Born and raised in the last fourteen years of Israeli blockade and violence, children in Gaza feel as vulnerable and defenseless as ever.
“I don’t wanna die,” a five-year-old girl said while sobbing in her bed in Gaza, Palestine.
“I’m scared that our house will be demolished...I’m scared that we are all going to die,” she said in a video testimony recorded by her mother, Randa Kamil.
“Why would you die, sweetie? You won’t die...Don’t worry. The house won’t be demolished,” her mother, Kamil, responded to comfort her.
But what Kamil told her daughter is far from reality. For the past seven days, children in Gaza have been experiencing a non-stop barrage of missile fire smashing down apartment buildings, roads and other public infrastructure.
On May 16, 10-year old Aziz al Kolak woke up under the rubble of his own house. He saw his parents bleeding profusely and he did not know that an Israeli air strike would wipe out his entire family.
“I realized I was the only survivor. I watched my mom and dad bleed to death” he said in the hospital as he recounted the six hours he had spent under the rubble. The bombing also killed Kolak’s two little brothers, Zaid and Adam, aged 8 and 4.
He was later pictured mourning alone in front of her mother's body that was covered in a white sheet.
Israel says it sent a warning message ahead of the air strikes, asking the residents of Rimal, a neighbourhood in western Gaza, to vacate their homes. But like the al-Kolak family, many others didn’t have a chance to find a safer place for refuge. The relentless air strike campaign flattened the whole area. Nineteen other Palestinians were killed in the neighbourhood that night.
Residents from different neighbourhoods say Israel, in fact, doesn’t always give warnings before the strikes, or even when it does, the warnings are not sufficient to ensure safety. Due to the Israeli siege, the people of Gaza are unable to leave the strip when Israel launches airstrikes, and moving to another neighbourhood won't necessarily save them either.
Children are among the most disadvantaged group at the time of the bombing, as they find it hard to figure out their next step. Almost 60 of the 198 people that Israeli strikes killed were children. At least 366 children have also been injured so far.
“My little brother is terrified. He’s terrified of everything.” a little girl told TRT World, standing next to the rubble of an apartment building hit by an Israeli air strike. She and her brother survived a massacre in al Shati refugee camp that killed 10 people, including 8 children, during the Muslim festival Eid al Fitr.
“He doesn't know what to do. He’s only 6 years old. I’m 10 and I’m scared too but I’m still trying to tell him that it’s okay,” she said.
She said she’s now having a very hard time sleeping and the missile that destroyed her neighbour's house was so loud that it almost broke her windows.
“They have all the things [that] they can do [this] with us,” she reflected, referring to Israeli air strikes. “We don’t have anything to protect ourselves with. We only have the power of God with us.”
In the past two decades, children in Palestine witnessed seven Israeli offensives on Gaza. Even the critically ill and injured children are unable to leave the besieged enclave for treatment. The health system is now on the brink of collapse due to multiple factors rooted in Israel's policies. The years of siege have crippled public infrastructure, which in turn led to the mishandling of the pandemic. With the recent attacks particularly targeting Gaza's health system and health workers, the situation on the ground has turned grim.
But even though Gaza endured years of hardship and violence, the majority of its children, who were born in the last 14 years of siege and have barely stepped out of the strip, are still inexperienced to deal with the impact of the ongoing Israeli offensive.
“Every time there’s an airstrike we become scared. Every time we try to go out, when we get to the front door, there’s another air strike and we run back inside as fast as we can,” 10-year-old Khaled told Save the Children.
“Every time I put my head on the pillow, there’s another airstrike and I wake up terrified,” he said.