Children of Gaza
In the aftermath of the Israeli invasion, Palestinians try to put the pieces together
In the 1982 Israeli war on Lebanon, thousands of Lebanese civilians, most of them Palestinians, were killed. Rula Khateb was 3 years old then. Today, she’s part of a non-governmental organization in Ramallah, Palestine.
“We were supposed to be at the shelter, but my mother was delayed getting us there,” Khateb retells. “The Israelis bombed the shelter, but because we were late, we survived. I saw this woman who was all lit up from the bomb. I can still see her.”
A few years ago, she took a group of Palestinian children to a summer camp in Greece, an outing funded by a European NGO.
“There was a girl who had survived the Israeli massacre on Jenin in 2002,” Khateb relates. “A group had come to meet the children. Through a translator, this little girl told them that their children were playing with dolls and toys, while in Jenin the children were smelling blood. When she finished her story about the attacks, people were crying. Can you imagine what this is like for children? There are so many who are traumatized, they will be affected their whole lives.”
Of the more than 1,400 people who have now died as a result of Israel’s assault on Gaza, about a third were children. Thousands of surviving children (and adults) are now the victims of deep psychological trauma from what they have seen and experienced.
The National Lawyers Guild sent a delegation to Gaza in early February to determine whether international or U.S. laws had been violated. The initial report of their visit includes testimonies of the horror Gazans have lived through:
“We spoke to Khaled Abed Rabbo, who witnessed an Israeli soldier execute his 2-year-old and 7-year-old daughters, and critically injure a third daughter, Samar, 4 years old, on a sunny afternoon outside his home. Two other Israeli soldiers were standing nearby eating chips and chocolates at the time on January 7, 2009. Abed Rabbo recounts standing in front of the Israeli soldiers with his mother, wife and daughters for 5 to 7 minutes before one of the soldiers opened fire on his family.
“We spoke to Ibtisam al-Sammouni, 31, and a resident of Zaytoun neighborhood in Gaza City. On January 4, the Israeli army forced approximately 110 of Zaytoun’s residents into al-Sammouni’s home. At approximately 7 a.m. on January 5, the Israeli military launched two tank shells at the house without warning, killing two of al-Sammouni’s children: Rizka, 14, and Faris, 12. When the survivors attempted to flee, Israeli forces shot at them. Her son Abdullah, 7, was injured in the shelling and remained in the home among his deceased siblings for four days before Israeli forces permitted medical personnel into Zaytoun to rescue them. After medical personnel removed the injured persons, an Israeli war plane destroyed the house and it crumbled over the lifeless bodies. The dead remained beneath the rubble for 17 days before the Israeli Army permitted medical personnel to remove their bodies for burial.
“We spoke to the family of Rouhiya al-Najjar, 47, who lived in Khoza’a, Khan Younis. Israeli forces ordered her neighborhood’s residents to march to the city center. Al-Najjar led 20 women out of her home and into the alley. They all carried white scarves. Upon entering the alley, an Israeli sniper shot al-Najjar in her left temple killing her instantly. Israeli forces prevented medical personnel from reaching her body for 12 hours. These are only some of the accounts that we’ve collected.”
The acute trauma inflicted upon the survivors has left Gaza enveloped in misery. More than 20,000 homes were severely damaged; more than 4,000 were completely destroyed and more than 50,000 people are homeless, according to United Nations estimates. Some of the homeless have been taken in by families whose houses are still in tact. Some are living in tent camps with no water.
As reported by Eva Bartlett, an international observer on the ground in Gaza: “Many have only the clothes they wore when being forced out by invading Israeli soldiers or the threat of Israeli bombing. Their plans and dreams and memories are erased, burned, disintegrated, or irrelevant and impossible in the face of rebuilding.”
And the ordeal of the attacks continues. Bartlett reports of a recent tank shelling near the one of the tent camps. “The sound of the surveillance drones, also capable of dropping missiles, can still be heard, a sound associated with death which children and adults alike cannot forget.”