Some playing cards and other small items were all that Mahmoud Jalal al-Hilu, 10, left behind when he was killed by an Israeli tank shell on 22 March as he played near his home in the Shujaiya neighborhood east of Gaza City.
“As I was heading to the mosque for afternoon prayers, Mahmoud was just coming back from school, and said, ‘Dad, classes are canceled today because there was Israeli shelling,’” Abu Hamad al-Hilu, 48, told The Electronic Intifada as he received visitors who had come to offer condolences on the death of his son.
Al-Hilu, a father of six daughters and four sons, began to cry and attempted a smile as he remembered Mahmoud: “He is the youngest. Myself, his mother and all other family members all liked and pampered him, but now he is lost and now his smile is no longer with us.”
“One of Mahmoud’s favorite things was watching wrestling on TV and he was a fan of the wrestler John Cena, to the extent that he used to imitate him often by wrestling with his brothers and sisters and even with myself,” al-Hilu recalled.
Mahmoud’s father described to The Electronic Intifada how his son was hit.
“After I came back from afternoon prayer, I saw my uncle Yasser Hamad and his grandson Yasser Ahed bleeding in front of this door,” he said outside of the family’s home.
“I tried to aid them and I was shocked to see my son Mahmoud laying near that fence bleeding and his abdomen had been ripped open,” al-Hilu said as he gestured toward the locations where the three Israeli tank shells landed.
In addition to Mahmoud, three other persons were killed in the attack: Muhammad Saber Harara, 19, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, as well as Yaser Hamad al-Hilu, 51, and his grandchild Yasser Ahed al-Hilu, 15. Another 11 civilians, including eight children, were injured, three seriously.
At Mahmoud al-Hilu’s home, his mother Umm Hamad welcomed relatives and friends who came to pay condolences to his gathered family, including his grandmothers, brothers and sisters.
“Just two hours before he was killed, Mahmoud argued happily with his brother Ahmad … Afterward, he asked me for one shekel, the fifth that day! Mahmoud used to like money and I never said no to him,” Umm Hamad remembered as she and her husband sat in the boy’s bedroom.
“Since Mahmoud was killed, I began to sleep on his bed,” Ahmad, Mahmoud’s 15-year-old brother, said tearfully. “Maybe the bed would console me or would remind me of Mahmoud.”
“Where is the world to protect us from such killing, where is the world?” Mahmoud’s grandmother, Umm Muhammad al-Hatto, 72, asked. “Are we destined to inherit suffering from one generation to another?”
According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, the Israeli military spokesperson claimed that Palestinian militants had fired mortars at Israel and that the army had fired back at the source of the fire and that it did not know civilians were in the area. There are olive groves located three hundred meters away from the al-Hilu home.
In response to the killings of the four persons, including Mahmoud, the Israeli army issued a statement regretting the deaths of civilians and accusing Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza, of using Palestinian civilians as “human shields” for firing rockets. Israel has frequently made such claims to justify deaths of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, although human rights groups and UN investigators have seldom found evidence to substantiate such accusations.
In recent days, Israel stepped up attacks on the Gaza Strip, claiming they were in retaliation for a barrage of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel. The new spate of violence in the occupied coastal region began the previous week, when Israeli warplanes killed two Hamas operatives in southern Gaza.
“One day before he was killed,” Mahmoud’s mother remembered of her son, “he came to me to apologize for not buying me a gift for Mothers’ Day. May God give me more patience and strength to overcome.”
Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.