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The Children of Gaza

In the Israel-Palestine War – or any other war for that instance – who do you think lost? Was it Israel? Was it Hamas? No, it was neither. It was the children – always the children who lose every single war.

“We’re 10 years old. Having dinner, the four of us.”

“When the first shell hit, two floors below, it makes a hole in the floor – it’s big. Our parents go in and the whole building starts coming apart. I grab her, roll under the bed, and the second shell hits. But it doesn’t go off. It just sits there in the rubble – three feet from our faces. And on the side of the shell is painted one word.”

“Stark.”

“We were trapped for two days. Every effort to save us, every shift in the bricks – I think this will set it off.” This is what Wanda Maximoff and her brother, Pietro had to say about the Sokovia bombings – of which they had a rather first-hand account, don’t you think?  

If you think the above account is harrowing to say the least, I say it’s not. What’s really harrowing about this is that this happens to hundreds, if not thousands, of children in the real world as well – when the adults let their conflicts get out their hands, the latest of which is the Israel-Hamas war. A war in which the children of Palestine paid a heavy price – I do believe that you remember a video of a young girl, scared senseless yet so brave to let the world know what she is facing – the horror ride that was her life, over which she had no control whatsoever. When real life stories like these abound (for the lack of a better word), why did I choose Wanda’s story from MCU to start off with? Because real life stories inspire more horror – real life stories are far worse than any fiction the mind is capable of concocting.

“When my children went to sleep, they were hoping that when they woke up it would all be over. But they are gone now. I have only their memory, and the scent of them in my home.”

  • Mr. Hadidi, whose 4 children were claimed by the war

In the wars of the yesteryears, the toll that wars had on children largely went unnoticed. Even in modern conflicts like the protracted J&K conflict, ISIS in Middle East amongst others, the children were always seen outside the equation and there was no widespread attention to their plight. But this time, it was different – they were noticed. It was acknowledged that war affects children – perhaps more than anyone else. This time every major organization of repute – The Guardian, The New York Times, BBC News, UNICEF, The Washington Post – talked about how children suffered due to the hand dealt by their adults, a hand in which they had no part.

“My son can tell the difference between a rocket that is hit in the air and one that lands outside. That’s not something a 7-year-old should know.” 

  • Stella Weinstein, a mother of three in the Gaza. 

As I write this article, this very line, my laptop’s keyboard is wet, for tears have been rolling down my eyes – I don’t know for how long but I have been crying writing this article. For no one deserves to face something so…god, I can’t even begin to describe it. When fully-grown adult soldiers who fight in wars face serious trauma and suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) then how much times multiplied the trauma would have for the kids? In the Israel-Hamas conflict, 65 children have been killed, murdered if you will – 63 from Gaza and 2 from Israel. But honestly, if you ask me, I feel that they suffered a less cruel fate – for they did not have to stoic through life with trauma that the other children now face. A 2-year old has stopped eating, many wake up screaming in the middle of the night, increasingly many children wet their beds, almost everyone from children to adults suffer from recurring nightmares…Because of the war. The freaking war, though it is not the word I would have preferred to use. 

“We were laughing and having fun, when suddenly they began to bomb us, everything around us caught fire. I saw my cousins set alight, and torn into pieces.”

  • Ibrahim, thinking of the fateful Eid he lost his cousins

And what is even more worrying considering the children of Gaza is that it’s not new for them. Many were already suffering from the trauma associated with the 2014 (and prior) Israel-Gaza wars and many were undergoing treatment for the same, thanks to the likes of NGOs like Norwegian Refugee Council, United Nations Relief and Works Agency. In Gaza, a study conducted by the UNICEF following the 2012 conflict found that 91% of children reported sleeping disturbances during the conflict; 94% said they slept with their parents; 85% reported appetite changes; 82% felt angry; 97% felt insecure; 38% felt guilty; 47% were biting their nails; 76% reported itching or feeling ill; and 82% were either continuously or usually in fear of imminent death. With many people not even out of their trauma, this war only pushes them further in – sometimes in too deep for recovery. But even in this darkness, there are there are people like Nariman – a 7-year-old who risked her life to save a pet goldfish and canaries from the rubble. Even in this darkness, there are people like Nadine – people who dare to dream. The 16-year-old was aspiring to become a doctor and was planning to do biomedical studies – yes, was because a rocket tore through her before she could do anything she dreamed of. 

“Children died while they were at home and thought they were safe. They are now gone, killed with their families, buried with their dreams and the nightmares that haunted them.”

  • Jan Egeland, NRC’s Secretary-General

But the true heroes, if any, in these stories are the parents, who did everything they could possibly to shield their children. Mghames, a Palestinian musician and father, used noise-cancelling headphones on his daughter to drown out the sounds of the war, at least temporarily. Shielding their terror, parents on both sides have come up with different ways to help their kids deal with the trauma, best to their knowledge. They have set up indoor football games, cooking contests, dance parties – all in a hope to distract them from the madness reigning outside. A video even showed a mother’s modified version of peek-a-boo, in which the toddler places her hand over her mouth every time a ‘boom’ is heard. Another mother, Zaher Sbaih, makes her son play his toy guitar every time an airstrike occurs – which distracts him enough to sleep without the night terrors. These measures might seem flimsy and futile, much like a mother holding her child close to protect them from the bullets fired at them but it’s not important whether the mother saved her children or not – what’s important is that the gesture of the mother putting herself between the bullets.

“We keep them tired so maybe they can sleep and not wake up if the bombs are not too bad.”

  • Zaher Sbaih, a mother
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Parents do everything in their power to maintain their children’s sanity – and their own. (Image Credits: Time Magazine)

The only thing that can change this unending cycle of violence and trauma is to make sure there are no more wars – let children live their lives peacefully. And to make sure that there is no more wars, settlement between Gaza and Israel is necessary and there will be never be a just settlement if international powers don’t back Palestine strongly. Apartheid would perhaps still be the norm at South Africa if all the world powers hadn’t rallied against South Africa and isolated it, forcing the end of the abhorrent practice. And that’s what needs to be done here. Every country knows it but none acts on it. Why? Because of paltry geopolitics – each country spins its own exceedingly and needlessly complicated strategies shrouded in equivocalness and ambiguity, with grand words that give a hollow promise. It is high time that world leaders develop humanity – for I don’t know what else to label it; have they not heard the heart-rending stories of what these kids are subjected to, on an almost-daily basis? 

“This madness should stop… the violence should stop, in order to give these kids a future.”

  • An anonymous teacher in Gaza

Before ending, I would like to talk about Ido Avigal, a five year old – five – who was killed in the airstrikes. The sirens had sounded and the mother had been careful – she had taken both Ido and her sister into the ‘strongroom’ before the strike occurred. Yet, a rocket found Ido, hitting the strongroom and whose shrapnel nailed Ido to his death – in an incident described by the Israeli military to be an ‘incredibly rare’. At his funeral, his father, Mr. Asaf Avigal said “I’m sorry I did not take the shrapnel in your place. A few days ago, you asked me: ‘Dad, what will happen if the siren goes off while we are outdoors?’ I told you that so long as you were with me you would be protected. I lied.”

And I end, hoping against hope that there wouldn’t be such lies any more.

Read Also:

  1. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-57142627
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/may/19/bearing-the-brunt-the-suffering-of-children-in-the-gaza-israel-conflict-photo-essay
  3. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/05/26/world/middleeast/gaza-israel-children.html

Featured Image Credits: Middle East Monitor

Harish Neela Lingam

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