As soon as Israel’s bombs stop falling on Gaza, attention shifts and many forget about the damage and human misery left behind.
The experience of Muntasir Baker, 11, shows how deeply the wounds of last summer’s assault continue to affect children.
Muntasir was injured in the notorious Israeli shelling of a Gaza City beach on 16 July last year that killed his 10-year-old brother Zakaria Ahed Baker and three of his cousins: 9-year-old Ismail Muhammad Baker, 10-year-old Ahed Atif Baker and 11-year-old Muhammad Ramiz Baker.
The Baker boys were among the at least 547 children killed in Israel’s 51-day assault that left more than 2,200 people in Gaza dead.
Some of the tendons in Muntasir’s hand were severed and his hand hasn’t been completely functional ever since. The disability is evident as Muntasir speaks in this brief video shot on 7 September at a commemorative football match on the same beach where the massacre took place:
Muntasir’s injuries are not limited to his hand, and his trauma is not just physical. He sustained several injuries to his head and now suffers from recurrent seizures which never occurred before.
He feels better taking two medications, but these cost about $70 per month – a huge sum for many families in Gaza – so he intermittently takes only the cheaper drug, which costs about $10 per month.
The seizures have affected his family, who always have to look out for him for fear that he might injure himself. They also have to take him to the hospital several times a month and sometimes several times a week.
Out of school
The psychological impacts of the attack dig even deeper into the lives of Muntasir and his family. Ever since, Muntasir has been anxious and vigilant, suffering from sleep disturbances and fits of anger.
Muntasir’s father Ahed Baker says his son is easily irritable and sometimes lashes out at his younger siblings for the slightest of reasons. As a result, the family had to take him out of school indefinitely for fear he might get into trouble with other families or hurt someone. They don’t know when he will go back to class.
Muntasir comes from a traditional family of fishermen. Some of the family’s boats were destroyed in the Israeli shelling of Gaza’s port during the war and the family hasn’t been able to mend them due to lack of money.
A group of Baker family child survivors and other children were supposed to go on a therapeutic and recreational trip to Italy. But because Egypt has kept the Rafah border crossing tightly closed for all but five days this year, it has not been possible. The children’s visas expired before they could travel.
Despite all their losses, Muntasir’s family was lucky enough that their house was not destroyed in the Israeli assault.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians remain displaced, living in rented houses, containers and mobile homes, crowded in with relatives. In some cases, people are living in tents.
This is because the world has allowed Israel to maintain its siege – which dozens of international agencies call illegal “collective punishment” – making reconstruction virtually impossible.
Those agencies have called for sanctions on Israel if it does not lift the blockade, so that people in Gaza can rebuild their lives and communities.
Attention has shifted since the one-sided ceasefire was declared last August. But for Muntasir, and those like him who continue to live with the grief of losing family members, as well as physical and psychological injuries, the war never ended.