Although Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip happened two years ago, the grief caused by that 22-day blitzkrieg-like missile campaign continues to permeate well beyond Palestine’s borders.
Just the other day, we hosted a film screening on campus featuring To Shoot an Elephant – a first-hand account of Israel’s siege and bombardment from a team of foreigners that decided to stay in the Gaza Strip. During one of the scenes, raw footage shows three dead or dying children in a dilapidated hospital. The three children were all related as it turns out, and even though I couldn’t see too clearly out of my watering eyes, a cursory glance at the audience confirmed that I wasn’t the only one who felt the heavy impact of this scene. We were all feeling grief at that moment.
But for the Hamdan family, the daily silence of their home forcefully reminds them of the loss of their three precious children. Their grief, therefore, has yet to subside.
I wish to relate to you a story that must never be forgotten, particularly because it represents the essence of living under siege, occupation, and attack.
Minutes before eight o’clock in the morning on December 30, 2008, Ismail, age 10, Lama, 4, and Haya, 12, helped their parents and older siblings tidy the house and empty the trash. Because there exists no permanent garbage collection agency in Gaza, the three children followed their daily routine and delivered the trash to a very nearby intersection. It is unclear whether or not they actually delivered the trash because a missile fired from an F-16 fighter jet ultimately struck them and obliterated everything in its vicinity.
Subsequent responses to the blast give two opposite yet equally dreadful glimpses into the reality of Gaza’s military siege. The missile hit very near to the house. The father, along with most of the Hamdan family’s neighbors, remained inside – not because they were frightened but because these blasts had become all too customary. According to an interview with the father, “It was kind of normal. We live in Beit Hanoun near the border-line with Israel and we’re used to hearing explosions.”
On the other hand, the mother and older siblings reacted instinctively, fearing the worst. Upon reaching the scene, the mother and eldest son scrambled to collect the children. The blast was so forceful that the bodies were each knocked back 50 meters in different directions. The oldest brother’s distressed shrieks attracted neighbors as well as a nearby donkey-cart which was immediately used to transport the three children to the nearest hospital.
The two daughters were already dead. Ismail sustained deep shrapnel wounds and severely broken bones and was bleeding profusely. Nobody else was injured because nobody else was in that particular area during the blast.
The documentary captures footage of the children being carried to Beit Hanoun Hospital in northern Gaza. Ismail is lifted from the cart and a woman carrying one of the daughters rushes past the screen towards the hospital doors.
If there’s one thing that stings me the most, it’s a wailing mother. But if there’s one thing that inspires me just as equally, it’s the power of trust evoked particularly between a stranger and a doctor. Sobbing, the mother hands the daughter’s limp body to a physician who quickly runs into the hospital and sets the girl on a bed. Doctors confirm her death and the cameraman transitions to the father who kisses her face one final time. The girl is moved to the morgue where she is laid to rest alongside her sister who was also just moved there.
Ismail continued to bleed and his condition declined to such an extent that he was transferred to Shifa Hospital for emergency trauma treatment. He eventually became the third child to die from the missile attack.
Eye witness accounts state that the children were playing while walking to the garbage collection bin. What could they have possibly been doing that merited a direct military assault on them? A survey of the scene revealed no threatening militant presence, no weapons cache, no physical hostility. But alas, I mentioned it in the previous post: this is the culture of the Israeli military. The pilot manning the F-16 knows how to distinguish between a small child and a gun-toting militant.
When we commemorate the tragic and unjust invasion of Gaza, many of us feel a sense of grief. This grief is but a small and insignificant amount of the grief experienced and manifested by each and every person – Palestinian or not – living in the Gaza Strip. But families like the Hamdan family have it the worst. The loss of their three youngest children and the subsequent silence of their home must be deafening.
All images are screenshots of To Shoot and Elephant. To watch the movie, click here. The Hamdan family’s story begins 20 minutes into the film.