At my family’s home in Gaza City, amid the incessant buzzing of drones and the shockwaves of explosions, a small child sings and dances in front of the television.
Hamoud, my nephew, barely two years old, sings along with YouTube songs about love, justice and humanity.
The irony is as stark as it is heartbreaking: just a few blocks away, children his age have been orphaned or killed by Israeli attacks.
The reality outside Hamoud’s sheltered world is dire.
A few blocks from Hamoud’s TV, Mayar and Ali Izzedine, aged 12 and 8, had been excited about a school trip planned for the next week.
Yet their eagerly anticipated trip never materialized for them. Instead, an Israeli airstrike targeted their family home in Gaza City on 9 May, killing the two children and their father, Islamic Jihad leader Tariq Izzedine.
The coming days, which should have been filled with joy and discovery, were instead marked by devastating loss – a loss their classmates felt deeply.
Such instances of trauma aren’t isolated events in Gaza.
The situation is further exacerbated, the report concluded, because Gaza’s population is so young: around half of its population of more than two million is under the age of 15.
Explaining the unthinkable
Parents, including Yusra al-Aklouk, the mother of Ali Izzedine’s best friend and classmate, Jamal al-Zebda, grappled with how to explain to their children why the school trip had been canceled.
How does one explain the senseless loss of young lives to a child?
Jamal has already endured inexplicable losses at such a young age. In a May 2021 attack, Israel killed his father Osama and his grandfather Jamal.
Ali and his father, Tariq, had been a source of comfort and support, and now Jamal faces another devastating loss.
The unbearable news was delivered over a few hours, a desperate attempt to cushion the blow. Jamal’s reaction was heartbreaking; he mourned his friend but found solace in the belief of meeting him in heaven later. He felt a strange relief that at least Ali wouldn’t have to endure the fate of growing up without a father, as he has.
Another child, Miral Khaswan, faces that fate now.
A video circulated online of her at al-Shifa Hospital crying and asking for her father, Dr. Jamal Khaswan, a dentist, who was rushed to the hospital following the Israeli airstrike. The Khaswan family lived in the apartment above the Izzedine family, and their ceiling collapsed as a result of the Israeli missile strike.
Unbeknownst to Miral, her mother, father and older brother had died.
In our struggle to shield my nephew Hamoud from the destruction outside, we maintain an illusion of normalcy. With every explosion, we exchange glances, our faces betraying no fear but our eyes seeking reassurance in one another.
Hamoud hears the sounds, looks at us, and, finding us undisturbed, he returns to the TV, perhaps believing that nothing important is happening.
As we navigate this bleak and uncertain reality, the drones, or, as we call them in Gaza, al-Zanana – meaning “to buzz” – are a haunting constant.
Amid the never-ending buzzing, Hamoud’s out-of-place singing, and the vibrations of our phones bearing grim news, we find solace in each other’s company, striving to uphold a semblance of normalcy for Hamoud.
But deep down, we know we could be the next target. An unseen fanatic in a warplane, circling above us, may choose to either snuff out our existence or grant us the chance to live a little while longer.
Our fate could be the same as those who went to bed, only to have their lives cut short because a soldier decided so.
Generations of trauma
Hamoud hasn’t yet celebrated his third birthday, or his third Ramadan, hasn’t been to three different cities, hasn’t experienced many things thrice in his short life. Yet he has already endured three major escalations, three rounds of destruction and bloodshed.
Hamoud’s world is a symphony punctuated more by the echoes of war than the echoes of play, a reality shared by over a million children in Gaza, a cycle of trauma through generations, each bearing the scars of different wars and conflicts.
Isn’t this the lived experience of everyone in Gaza? It is a cycle of trauma that stretches back generations. From the British colonization of Palestine, the Nakba, and the Gaza siege, our lives are punctuated by nonstop gruesome episodes.
Words of war
Hamoud has made me reflect on my own childhood. I don’t recall the moment I learned the words war, bombing or death. These terms, it seems, were always a part of my vocabulary.
However, I vividly remember when I learned the word mountain in a geography lesson in the fifth grade. I hadn’t seen a mountain in my life, but I learned the word then.
Living in Gaza, I’ve seen the sea many times, as well as war, rockets and bombing. So these words have been seemingly ingrained in my consciousness since early childhood. By the time I reached a conscious age, I already knew what they meant.
Hamoud will learn the word mountain, perhaps in a few years. But he will not learn the words war or bombing in school; he already knows them, just as I did.
Ahmed Nehad is a freelance writer and translator from Gaza. Twitter: @AhmedNehadKh