Gaza’s lost children

Amnesty International delegates investigate the killing of two children during the latest escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip

We were interviewing a family in the al-Karama area of Gaza City when, for the first time since the escalation of violence began, we heard rockets being fired from close by.

“Welcome to Gaza,” said one of the children sitting in the room, looking at us.

His smile and sarcastic comment made us wonder about childhood in this place. Hope is a powerful quality of Gaza’s children. That is if they remain alive.

On Wednesday afternoon, we rushed to al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City after hearing that a number of people injured by Israeli air strikes had been taken there.

When we arrived, we were told that among those brought in was the body of 14-year-old Mo’min al-Dam, killed by an Israeli airstrike on a field in the Zeitoun neighbourhood south of Gaza City.

At the morgue, the gate-keeper pulled out his body for one of the family members to see.

The notion that there was still hope in children died when we saw his body. There was no smile on his dead face; it was the sight of a future killed.

It was not a sight that we could bear for long. We went back to the hospital ward to find Mo’min’s father, injured in the back of his head and neck by shrapnel in the same air strike.

A large number of people were gathered around the hospital bed of the 67-year-old blind man, who was crying loudly to another member of the family, “Our adored one is gone, our love is gone, and nothing is worth anything anymore.”

Grieving family members tried to calm him down.

The father spoke with difficulty, pausing every once in a while to grasp some breath or to relieve himself of the pain of speaking about his child so soon after his death.

“We went out for a picnic under the trees on a piece of land that my wife had inherited. It was only the three of us – me, Mo’min and his mother. We ate and were resting and Mo’min was making us coffee over a fire some 6 metres away.

“I was lying down and all of a sudden I heard an explosion. I yelled for Mo’min, but there was no answer. I yelled for my wife, and then I heard her crying that they had killed Mo’min. She put the body of my dead boy on my lap. I felt the blood and I don’t know what happened after that. I found myself in an ambulance which brought me here.”

Later, we went to the site where the boy was killed and interviewed people in the surrounding area, including other relatives.

Although the site is sometimes used by Palestinian armed groups to launch rockets into Israel, there were no rockets launched from the area that day, according to the family of another young girl who was in a field nearby and was injured by shrapnel from the same targeted missile fired by the Israeli drone.

Other Palestinian civilians have been among the nine killed and approximately 20 injured in Israeli air strikes on different areas in the Gaza Strip over the past few days.

But Israeli air strikes have not been the only cause of casualties inside Gaza.

Just one day before Mo’min’s death, also in the Zeitoun neighbourhood, two-year-old Hadeel Ahmad Haddad was killed in her home and her eight-year-old cousin was severely injured.

After speaking to Hadeel’s family, examining the site and talking to residents of the area, it became clear that her death was most likely caused by a rocket launched by a Palestinian armed group from an orchard next to the house.

The rocket appears to have gone through one of the walls on the third floor, causing bricks and debris to land on Hadeel and her cousin who were outside the front of the house.

Hadeel and her cousin are not the first Palestinian civilians in Gaza to have been killed or injured by rockets launched by Palestinian armed groups..

Scores of indiscriminate rockets have been fired into southern Israel by Palestinian armed groups over the past few days, prompting school closures.

The reasons for the recent escalation of violence that we have witnessed this week are unclear.

Palestinian armed groups from time to time fire indiscriminate rockets into Israeli territory, but the Israeli military announced that some of the air strikes on Gaza were in response to the killing of a construction worker near Israel’s southern border with Egypt by armed Saudi and Egyptian infiltrators on 17 June.

An Islamist armed group announced they were behind that attack, and to Amnesty International’s knowledge, no Palestinian armed groups have claimed responsibility.

Whatever the reasons for this latest escalation, children such as Mo’min and Hadeel are the innocent victims of violence in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The killing of the two Palestinian children in Gaza this week is a stark reminder that all sides must ensure the safety – and most of all the lives – of civilians.