Minutes after the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, a 5-year-old boy named Baraa al-Gharabli was killed in Jabaliya, Gaza Strip.
A 16-year-old boy, Mustafa Obaid, died in the same attack on the night of May 10.
Around the same time, four cousins died in Beit Hanoun, also in Gaza: Yazan al-Masri, 2, Marwan al-Masri, 6, Rahaf al-Masri, 10, and Ibrahim al- Masri, 11 years old.
“It was devastating,” said another of their cousins, Mukhlis al-Masri. “Our family’s pain is indescribable.”
When asked to describe their feelings, many parents simply replied, “It was God’s will. Their voices are often reduced to a whisper, their words express resignation. They said their children dreamed of being doctors, artists or leaders.
“I still can’t believe it,” said taxi driver Saad Asaliyah, from Jabaliya, who lost his 10-year-old daughter. “I’m trying to calm myself down thinking that God wanted her to go away.”
In 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas this month, at least 66 children and adolescents under the age of 18 have died in Gaza and 2 in Israel, according to initial reports.
Almost all of the dead children were Palestinians.
Gaza is densely populated and its population is predominantly young; half of the inhabitants are under 18 years old. So when Israeli warplanes attack homes and residential areas, the number of children at risk is very high. Sometimes almost entire families disappear in the same explosion.
Israel accuses Hamas of the high death toll among civilians in Gaza as the organization fires rockets and conducts military operations from areas inhabited by civilians. Critics of Israel cite the death toll as proof that the attacks were indiscriminate and disproportionate.
Children are the most vulnerable.
In Gaza, they are multiplying in a context of widespread unemployment and poverty. They cannot move freely inside or outside the territory, due to the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt. And they live under the constant threat of war. Every 15-year-old in Gaza has been through four major Israeli offensives, and almost everyone in the territory knows someone who has died in the fighting.
“When I think of the children who died,” commented child psychologist Ola Abu Hasaballah, in Gaza, “I also think of those who survived, who were pulled from the rubble and lost a leg or an arm, I think of those who are going to go back to school and see that your friend is missing.
When sirens sounded at 3 a.m. on May 12 in the Arab village of Dahmash in central Israel, 16-year-old Nadine Awad and her father ran out of the house in an attempt to protect themselves. It is Nadine’s uncle, Ismail Arafat, who counts. But a rocket fired by militants in Gaza fell to the ground next to his house and killed them both.
Nadine’s guidance counselor Sirin Slameh says Nadine was one of the best students in her class. She was fluent in English, learned to play the piano on her own, and participated in Jewish-Arab coexistence programs. The week before, he had been given a 97 on a math test, a subject he struggled with.
Nadine had a very close relationship with her father and followed him everywhere, Arafat said.
“The sad thing is that she followed him outside when the sirens sounded. Now she was following him to the grave.
Most of the children killed were Palestinians and died in Israeli airstrikes. But there are exceptions.
At least two of the children killed in Gaza – Baraa al-Gharabli and Mustafa Obaid – may have died when Palestinian militants fired a rocket at Israel that missed its target. This is what a first Defense for Children International-Palestine investigation revealed.
And one of the children killed in Israel, Nadine Awad, was Palestinian.
“Rockets do not differentiate between Arabs and Jews,” Nadine’s uncle Ismail Arafat said.
Yahya Khalifa, 13, loved to ride a bicycle, had memorized several chapters of the Quran, and dreamed of someday visiting Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
“He was a sweet and innocent boy,” said his father, Mazen Khalifa.
Yahya was gone for a short time, promising to buy yogurt and ice cream for the family, his father said, and was killed in an Israeli airstrike.
The identities of the deceased children, their photos and the circumstances in which they died have been reported by their parents and other family members, teachers and schools in Gaza and Israel, to international rights organizations. human beings, Palestinian authorities, social networks and media outlets in Gaza and Israel. Most of the details have been corroborated by several sources.
The Israeli armed forces say they are taking strict measures to prevent the deaths of civilians. Its bombardments are said to have mainly targeted Hamas’ tunnel network, a military installation that passes under civilian quarters.
But many people in Gaza say that the large number of civilians killed clearly shows that all the precautions taken by Israel are tragically insufficient.
“People think there must be some logic,” said Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza, “but at the end of the day they want to cause pain and pain. pain”.
The small number of casualties on the Israeli side also reflected an imbalance in defensive capabilities.
Hamas and other militant groups have fired more than 4,000 rockets at Israeli towns, also indiscriminately. But most of the rockets, 90%, were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system. And many Israelis have security shelters in their homes.
Most Gazans do not have access to shelter. Many people are trying to take refuge in UN schools, but these places have also been bombed, heightening the feeling that anyone can be killed anywhere.
Even in Israel, Arab citizens do not always have equal access to air raid shelters. Nadine Awad, killed by a rocket fired from Gaza, lived in a homeless Arab village.
Fawziya Abu Faris, 17, woke up early every morning in Umm al-Nasr, a Bedouin community in northern Gaza, to milk his family’s sheep and make cream cheese and yogurt, according to his father, Nasser Abu Faris.
It was just after midnight in Beit Lahia, Gaza, and three terrified children were sheltering in their mother’s lap. Muhammad-Zain al-Attar, 9 months old, was seated in the middle, with his sister Amira al-Attar, 6, and his brother Islam al-Attar, 8, on either side.
The children’s father, Muhammad al-Attar, said the first bomb fell at the entrance to their ground floor apartment, trapping the family and leaving them without the possibility of leaving. The second, moments later, brought down the three-story building.
Al-Attar managed to get out of the rubble and survived. His wife and children died crushed under a concrete column. Their bodies were found still together.
Mental health experts and independent organizations working with young people in Gaza say children often suffer from chronic post-traumatic stress disorder, fear and anxiety. These feelings can trigger debilitating nightmares and self-harming or aggressive behaviors.
“Living in Gaza is already a very violent and frightening experience for children, as they live under constant military rule,” said Karl Schembri, spokesperson for the Norwegian Refugee Council, which runs a psychotherapy and counseling program. education for the children of Gaza. Eleven of the children served by the group were killed this month, all inside their homes.
“They were getting help and care to try to overcome their nightmares and trauma,” Schembri said. “Now they are buried with their dreams and nightmares.”
On May 19, the day before the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, Dima Asaliyah, 10, returned from his older sister’s house with an electric pizza oven. According to his father, Saad Asaliyah, it was a small oven, the size of a soccer ball, that the family used to bake bread.
An Israeli spy drone hovered over the site. Saad Asaliyah now wonders if the Israeli soldiers mistook the electric oven for a weapon.
“Maybe their alarms went off because of the oven,” he says. “But didn’t they see that she was a child?”
There was an explosion and his youngest daughter was missing.
“Do you see his picture? ” he said. “She is worthy of our pain.”