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The day seven of my family died in Gaza

Date

Mohammed El Halabi

<i>Illustration: Simon Letch</i>

Illustration: Simon Letch

On Thursday July 10 I was watching our local news in Gaza and heard there had been a missile attack which resulted in several deaths in the El Halabi family. Seven of my family members had been killed. In that moment the day’s news instantly shocked me to the core.

I wanted to be beside my family, only kilometres away, to help them pull out the buried children from under the rubble. But the blind missiles throughout the night made it too dangerous to move around.

All seven victims in my family were women and children. And it became eight after my injured pregnant cousin lost her baby in an operation to save her life. She was due to give birth this week.

That night everyone in Gaza was counting the death toll of children – numbers that are rapidly increasing. Most of the children, like the casualties in my family, had died under the rubble of homes that were demolished by air strikes without any warning.

Every hour of every day we see scenes on TV of children who have been killed in the violence. I am sure it is hard for most people in the world to imagine children not only robbed of their innocence and childhood but also their lives, their remains destroyed by fire.

In the past year, World Vision’s projects in Gaza achieved amazing results with children, using psychosocial programs to significantly reduce their distress. Only a few months ago we gathered children to fly kites that carried messages of peace, protection of children and hope for the future. We had established safe spaces for children that allowed them to rest and heal after experiencing the world they knew being torn apart. After previous periods of conflict they shared their nightmares and drew pictures of missile attacks, and loved ones who had been killed. When they were ready, they received counselling.

Now these newly healed wounds have been ripped open. Having learnt to trust in the possibility of hope, they’re experiencing a world of horror all over again. Almost all the children who have been a part of these wellbeing initiatives have been affected by this recent outbreak of violence.

The houses of many families have been demolished and children now find themselves homeless – living in temporary United Nations Relief and Works Agency shelters at schools. They are terrified of incoming attacks.

There are virtually no safe places to go. 

Open spaces on rooftops and beaches can quickly turn deadly. Children have had to develop survival skills that no child should need. They are witnessing things they will never forget: missiles and artillery attacks, the destruction of their homes and neighbourhoods, the dead bodies of brothers, sisters, parents and friends. 

The traumatic events taking place have them exposed to terrifying scenes that could be forever imprinted in their memories and take years of recovery. They alter a child’s understanding of the world and how they need to behave to survive.

I am concerned that the values we have instilled in these children will be swept aside by the devastating bombs.

Abrar, 14, is in hospital after being injured by the violence and told a World Vision staff member, "When I came to the hospital I wasn’t able to sleep at night at all, the horrible sounds of rockets and bombings all around, I am afraid of being attacked again.” An eight-year-old told of her fear when the red light on the F-16 comes on signalling that a missile is about to be fired and people on the ground must hide.  Other children tell of losing their parents, and of the terror and anxiety that consumes them when they think of living without them.

Life in the Gaza Strip is like being trapped inside a giant prison. More than 1.8 million people live in an area only 32 kilometres long and a few kilometres wide. In other conflict zones around the world, families are usually able to flee to other parts of the country, or across borders. But here there is no escape, United Nations shelters are already overwhelmed.

No child - whether Palestinean or Israeli - should have to live this way. They all have the right to live in safety, free from violence, fear and need. Children and communities in Gaza are especially vulnerable, due to the effects of more than five years of blockade. 

Despite the current dangers of working in Gaza, World Vision is distributing food, medical supplies and supporting critical psychosocial support for some of the most vulnerable families. Before the current outbreak of violence World Vision had trained more than 8000 people in psychological first aid so that Gazans were equipped to provide immediate care and support for the emotional wellbeing of those affected by such conflict.

But responding to urgent needs is only one essential part of the puzzle. We call for an immediate halt to this vicious cycle of violence from both sides to the conflict. For the sake of the children in this region we need lasting and just peace for children caught up in the clash today and for generations to come. 

Mohammed El Halabi is the World Vision Program Manager in Gaza.

165 comments

  • Get rid of Hamas, stop the rockets, acknowledge Israels right to exist and then you will have peace. Support Hamas keep firing the rockets, demand the death of all Jews and you will have what you have now. It would be such a foolish thing to do, if the Palestinians love their children too.

    Commenter
    Uncle Quentin
    Date and time
    August 01, 2014, 6:13AM
    • yeah, because that has so worked for the west bank, hasn't it?

      This constant blaming of the victims sounds more hollow every day.

      Commenter
      james
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      August 01, 2014, 6:54AM
    • Correct - and yet Hamas is not mentioned once in Mr El Halabi 's article?

      Imagine if the same thing was occurring in metropolitan Sydney? Would we be expected to ignore the threat to our existence or defeat it? It is Hamas who deliberately places innocent women and children in harms way to sway international opinion against Israel. If Hamas lays down its arms there will be peace - and hope for a Palestinian state. If Israel lays down arms it will soon cease to exist.

