During the 51-day Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip, which took place between 7 July and 26 August last year, a group of Palestinian children fled to the beach to escape from the harsh and extensive bombing of houses, hospitals, healthcare centres and playgrounds; they went there to play football.
They thought that the beach, an open area, was a safe place because it has never been used by the Palestinian resistance. Although the seven of them arrived on the beach safely, minutes later, four had been killed and three were wounded after being targeted by shells apparently fired from an Israeli warship.
“That day, 16 July, a number of Israeli F16 rockets hit our neighbourhood,” explained Sayid Baker, 13, one of the children on the beach. “My brother, my cousins and I fled and decided to go to the beach instead of going back home.”
Sayid’s father, Ramiz Baker, 45, was busy that day with his neighbours, whose houses were targeted and whose relatives and loved ones were killed or wounded. He thought that his children were safe because he knew that they were playing football on the beach.
“I was surprised when I heard the news that Israeli strikes had targeted the Gaza beach,” he said. “I collapsed immediately as I remembered my sons were playing there; I remained conscious, though, then I stood up and rushed to the beach with my brother and two cousins.”
In the car, Ramiz listened to local radio stations, and knew that a group of children from the Baker family were targeted and a number of them were killed and others were wounded.
“I stopped the car and asked one of my cousins to take the wheel and head for Al-Shifa Hospital. I knew that by then the casualties must have arrived at the hospital, either dead or alive.”
What he saw at the hospital was a “catastrophe,” he recalled. “I found dozens of my relatives and saw the corpses of four children lying down at the door of the morgue. That was a real shock.”
Although Sayid was wounded – and that made his father “go crazy and sad” – at least, Ramiz told me, he recovered a couple of months later. In fact, the only problem that Sayid still has, according to his father, is going down to the beach, which is on the doorstep of his house.
“The most difficult problem for me,” said Ramiz, “is that my son Muntaser has been silent since the day of the massacre.” He believes that if Muntaser had lost one of his limbs, like many other wounded children, it might have been easier for him rather than the psychological trauma he has been living with since that day.
According to a UNICEF bulletin on events last summer, “Civilians, particularly Palestinian children, have borne the brunt of the hostilities in Gaza, the third major military confrontation between Israel and Gaza in six years.”
During those two months, which included the 51-day offensive, the Israelis killed 2,260 Palestinians, including 551 children, and wounded more than 11,000 others, among whom were 3,370 children. The World Health Organisation estimates that 1,000 of the children who were wounded will suffer from a lifelong disability.
In the wake of the offensive, UNICEF said that at least 373,000 children required direct and specialised psychosocial support. The UN organisation believes that up to 1,500 children were orphaned. The right of Gaza’s children to an education was also affected severely, with at least 258 schools damaged by the Israeli assault.
After psychological support, Sayid could speak easily, but is still unable to go back to school. His brother Muntaser still cannot speak.
Child psychiatrist Sami Eweeda, who is part of Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, said that it is very difficult to end the negative psychological repercussions of the Israeli offensives on the Palestinian children in Gaza. “The most demanded value in Gaza is to feel safe,” he said. “This is not possible because it is connected to political will and decisions.” As long as there are no guarantees that this kind of aggression against Palestinians is going to stop, the psychological suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza will continue, he added. “There is no real meaning to any treatment without the existence of such guarantees.”
Before leaving Sayid, his father and his silent brother, the teenager told me, “If there were no wars I would not have lost my brothers and cousins and would have been playing football at the beach again and again and again.” It remains his hope to be able to do so once more.
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