We shall live to tell the stories of war crimes in Gaza

2 August 2014

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Palestinian child Rizeq al-Hayek is mourned during his Gaza City funeral on 19 July.

(Ezz al-Zanoun / APA images)

In all Holywood action films, when the enemy uses a civilian as a human shield, the policeman drops his gun and lets the enemy go in order to save the civilian. The innocent person’s life is always depicted as more important than the enemy’s death.

Clearly these morals are only for movies. The morals on the ground in Gaza, however, are totally different. Israel shoots and bombs children and young people, leaving them to bleed to death in front of their parents while bombarding ambulances that try to reach them.

In this horrendous aggression against Gaza, every Palestinian is a target and age isn’t an issue. As I hold my three-month-old Jolie close to my chest, I recall the pictures of babies her age with face injuries that hide their beauty and innocence, and others dead with amputated limbs, heads emptied from their contents, or burnt bodies.

As I squeeze her little defenseless body between my arms, I hear the voice of my cousin’s husband saying, “I found the leg of my son coming out of the wreckage.”

He lost his pregnant wife and two sons, four and six years old. I recall the picture of a man carrying the parts of his son’s body in a plastic bag, a human body that he raised and cherished had been turned — in a blink of an eye — into a pile of flesh gathered from under the rubble by an army that justifies it by saying “mistakes happen.”

“We’re sorry for any accidental civilian deaths but it’s Hamas that bears complete responsibility for such civilian casualties,” Benjamin Netanyahu has said.

Since 7 July, there have been more than 1,650 Palestinians killed in Gaza. Approximately 1,300 civilians slaughtered by Israel — not Hamas.

Does anyone seriously believe that these deaths were accidental?

No safe place

I recall the pictures of the four Baker family boys, all aged between nine and eleven. Killed by an Israeli missile on 16 July, their bodies were thrown all over the beach in front of a hotel mainly populated by journalists. The kids were playing on the beach in an attempt to take some time out of this chaos and enjoy their childhood. But they were not allowed to do so.

Resistance fighters aren’t stupid enough to launch rockets in front of a hotel where every single person carries a camera around the clock. In Gaza, there is no safe place.

As I comb my baby’s hair with my fingers, I imagine the three kids feeding their pigeons on the roof of their house the next day (17 July). They were killed along with their pigeons.

The voice of a boy about ten years old — or so it appears from his voice in a video clip — echoes in my ears: “Yemma, wen shebshebi?” (“Mom, where are my slippers?”). He shouted this while paramedics searched his house in an attempt to evacuate the family along with any others injured.

With the Israeli warplanes loudly hovering overhead, randomly hitting everywhere and the family fearfully trying to leave the targeted neighborhood in which he lives, his main concern was his slippers. He did not want to run in the street barefoot, and he repeated his question again. He is just a child.

Holiday in Gaza

Two years ago, I started a new job teaching Arabic to native speakers of English in the United Kingdom. My icebreaker on the first day was a question. I asked the students what they did that summer. Some said they spent the holiday visiting family in Jordan or Egypt. Others went on holiday in Europe.

Others even said they went on tour from Jordan to London to Paris. I had to hide my surprise.

I thought, “who are these people?” Definitely not Gazans. This is not how we holiday in Gaza. The best we can do is go to the beach. Not this summer. We get killed there.

Today, I’m trying to imagine what memories of this summer the students I know in Gaza will have to recount. One has lost an arm, and the other has lost a brother. A third has become homeless and a fourth has become an orphan. One may not be able to share his story because he lost his life.

Lost everything

During the onslaught, Ramadan, a month when we Muslims abstain from food and drink from dawn to dusk, came to an end. Eid al-Fitr is the first day after Ramadan, and it is usually a day of celebration.

Mothers cook delicious meals and bake special cookies. Children wear new clothes, buy candy and new toys and go to playgroups; they visit relatives and friends along with their parents to congratulate them for the end of this month which we spent worshipping God.

Children wait for this day all year long. They prepare their new clothes and count the days until they can put them on.

This year, there was no such day. No new clothes. No cookies. No toys. No candy. No playgroups. No family visits. Thousands of houses no longer stood in place. Thousands of families who still had their houses no longer lived in them.

They escaped the Israeli war machine and sheltered in schools. Mothers did not cook or bake luxury foods because, inside the schools, they waited for charitable organizations to send them basic staples. Hundreds of children neither wore new clothes nor bought new toys because they had lost the people who bought them these clothes, and those with whom they usually celebrated.

Some have lost everything, their family and their house. Others had to spend this special day alone on a cold bed in a hospital.

On the first day of Eid, ten children were killed in a playground.

No words can justify what is happening to children today in Gaza. Nothing can justify killing the innocence of our babies and children. And nothing can justify the world’s silence.

As long as this bloodshed continues, the whole world will be an accomplice in these war crimes. As long as we live, we shall not forgive.

And we shall live to tell the story.

Hana Baalousha is a Palestinian from Gaza currently living in the US. She has a degree in English language from the Islamic University of Gaza, and is a stay-at-home mom of two girls.