Last Wednesday, 16 July, the sands of the Gaza City beach were stained with the blood of the Baker cousins. Four young boys who ranged in age from nine to 11 years old – Mohammed, Ahed, Zakaria, and Ismail – were killed by Israeli navy shells while they were taking a break from fear by playing a game of soccer.
Pictures of the killings and the families’ anguish circled the internet and television news stations. People around the world were outraged.
But public protest has failed to rein in Israel’s Operation Protective Edge. Last night, Thursday 17 June, it unleashed a ground invasion of the Strip to add to the 10-day aerial bombardment.
Gaza has responded to Israel’s deadly air raids by firing rockets across the border, most of which have landed in open fields or been intercepted by the Iron Dome defence system.
A handful of Israelis have been injured, and one civilian death has been reported. The number of Palestinian injuries and deaths continue to rise, disproportionately.
According to Al Jazeera, at the time of writing, 265 Palestinians have been killed, at least 53 of whom are under the age of 18. The United Nations reports that of the 1770 injured or disabled, some 435 are children.
Undoubtedly, many more innocent lives will be lost. Palestinian media report that civilians account for more than 80 per cent of victims since the military offensive began on 8 July.
Who are these children?
They are friends and brothers who, following Ramadan ‘breakfast’, gathered at the Fun Time Beach café to watch the Argentina – Holland World Cup semi-final on a generator-powered television. An Israeli missile tore through the flimsily built café killing them and injuring nine others. The youngest of the dead was 16.
They are eight members of the Karawe family from Khan Younis who died in the early hours of the morning when their home was bombed. Five of the dead are children between the ages of six and 13.
And they are members of the extended al-Batsh family. A total of 18 people, including six children, who were killed when missiles and shells hit their residential building.
In this adult war of obsessive revenge and punishment, it is the children who pay the highest price.
The bodies of mutilated and bloodied babies flash up on television screens as they are pulled from homes turned to rubble, and rushed to hospitals which have also been bombed or are desperately lacking in supplies.
Almost as soon as the victims’ faces are shown or their names are mentioned, they are forgotten because they are replaced with other faces and names.
‘50…..130….172 dead, … 259,’ reports the media. The numbers keep rising. They are people with names.
It is a war where children become parentless, and parents become childless.
The final Facebook message of Anas Qandeel, 17, read: ‘I cannot sleep. When are you going to attack my home?’ His question was answered by a missile, and he was dead, just like his father two days before him.
And beautiful four-year-old Saher Abu Namous from northern Gaza whose head was divided by missile shrapnel. His father, Salman, cradled him, sobbing over the face that was no longer there, while imploring ‘Wake up my son, I bought toys for you. Please wake up!’
And then there is nine-year-old Mariam al-Masri, lying unconscious in al-Shifa Hospital. Born after years of IVF treatment, her father, Alla, said, ‘She was the centre of our life, she was the most precious thing in the world to us, we had waited so long for her. Now we don’t know whether she will wake up again.’
Brothers Wissam and Jihad Shuhaibar, and their ten-year-old cousin Afnan, the oldest of the three, were feeding birds on the roof of their apartment when an Israeli strike killed them.
The effects of this war are not just in lost lives. According to the UN Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 1660 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged since Operation Protective Edge began. It has resulted in the displacement of 9,900 Palestinians.
Since Israel dropped leaflets over Beit Lahiya warning Gazans in the north of the Strip to seek shelter or risk their lives 22,600 people have left their homes to seek refuge in 24 schools under the auspices of UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA.
The psychological effect on children of continuous bombing, displacement, violence and witnessing death is devastating. OCHA says that at least 25,000 children have been traumatized and need psychosocial support.
According to UNRWA, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among children doubled following Israeli attacks on Gaza in 2012, and of those being treated, 42 percent were under the age of nine.
‘Trauma is a term they have used in the West when they were talking about normal situations and there is a breakdown,’ says Dr. Ahmed Abu Tawahinah, Director General of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme. ‘This breakdown is the trauma, but for us Palestinians, trauma is the daily life.’
This latest operation is the third major Israeli attack that many of Gaza’s children have been subjected to. And most likely anything positive that health workers and psychologists have accomplished in their emotional recovery will now be undone.
‘The main thing we’re facing in Gaza,’ Osama Damo, communications manager at Save the Children – Gaza, told al-Jazeera, ‘is that many organizations haven’t finished their work yet with children affected in the last attacks, and here we go with a new offensive.’
The destruction of lives and property in Gaza is mind boggling. On a visit to the area, Pierre Krahenbuhl, the head of UNRWA said, ‘Never will even the most impressive television footage properly capture the depth of fear and despair felt in the homes and hearts of Gazans who are yet again facing death, devastation and displacement.’
Today marks eleven days since Operation Protective Edge began.
As the situation deteriorates, how many more innocent lives will be lost? How many more children will be drawn into the cruelty of an adult war?
This article is the first in New Internationalist’s mini-series on Palestine.