A tale of two fathers

A man cries next to the body of his son

A father grieves for his son, killed in an Israeli airstrike on Deir al-Balah on 5 January. 

Ali Hamad APA images

Kamel used to work at the European Gaza Hospital in Khan Younis as a lab technician.

A family man popular with his colleagues, he so desperately wanted a boy, his friends called him Abu Bilal long before he had any children.

It took five daughters and 12 years before he finally had his Bilal.

Kamel, a colleague of my mother’s before she was transferred to another hospital, was very happy and excited. My mother once described Kamel as the most peaceful person she ever met.

They had not seen each other for 17 years until my mother chanced upon him at the al-Helal al-Emirati hospital in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city.

She could barely recognize him. Where she once knew an avuncular, round-faced, round-bodied man, she was now confronted with a shadow of the man he was.

Burns had disfigured his face, taken his eyebrows, eyelashes and left his neck and throat deeply scarred.

He was thin as a stick, pale and frail, grappling with loss.

An Israeli airstrike had targeted his home.

His oldest daughter was killed. Bilal was killed.

Kamel himself was presumed dead when emergency responders found him. They even wrapped his body in tinfoil and threw him among the corpses.

He showed my mother pictures of his son and daughter on his phone. As he did, tears streamed down nearly non-existent cheeks.

He whispered, “I wish I had died.”

Kamel is now homeless. He stays at the Emirati hospital, the only place he has left.


Ashraf used to work at an olive press in Rafah. Every October of every year, the olive harvest season begins in Gaza.

Even last year, and despite the circumstances, people risked their lives to harvest olives and bring them to the press to produce oil.

For some people, olive oil is their only source of income.

Ashraf was working in the olive press while his only son Ahmad was fetching some firewood for his grandmother to cook lunch.

Israel has banned cooking gas from Gaza and its scarcity has become a common problem. People are burning whatever they can find in order to prepare food.

You can hardly walk down the road without choking on the smoke coming from everywhere: homes, tents, even the streets themselves.

The trees in our local park have been nearly killed, as people have become desperate for firewood.

The bomb fell on the house next to the olive press. It was broad daylight. Dozens of people were queuing to press their harvest.

Twelve people were killed and more than 60 were injured. Ahmad was among the dead.

Ashraf’s olive press – olives for Palestinians are traditionally a symbol of resilience in the face of hardship – became witness to a senseless bombing that took Ashraf’s only son.

This is Israel’s genocidal onslaught. Parents and children are all laid waste in the indiscriminate bombing.

Those that survive find no solace. There is no hope.

Two fathers have seen their hopes shattered, their children murdered, their faith tested.

There is no healing. There is only loss.

In the background, world leaders pontificate about international law.

Israel’s killing machine grinds on.

Sahar Qeshta is a writer in Gaza.