with your child,” I told him. He nodded politely, even smiled a little, and it occurred to me that it's not just the children who need comfort; the parents do, too.
During a 24-hour ceasefire, the residents of Shujaiya, Beit Hanoun and Khan Younis, where some of the most severe fighting have taken place, had the chance to finally search for loved ones under the rubble.
When I walked around Shujaiya, I couldn't stop thinking of pictures showing the aftermath of the bombing of Dresden in 1945.
It was like everything had been swept off the face of the earth; there was just crying men and women, searching for belongings and family keepsakes in the dust. “Nothing! There is nothing left,” a crying woman was saying. I saw a group of men suddenly shouting. I ran over and realized that they'd found a body in the rubble. Other men came running, some of them looking desperate. When they saw the body, they started to cry — here was a father, a brother. His body was so crushed and dusty that it was impossible to determine his age.
Two women came running toward the rubble. To spare the women the sight of their dead relative, a couple of men held them and prevented them from getting closer to the body. The women started to shout the man's name: ”Mohammed,” ”Mohammed,” as if trying in vain to wake him. The younger woman fell to the ground in grief.
In Beit Hanoun the destruction was almost as bad as in Shujaiyah. Here, too, people were looking for their belongings in the rubble. I met a couple whose house had been bombed. The woman kept asking: “Where are the rockets? Where are the Hamas fighters? Why did they do this to us?” Her husband was crying in the background. “We are innocent civilians. Why are the Israelis punishing us? What have we done to them? Why do they start a new war against us almost every two or three years,” he asked, wiping his eyes, which were red with grief.
After five days in Gaza, I wonder what the future will hold for these families; these children who have already witnessed so much. Even those who've escaped physical injury so far have been hurt. This is a scarred generation.
Nagieb Khaja is a Danish journalist and filmmaker who has covered conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen.
Tags: CHILDREN, ISRAEL AND GAZA, MASHABLE MUST READS, UNRWA, US & World, WORLD