My Turn

Childhood Lost in Gaza

By Hana Baalousha
Wednesday, August 13, 2014

In American action movies, when the enemy uses a civilian as a human shield, the policeman drops his gun and lets the enemy go in order to save the civilian. The innocent’s life is more important than the enemy’s death.

Clearly these morals are only for movies. The morals on the ground in Gaza, however, are totally different. They include killing the civilians, leaving the injured bleeding to death in front of their parents and bombarding ambulances that try to reach them.

In this horrendous aggression against Gaza, every Gazan is a target, and age isn’t an issue. As I held my 3-month-young Jolie close to my chest, I recalled the pictures of babies her age with face injuries that hid their beauty and innocence and others dead with amputated limbs, heads emptied of their contents or burnt bodies.

As I squeeze her little defenseless body between my arms, I hear the voice of my cousin’s husband saying, “I found the leg of my son coming out of the wreckage.” He lost his pregnant wife and his two sons, 4 and 6 years old. I recall the picture of a man carrying the parts of his son’s body in a plastic bag; a human body that he gave life to and raised and cherished turned in a blink of an eye into a pile of flesh gathered from under the rubble by an army that justifies it by saying that mistakes happen.

“We’re sorry for any accidental civilian deaths,” Netanyahu says. There have been more than 1,300 accidents, according to U.N. figures.

I recall the pictures of the four Baker family boys aged between 9 and 11, killed on July 16 during strikes on a coastal area. Their bodies are thrown all around the beach in front of a hotel mainly populated by journalists. The kids were kicking the ball on the beach in an attempt to temporarily escape this chaos and live their age. They were not allowed to. In Gaza, there is no safe place.

As I comb my baby’s hair with my fingers, I imagine the three kids feeding their pigeons on the roof of their house the very next day, July 17. They died, and so did the pigeons.

The voice of a young boy in my ears, “Ymma, wen shebshebi.” (Mum, where are my slippers?) He shouts, asking his mother about his slippers while the paramedics search their house in an attempt to evacuate them along with any others injured. With the Israeli warplanes hovering overhead and the family fearfully trying to leave the targeted neighborhood he lives in, his main concern is his slippers. How stupid can he be? No, he is not stupid. He is just a child. He doesn’t know anything about the Israeli hierarchy of death.

Two years ago, I started a new job teaching Arabic to native English speakers. My icebreaker on the first day was a question. I asked the students what they did that summer.  Some said they spent the holiday visiting family in Jordan or Egypt. Others went on holiday in Europe. Others even said they went on tour from Jordan to London to Paris. I had to hide my surprise. I thought, “Who are these people?” Definitely not Gazans. This is not how we holiday in Gaza. The best we can do is going to the beach, but we die there.

Today, I’m trying to imagine what memories of this summer the students will have this year to recount. One has lost an arm; another has lost a brother. A third has become homeless and a fourth has become an orphan. One may not be able to share his story simply because he lost his life.

Eid, the first day after Ramadan, is usually a day of celebrations. Mothers cook delicious meals and bake specialty cookies. Children wear new clothes, buy candies and new toys and go to playgroups. They also visit relatives and friends along with their parents to congratulate them for the end of this holy month which we spent fasting, praying and worshipping God. Children wait for this day all year long. They prepare the new clothes and count the days to put them on.

This year, that could not happen. No new clothes. No cookies. No toys. No candies. No playgroups. No family visits. Thousands of houses no longer stand in place.

Some have lost everything, the family and the house.

No words can justify what is happening to children today in Gaza. Nothing can justify killing the innocence of our children and babies and depriving them of all ways of life in this ugly and inhumane manner. And nothing can justify the world’s silence. As long as this bloodshed continues, the whole world is an accomplice in these war crimes. And as long as we live, we shall not forgive. And we shall live to tell the story.

Hana Baalousha is from Gaza. She taught Arabic in the U.K. and recently relocated to Columbia. This column first appeared on

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