The girl in the yellow pajamas

Naser sits beside a wall bearing a message about his 2-year-old niece: “Joud is under the rubble.” 

Sondos Alfayoumi

The message written on the wall of a badly damaged house was distressing: “Joud is under the rubble.”

So many people who passed by this building in Deir al-Balah refugee camp, central Gaza, must have thought it unlikely that the body of the 2-year-old child would be recovered.

They did not include Naser, Joud’s uncle. He was determined to find his niece.

He kept digging for days, weeks and months after the home was attacked in October.

Naser’s sister-in-law Jamila had put her three children to bed the previous evening. Jamila could hear explosions as she did so but she hoped that things would be better in the morning.

In the early hours of the next day, Israel attacked her home.

Miraculously, two of the children survived: Talat, 3 and Sham, 5.

Their father – Naser’s brother Ahmad – was killed. Jamila was seriously injured but was rescued a few hours after the attack.

There was no trace of Joud.

Jamila “asked me every single day to find her kid,” Naser said.

“I spared no effort,” he said. “There was no other way.”

Even though Naser was on crutches because he was injured during the attack, he kept digging for his niece’s body with his bare hands.

Jamila gave him an important piece of information: Joud had gone to bed wearing yellow pajamas.

While Naser and some of his brothers had access to digging machinery, they decided against using it lest they draw attention to themselves and be targeted by Israel. “So we continued our desperate search in secret,” Naser said.

Eventually – in mid-March – Naser found Joud’s body.

He found her legs first, then hair on her pillow.

Finding the body meant that Joud could be buried beside her father.

There are so many other people in Gaza who remain unaccounted for.

More than 13,000 Palestinians are still missing, the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor has estimated. They include people trapped under the rubble, those buried in mass graves and the forcibly disappeared.

Although her pain remains raw, Jamila took some solace in learning that her child’s body had been located. The girl in the yellow pajamas could now rest in peace.

Sondos Alfayoumi is a writer and translator in Gaza.