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CHILDREN have been at the heart of much of the reporting from Gaza, for obvious reasons. The population is probably the youngest and most vulnerable on Earth.
But in a sense every surviving inhabitant of Gaza is a child victim, whether expelled from their home in 1948 or 1967 or, more recently, as a survivor of the onslaughts visited on the besieged Strip at regular intervals by Israeli forces. The mainstream media have been largely silent on these attacks, although they have been well documented by charities like Save the Children and Unicef.
However nothing reveals the after-effects of war with greater poignancy than the award-winning film, Born in Gaza, made immediately after Operation Protective Edge unleashed on Gaza in 2014. About 2,000 adults and over 500 children were killed — figures dwarfed by the current death toll. It can be viewed on Netflix.
We see the death and destruction wrought by the Israeli bombardment solely through the eyes of 10 young children, all of whom lost homes and family and sustained mental, emotional and physical traumas.
We meet Young Mohammed, the sole breadwinner for his family, which includes two disabled sisters. With weary determination, he picks his way through mountains of rubbish and rubble, looking for plastic bottles, trying to avoid razorsharp shrapnel and unexploded ordinance. For this, he earns about five shekels a day — roughly £2.
He explains calmly: “People close to us die quite often.”
Udai guides us through the shattered ruins of his father’s soft drinks factory, which was also the family home, showing us where he slept and where he and his friends once played: a lost Eden to him now.
He saw his big brother die in the bombing. “The largest piece of him left was only this big,” he explains to the camera, cupping his small hands.
Mahmoud’s family had a farm with livestock and 75 acres of arable land. Destroyed after the bombardment by giant Israeli bulldozers, it is now a wasteland strewn with the corpses of animals.
“We have nowhere to live anymore, no water to drink,” he explains, but he feels lucky because none of the family were killed. Bewildered, he asks: “We grow vegetables, not bombs, so why do the Israelis come and bomb us?”
Rajaf’s dad worked as an ambulance driver for 17 years — through several earlier violent incursions — before his ambulance was targeted and blown to pieces in 2014.
Standing by his father’s grave he says proudly: “My father was a hero. A hero among heroes.”
Skinny little Mutassim describes the day he lost four cousins when the boys were playing football together on the beach. The incident was, unusually, caught on camera and was seen on TV screens around the world.
He and his friend Hamada escaped with shrapnel wounds, but he has constant nightmares and talks to his mother about suicide. Sitting on the beach with his friends, Mutassim wonders, “What will they do to us when we grow up?”
Hamada worries about Mutassim: “He is the most affected of all of us,” he says. “Sometimes he starts screaming all of a sudden. He sees his brother’s spirit. No local psychologist has been able to help him.” He appeals to us: “Please take him away so he can be helped. Help him forget what happened.”
And so it goes on.
Literally hundreds of thousands of children have now lived through such traumas, none of them unscathed. Will some, out of utter despair or rage, decide to take up arms against their tormentors? Better, perhaps, a martyr’s death than burial under rubble in Israel’s next onslaught?
Israel must be aware that the combination of deprivation, bereavement, blockade and periodic slaughter can only sow the seeds of armed resistance in yet another generation.
This may be a major consideration in israel’s military/political strategy. Then armed resistance can be presented as unprovoked aggression, which must be met with massive force, ultimately annihilating or expelling the population from all the occupied territories. This is after all the zionist dream, now openly voiced by current Israeli leaders.
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