There is no such thing as childhood in Gaza

Palestinians gather with pots to receive food at a donation point in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, 19 December 2023.

Bashar Taleb APA images

Every child in Gaza knows the “whistle.” It is the sound of a rocket dropping on a house.

Every child knows that when you hear the whistle, it means that it is not your house being bombed.

Because you will not hear anything when you are bombed.

Children in Gaza can tell an F-16 from an F-35 from a drone. They know a whole litany of things that are beyond their years. Things that they shouldn’t have to know.

Over 10,000 children have been killed in Gaza.

The children who have survived have seen their families, friends and neighbors killed by the Israeli army. They have seen near-death by starvation and death by suffocation, under the rubble and by explosion.

Children in Gaza do not have the luxury of death being a mystery. It is a daily presence.

If a child in Gaza is hungry, they know not to throw a tantrum. They have become used to feeling hunger. The same is true of the cold. Every child in Gaza now knows what it is to be unhoused, to sleep in a tent or on the streets in winter.

They feel the immense fear and daily trauma of nonstop Israeli attacks over their heads. Sometimes the shock overtakes them during the airstrikes, and they cannot even cry in these moments. They either tremble in fear or are paralyzed by it.

This world is not what the children of Gaza deserve. They deserve to feel safe, warm and healthy. To have full stomachs. In their dreams, the children can retreat to worlds where all they have to do is play and eat candy. The morning is a different story.

There is no chance of a normal childhood in Gaza. Israel has stolen their chance at that. I’m not sure that there is any child left in Gaza in any true sense of the word. Gaza is now “the world’s most dangerous place to be a child,” according to UNICEF.

Sahar Qeshta is a writer in Gaza.