It’s no child’s play in streets of Gaza
By Laeeka Edries
"I failed my little brother," says a distraught Omar Almalfullah. The 21-year-old Palestinian tells the story of how his 16-year-old brother went to play with his friends and never returned home in February this year. Omar says that he was told by people who witnessed the incident that Israeli forces told them not to walk in their direction and when they refused, Omar's brother along with two other boys, were shot and killed immediately. “My father became a martyr in 2012 and my brother and I were the only support my mother had. When I looked at my brother, it reminded me of my father.”
The Defence for Children International Palestine (DCI-Palestine), an independent child rights organization, reports that eight children in Gaza were killed by Thursday last week totalling 45 fatalities. This includes four boys from the same family, between the ages of eleven and nine. “Zakariya Ahed Subhi Baker, 10, Ahed Atef Ahed Baker, 9, Ismail Mohammad Subhi Baker, 9, and Mohammad Ramez Ezzat Baker, 11, were cousins from fishermen families, and had been playing on Gaza City’s harbour when two missiles hit them,” the organization’s website states. By Monday, the number of confirmed child deaths had risen to 73.
The United Nations (UN) has condemned the killing of civilians including of children as a result of strikes on homes. "Such reports raise serious doubt about whether the Israeli strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay was quoted as saying. It seems however that the number of child fatalities and injuries may still be on the rise.
Omar recalls how his mother fainted the instant he told her about how his brother was killed. "I thought of how my mother reacted when she heard about my father's death. I thought about how I will break the news to her…Any tough guy would break down seeing his mother in that state.”
Omar’s story is one of many cases of the continued brutality affecting Palestinian children at the hands of Israeli extremists. Another example which brings attention this scourge includes that of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir who was burnt to death.
Palestinian mothers are unable to identify the bodies of their offspring due to the nature of their deaths."If Palestinian children are not shot or assaulted, they are run over by vehicles of settlers," says Mohammed Qzzaz, reporter for Hona Al Quds.
Video footage such as that which shows punches and kicks to the face of a Mohammed’s 15-year-old handcuffed cousin Tariq Abu Khdeir depicts some of these incidents of assault. The American teenager was suspected of participating in a protest following his cousin’s death and was reportedly beaten by Israeli authorities earlier this month.
"The footage of Tariq is just another monstrous attack on children that is at the bottom of a long list," says Qzzaz. He relays an incident in which a 12-year-old child was assaulted at the Gate of Damascus for holding a Palestinian flag. “Children as young as nine years are kidnapped and tortured or even killed. We often form search parties to look for these kidnapped children, some are lucky whilst others are not so fortunate.” According to Qzzaz, Israeli soldiers show no mercy and compassion when dealing with children: "I see Palestinian children being subjected to beatings on their heads, on their faces, anywhere and with anything," he says. When there are demonstrations taking place, Israeli soldiers see this as an opportunity to attack children because they are weak and vulnerable. Some children are released with a three month period of house arrest, whilst some are held back as political prisoners. "I witness these incidents on a daily basis, and I cannot do anything about it, so I write, I tell people the truth because it is my duty," said Qzzaz.
Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, a Palestinian non-governmental organization, reports that as of May 1, 196 children, 27 of them under the age of 16, were held as political prisoners in Israeli prisons. This number excludes the children and youth that are physically abused and killed every day.
Two weeks back, *Akilah (17) accompanied her blind cousin to a protest and began taking pictures of the demonstration. Akilah says her cousin chanted: "This is our Land!" along with the other protestors which brought the attention of the Israeli forces to them. “They attacked my cousin and I tried to free her from them, in return a platoon of soldiers began attacking me.” She continues explaining how the soldiers attempted to remove her blouse and scarf: "Some Palestinian boys and ambulance men succeeded in taking me out of their hands. I had collapsed after being beaten by them," she says.
*Saniyah (17) was a victim of a tear gas attack. "I recall walking home from school when an Israeli army threw a gas bomb at me. “I was unconscious and a kind man rushed me to hospital. Israeli forces just look for reasons to start war. They can kill us without having a reason and the world won't say anything," she says.
Mohanned Al Radwan (21) says the worst feeling is hearing the rockets approaching. “That distinct sound that you keep tracking until you hear it explode and it is too loud…It shakes every atom and every cell in your body and you are shocked until you hear the lady on the news speak again," he says. "The houses that are being targeted are houses of my friends, today it is them, tomorrow it could be us. These air strikes cause permanent damage to many homes because of the houses being so closely built and hundreds of civilians are injured at once.”
On Sunday, the UN Security Council called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza while Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Qatar.
*Names have been changed to protect the identities of the children involved.
Laeeka Edries is a second year student at the Durban University of Technology. She wrote this piece as part of Media Monitoring Africa’s Youth News Agency.