      Few people decry Australia fighting in WW1 and II. Yet Israel faces an even graver threat than we did from Japan and Germany and yet Israel is expected to show restraint? People with shallow thinking are the extremists greatest ally.

      Hamas encourages civilians to remain in areas targeted by the Israelis and not seek shelter. Hamas needs the Palestinian mortality rate to soar because it hopes to sway international opinion against Israel,What cause is so desperate to put innocent women and children in harms way? Islamic extremism and intolerance that's what.

      Get the terrorists out of the hospitals, get their rockets out of the schools, get them out of their rat-run tunnels and away from the civilian population.

      Terrorism and intolerance is the enemy, not the Palestinians. Defeating terrorism in Gaza would be a severe setback to the Islamist extremists who are at war with each other in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa and elsewhere.

      Commenter
      Jason
      Date and time
      August 01, 2014, 6:55AM
    • I'm sure the children are too young to understand such things

      So they should die?

      Commenter
      Tony
      Date and time
      August 01, 2014, 7:17AM
    • If I may, something said a few days ago is worth reiterating.
      Oh..
      Zephyrs scatter that distant noise of war,
      Where reigns despair and smell of death.
      Though never met, we know them well,
      Life’s end brings a visage shared by all.
      Oh.. .
      Before time, does cruel fate end that light,
      Unready souls, soon another journey start.
      Though silent now, they have been heard,
      In tribute to their worth, we weep for them.

      Commenter
      Howe Synnott
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      August 01, 2014, 7:20AM
    • Hamas thrives because Israel continually frustrates the desires of the average Palestinian, who is not fanatical and hate-bent. If Israel were to enter into a true peace process with Habbas, who represents the aspirations of the average Palestinians, grant the Palestinians sovereignty, and respects the rights of all three religions in Jerusalem: Judaism, Islam and Christianity, then you can have peace.
      And Israel wins big time. Israel is a vastly talented nation that can help in a big way towards the rebuilding of Palestine. Israel then wins economically through infrastructure projects; Palestine wins because it benefits from Israel's talent.
      Then everyone wins.
      The other way, the fanatics on both sides win and the bloodshed continues with no end in sight - ever while the average Israeli and Palestinian pays the price.
      Hamas on the one side and the fanatical Orthodox Jews on the other hell bent on taking over every morsel of Palestinian land and driving the last remaining Palestinian into Jordan.

      Commenter
      ejr1959
      Location
      Double Bay
      Date and time
      August 01, 2014, 7:22AM
    • Yeah, because black and white scenarios are always helpful in complicated and highly emotional situations, Uncle Quentin. For every Hamas fighter you kill two will replace him, drawn from the legions of boys and young men who have watched their fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and friends die in terrible conflict.This isn't all Hamas' fault. Yes they are a terrorist organisation but so is the Israeli government, at least as regards Palestine. Condoning either side's actions as somehow morally superior is ignorant and naive. There will be peace when Israel, the more powerful party accepts a two state solution that is humane and considerate.

      Commenter
      Shane
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      August 01, 2014, 7:28AM
    • @Uncle Quentin I think out of respect for the thousands of innocent children butchered in this latest offensive, we should at least drop the usual propaganda and be honest. Its true there are extremists who oppose any compromise and want to destroy or subjugate the other site entirely, to control the conversation and derail the peace process.

      But at the heart of this conflict are the Israeli settlers are who moved into the West Bank. They violate international law, which forbids an occupying force from moving its citizens into occupied territory. There are over 500,000 settlers just looking for cheap housing. Some move deep into the West Bank to claim land for Jews, out of religious fervor and/or a desire to see more or all of the West Bank stolen for Israel. They throw their garbage down on their Palestinian neighbours and abuse, beat, torture and murder them. Settlers from all over the world make life for Palestinians dreadful because Israeli soldiers guards them and further oppress Palestinians. Palestinians are even further constrained by Israeli checkpoints and 20-foot walls, subjected to an Israeli military justice system in which on average two children are arrested every day, stuck with an economy stifled by strict Israeli border control, restricted access to water food, medicines, even fishing rights in their own seas.. and countless other indignities large and small.

      The massacre going on presently isn't about the pipsqueak rockets of Hamas resistance. Its about the $US8.5 million a day weapons used to clear a city of 1.7 million people for Zionist colonisation.

      Commenter
      shayne chester
      Date and time
      August 01, 2014, 7:29AM
    • Fatah ain't doing any of that in the West Bank yet Israel continue to build settlements illegally. Israel is not as honourable as you think.

      Commenter
      Piped Piper
      Date and time
      August 01, 2014, 7:34AM
    • hi Uncle Quentin,

      All true,

      Similarly, stop besieging Gaza, stop building settlements in territory that is not your own, acknowledge Palestine's right to exist and its right to defend itself, stop firing missiles and Israel too might get what it likes.

      Continue on its current path and it will have endless warfare.

      Commenter
      Ross
      Location
      MALLABULA
      Date and time
      August 01, 2014, 7:39AM

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