Gaza’s children have grown up too quickly. The youngest of them speaks as if he were an old man who has tired of life, with a face full of wrinkles. Old age has not crept up on them because they spend their time with adults, but because of Israel’s repeated attacks on the tiny, crowded coastal enclave that have left many dead and injured.
Every time a war ends, a barrage of questions from Gaza’s children begins: “Why did this happen? Why was my friend killed? Why did the neighbor’s daughter get hurt?” Again and again, they ask the same questions, leaving us, the grownups, speechless and without answers, fighting to hold back tears, hiding a pain that feels deep enough to be all of humanity’s.
Every attack comes with dangerous psychological repercussions for Gaza’s children, who are already grappling with a variety of psychological disorders and countless challenges. An entire generation is growing up to a terrifying soundtrack of missiles and F-16 fighter jets. Every child in the Strip recognizes and can identify the exact type of war machinery used by Israel in its offensives on Gaza’s residents. Every time an Israeli assault ends, local authorities get to work assessing the damage to homes, farmlands, and other property. Sadly, what tends to be missing from these assessments is the psychological harm to people, to children in Gaza, though it is, in my opinion, far more dangerous than anything else.
Given my line of work, my wife and children were home alone throughout most of the recent attack. They were overwhelmed with fear and anxiety, especially at night, when there was no electricity. The kids were too scared to go to the bathroom on their own and wanted my wife, who was scared herself, to go with them. She told me that she tried to hide her feelings, to show them that she’s strong, to give them the comfort and security they yearned for as they heard the incessant sound of fighter jets flying overhead.
Every time she heard explosions, my wife called me right away. She called to make sure I was okay but also in the hopes that when our children heard my voice, they’d stop clutching her clothes, which they grabbed in fear every time an explosion shook the house. During each of these calls, my children launched into a barrage of questions: “When will the war end? Why are there so many explosions? When are you coming home?” The questions often came with tears, crying with fear of the unknown. Will we still be alive when the sun rises, or will we be counted among the dead in a moment’s time?
The latest assault ended after 55 hours. I packed my bag and went home in the early morning hours. My kids were sound asleep, their first real sleep, uninterrupted by the sounds of explosions and air raids. As soon as they woke up, they ran right into my arms for a long hug. I hoped that I was able to give them the love and security they needed so badly after three days of forced separation.
My wife is very diligent about making sure our kids are not exposed to images of death and destruction, but they know how to find everything on their smartphones. They must have secretly found some photos of this war’s victims, triggering another cascade of questions I didn’t know how to answer. All I could manage to tell them, again and again, was, “Thank God we’re still alive.”
No one in the world can answer the questions Gaza’s children keep asking – the questions of children who suffer the worst kinds of physical and psychological violence. We, the grownups, even with our bitter experience of life, can’t provide answers to comfort the young souls scarred by Israel’s offensives.
The author of this text is Hikmat Yusef, a Palestinian journalist from the Gaza Strip.