Minna Khaswan is facing adulthood without her parents.
Both were killed – along with one of Minna’s brothers – during Israel’s May attack on Gaza.
“I am still struggling to understand what happened,” Minna, 18, said. “We never expected it.”
The Khaswan family were among the first people affected by the offensive.
They lived in the same Gaza City building as Tariq Izzedine. A resistance fighter with Islamic Jihad, Izzedine was killed – as well as two of his children – when Israel bombed their home early on 9 May.
Minna recalled how her family had watched the news the previous evening.
“Then we all went to sleep,” she said. “Suddenly I felt a pile of rubble on my body and I started looking around. But the darkness and thick smoke obstructed our vision.”
Although her sister Miral, 7, answered when Minna called her name, it soon became apparent that a disaster had been inflicted on her family.
Minna found her father on the floor.
“He was neither moving nor breathing,” she said. “I sensed that he had been martyred.”
Jamal Khaswan – Minna’s father – was a dentist who chaired the board of al-Wafaa hospital in Gaza. His wife Mervat and their 19-year-old son Youssef were killed, too.
Minna’s two other brothers – Yamen, 14, and Yazan, 12 – were wounded.
Today, Minna and her siblings who survived the attack are living with their uncle Mousa. He is their dad’s older brother.
“We are still wondering why this happened,” Mousa said. “We have no connection to politics. Why did my brother have to die? And his wife and his son? All in an instant. Taking responsibility for their children is very difficult. Every day they ask me about their parents.”
“I need my mother”
As the eldest child, Minna has assumed many parental duties.
“When my brothers ask me something, I think of my mother and try to help them as my mother used to,” Minna said. “I cannot give them my mother’s tenderness but I must try. I need my mother as much as any other girl at this time in her life.”
Many records of the family were wiped out in the attack.
Her father had a collection of photographs on his mobile phone. Because the phone was destroyed, nobody has been able to access the pictures.
For that reason, Minna has been gathering photos of her dad from the internet.
Minna lost her parents just as she was about to finish high school.
Amid the shock, she has decided to sit just half of the leaving exams. She will take some of them later than originally scheduled.
The delay, she hopes, will give her sufficient time to prepare properly. She is hoping that her grades will be high enough to study medicine at university.
Jamal, Minna’s father, had wanted her to pursue a career in healthcare. Greatly influenced by her father – who had studied dentistry in Russia – she is striving to fulfill his aspirations.
Her father was known for his generosity toward his patients. He would often waive fees if patients could not afford them.
Minna misses the routine that her family followed.
“We were a family that would eat together [in the evenings],” she said. “We would wait for our father to sit down and ask each of us about his or her day. He would then tell us about his day, about his patients. I did not expect for a moment that I would lose the calm environment of our family. We have lost our sense of safety.”
Minna Khaswan and her siblings are among the most recent children to have been orphaned by Israel. As powerful governments in North America and Europe allow Israel to commit war crimes with impunity, it is almost certain that the Khaswans will not be the last.
Ruwaida Amer journalist based in Gaza.