It took a few months before I felt the time was right for a conversation with my friend Amjad Hassan.
Amjad, a photographer, and I worked together in the organization Press House-Palestine four years ago.
We have kept in contact since then. But after Israel attacked Gaza in May, I sensed that it would be too painful for Amjad to speak.
My feeling was largely based on a video I had seen. It showed Amjad weeping over the dead body of his sister Yasmin in an emergency room.
In those images, Amjad looks inconsolable.
When we finally spoke, Amjad talked me through the horrors that had been inflicted on his family.
He cared deeply about his sister. After the attack on Gaza began, he would call Yasmin on an almost hourly basis, checking to see that she was okay.
In the very early hours of 15 May, Yasmin and her children were at her home in Beach refugee camp. Yasmin’s husband Alaa Abu Hatab had gone to buy food in a store that opened late at night.
Alaa’s sister Maha had called around with her five children and they were staying overnight.
Without warning, Israel fired a number of missiles at the building.
Yasmin and four of her children were killed. So were Maha and four of her children.
My friend Amjad is still devastated by the loss of so many relatives.
“We are an emotional family,” he said. “When Yasmin married Alaa, I got a new brother. Their children were more like little siblings to me than nephews and nieces. Now most of them are dead. And that is too much for a family like mine.”
If any solace can be taken from such a horrific crime, it is surely that two children survived it.
One is a 5-year-old girl named Maria. She is the only one of Yasmin’s children who is still alive.
Maria was found by neighbors soon after Israel attacked the building.
She had a major fall. Yet Maria was not seriously injured – at least in a physical sense.
Today, Maria’s aunt Faten, a psychologist, is taking care of her.
I have seen Maria twice since the May attack. She was very pale on both occasions.
It was only after I tickled her that she smiled.
“Maria is still traumatized,” said her father Alaa Abu Hatab. “She wakes up during the night and cries for hours, asking for her mom and her brothers and sisters.”
Clinging to hope
An arguably even greater miracle – if that is the right word – was that a baby survived the same incident.
Maria’s cousin Omar was only five months at the time. He was pulled from the rubble by firefighters.
Omar was lying on his mother Maha’s body, when he was found.
Omar’s survival was a source of great relief to his father Muhammad al-Hadidi. Knowing that his baby was alive provided much-needed strength to Muhammad as he mourned the loss of his wife and his other children.
“I thank God for allowing me to keep one of my children,” said Muhammad. “I will try my best to give Omar his mom’s love. But I know that is impossible.”
One day after the bombardment of Beach refugee camp, Israel committed another atrocity in Gaza City.
Amid all the horror, the people of Gaza could cling to some hope.
Suzie Ishkintna, 7, survived, along with her father Riyad. They were the sole members of their family who did.
Although Suzie’s story has come to symbolize Palestinian resilience, we should not forget her own suffering.
“My kid was full of life before the massacre,” said Riyad, her father. “Suzie is not herself anymore. She has gone to a dark place. She always asks about her mother. She wants to know how she can see her mom again. When I do not find a soothing answer, she cries for a long time.”
Still, I think we are right to celebrate the survival of Suzie. And Omar. And Maria.
They illustrate how Israel’s efforts to break the Palestinian spirit have never been successful. And never will be.
Somebody should make a movie about these children. Whether we believe in miracles or not, their survival is amazing.
Sarah Algherbawi is a freelance writer and translator from Gaza.