The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

What More Must the Children of Gaza Suffer?

A woman with a bandaged face embraces a child in front of a bomb-damaged building in the Gaza Strip.
(Samar Abu Elouf for The New York Times)

Mr. Abu Shammalah, Just Vision’s outreach associate in Gaza and the executive director of the General Union of Cultural Centers in Gaza, wrote from the Khan Yunis refugee camp in Gaza.

The bomb exploded a few hundred feet from where I was sitting with my wife, Safa, and my three children, Ali, Karam and Adam. Ali, 13, screamed; Karam, 10, buried his face in my chest; and Adam, 5, burst into tears.

We were in the outdoor area at the Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt on Tuesday morning. I had been lucky enough to obtain permits for my wife and kids to cross into Egypt so they could wait out the terrifying violence raining down on Gaza in safety. But before their names were called, Israel bombed the crossing, at that point the only way in or out of the strip.

We quickly ushered the kids into the crossing’s hall, but a policeman started shouting for everyone to evacuate immediately; the crossing was being closed.

Thronged by dozens of others, we jumped in my car and sped back to my family home in the Khan Yunis refugee camp, where Ali and Adam continued to cry while Karam sat silently shaking.

We were just one family, experiencing one terrifying close call. More than two million Palestinians are trapped inside Gaza, about half under the age of 18, as Israel pounds us in retaliation for Hamas’s surprise attack on Saturday, with the United States promising “surging” military support.


Apartment complexes in Gaza City have been leveled, houses bombed and families annihilated. I can’t even recognize the upscale Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City — it’s been so thoroughly damaged. At least 326 children in the Gaza Strip have been killed since Saturday, according to the Ministry of Health here. Women and children from my extended family were killed in an attack on Tuesday, and my cousin was killed on Wednesday. The smell of explosives permeates the entire strip. Yoav Gallant, Israel’s minister of defense, called us “human animals” and announced that the suffocating siege that Palestinians in Gaza have endured for more than 15 years would be tightened even further: The strip is now cut off from food, electricity and fuel.

No electricity means no internet or connection to the outside world. Raw sewage is seeping into Gaza’s streets; waste treatment facilities require electricity. The water supply has been cut. Driving south on Monday, I passed five United Nations schools-turned-shelters, so jampacked with displaced people that families spilled out into the yards. Dread grows inside me, as I know the worst is yet to come.

Over 2,300 Israelis and Palestinians have been killed so far, the majority of them civilians. I am saddened by the killing of all civilians. I know that the pain of an Israeli parent is no different from the anguish of a mother or father in Gaza. Yet I’m not surprised that we have found ourselves at this bloody point of no return.

Many of the fighters who breached those walls are probably just a few years older than Ali; many of them were born during the second intifada. Their entire experience has been Israeli military occupation, siege and devastating military assault upon assault in an enclave of 140 square miles, with unemployment and povertyrates of approximately 50 percent. This is the history, and these are the conditions that have shaped so many in Gaza, not a justification. Israel helped create these fighters by starving them of hope, dignity and a future.

I am trying to imagine some positive outcome that this terrifying escalation might bring. Perhaps there will be an exchange of prisoners. Though Palestinians have the right to resist occupation, I have always preferred unarmed, civilian-led, direct mass action. Maybe the Palestinian, Israeli and international activists who have been using these tactics to oppose Israel’s occupation and a system that major human rights organizations — including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Israeli rights group B’Tselem — consider apartheid will be able to harness this horror to someday advance their vision of a future of liberation and a decent life for all.

But at the moment, with Israeli troops massing on the border with Gaza, suggesting an imminent ground invasion, I can’t think beyond the coming days.

How many more families will be obliterated? How many children will be made orphans and homeless? What will happen when the shelves in our markets are empty and reserves of fuel for our hospitals’ generators run out? What will become of our collective humanity if Israeli civilians continue to be targeted and bombs keep shattering our infrastructure, leaving Gazan children lying dead in our streets?

Unless the international community intervenes, Israel can continue to cut off access to water, food, fuel, electricity, medications and every other necessity of life. Without outside pressure, particularly from the United States, Israel can continue to flatten our cities and refugee camps.

As Israel maintains its rampage, I keep asking myself, “What’s in store for Ali, Karam and Adam?” We are unable to shield them from the pervasive violence and trauma. An explosion on Monday rattled the windows, prompting Adam to implore, “If the Israelis must bomb us, can’t they at least use smaller, quieter bombs?” Ali is a talented young musician, with an artist’s temperament and a musician’s soul. Does Israel want to convert him from an artist to a fighter? If my children have no hope for their future, I cannot guarantee what path they take.

The international community must immediately do everything in its power to ensure that my children — that all children in the region — are able to live in freedom, with dignity and safety. That is the only solution to the current horror show.

Fadi Abu Shammalah is Just Vision’s outreach associate in Gaza and the executive director of Gaza’s General Union of Cultural Centers.

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