“He left life so early”: Gaza family devastated by Israel’s killing of baby Omar Masharawi

BBC Arabic picture editor Jihad Masharawi and his wife Ahlam mourn during the funeral of their 11-month-old baby boy Omar, who was killed the previous day when an Israeli missile hit their Gaza City home, 15 November.

Majdi Fathi APA images

An Israeli missile strike on Gaza on Wednesday left an aching hole in the home and hearts of the family of 11-month-old Omar Masharawi, who was fatally burned all over his little body.

“My children are not terrorists. They are not devils. They are good people,” said Ali Masharawi, 55, the grandfather of baby Omar, who was killed along with Ali Masharawi’s 20-year-old daughter-in-law, Hiba al-Turk. Ahmad, one of Ali’s sons, was also seriously injured.

Baby Omar, the son of Jihad Masharawi, a BBC staffer in Gaza, is one of several children killed since intensive Israeli bombardment began on Wednesday, including Hanin Tafish, a 10-month-old girl.

The missile hit the Masharawi family home in southern Gaza City shortly after Israel shattered a tenuous ceasefire on Wednesday by carrying out the extrajudicial execution of Hamas military commander Ahmad al-Jabari. The killing of al-Jabari and his bodyguard sparked the current spate of retaliatory rocket fire by Palestinian factions amid round-the-clock Israeli airstrikes.

“I have always been peaceful and I even worked in Israel during my youth, but now I feel I want to explode,” Masharawi said at a condolence reception in Gaza City.

“He left us so early”

On Friday afternoon, Omar’s devastated mother, Ahlam, was staying with her sister.

“When my eldest son Ali turned three, he often came to me to say mom, I want a brother to play with. I talked with my husband Jihad about this and we both agreed that we should have a new baby,” Ahlam said.

“Omar came to life and now he has left life so early,” she added. Shattered by loss, Ahlam was able to remember the things about Omar that give his family joy.

“Omar was a very active and cheerful and clever baby. He used to imitate us holding our cell phones, putting it on his ear. All of a sudden I am no longer feeding him, no longer seeing his cheerful smile, and his little words are silenced.”

In another corner of the neighborhood at a relative’s home, Omar’s grandmother, Umm Jihad, received female mourners. She sang a few words of a lullaby which she used to sing to Omar.

“I used to put him on my lap at bedtime and sing for him. He filled our home with joy and everybody in the family loved him. When he was born, I felt so happy and told Jihad, my son, thank God that I now have two grandsons from you, my dear son,” said Umm Jihad, weeping as she spoke.

Hiba al-Turk, who died along with Omar, is the wife of Jihad’s brother, Imad. Over the past couple of months, Hiba had been sick and preferred to stay with her own family nearby.

“She married my son Imad only five months ago so she was still a bride,” said Umm Jihad.

Mahmoud, 17, baby Omar’s uncle, also broke down as he told The Electronic Intifada in the same charred room where Omar was killed: “I was very attached to this little sweet baby. I used to come back from school every day to hug him and play with him a bit. Now, the Israelis have taken him and taken our souls as well. What did this child do to be killed?”

A mass of fire

Jihad, Omar’s father, appeared stoic as he received mourners. He told those who came to pay their respects that the massive Israeli firing that struck his house and killed his son was similar to what he recalled seeing during Israel’s previous major assault on Gaza in January 2009.

“I hold all of Israel including politicians, military and ordinary people responsible for such atrocities that led to the death of my son, who was burned completely,” Jihad said.

According to neighbors and witnesses, a mass of fire hit the roof of the Masharawi family home in a densely packed area in southern Gaza City.

“Our area is void of any suspicious activity and I can assure you there are no armed persons here and the area is always calm and inhabitants know each other,” Jihad said, showing the missile’s damage to his home. “I never imagined that my home would be an Israeli target. Why has it been hit?”

Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.