During the Nov 2012 Israeli attacks on Gaza, 182 Palestinians were killed, according to the World Health Organization’s Dec 2012 report, among whom 47 were children, including 16 under 5 years old. Another 1399 Palestinians were injured, most of them with multiple injuries.
It is only four years after Israel’s last major assault on Gaza, which killed over 1450 including those who died of their injuries, and injured over 5000. Then there are the random Israeli attacks throughout the years, leaving injured suffering even years later.
And there were the under-reported attacks in the week preceding the Nov 14 attacks: the Nov 8 killing of 13 year old Ahmed Abu Daqqa as he played football, the Nov 10 killing of Mohammed Harara (16) and Ahmed Harara (17) as they played football, the subsequent killings of Ahmed Al- Dirdissawi (18) and Matar Abu al-‘Ata (19) when they rushed to the scene of the Harara killings (source: PCHR).
Every December and January, I remember the victims of the 2008-2009 massacre, particularly some of the harder incidents of burning to death from white phosphorous bombing, or point blank shootings of loved ones. All ages suffered, although we tend to pick up on the children. Somehow their murders, their maimings, their imprisonment strikes us more.
Two cases from the November 2012 attacks struck me and stay with me: the killing of 4 year old Reham as she stood a few metres from the door of her Nusseirat camp home, outside of which an Israeli bomb exploded…and the murder of Nader, 14, killed by a precision drone missile as he walked to get food for his siblings… just two hours before the ceasefire.
Below are follow-up photos, the families and loved ones of Reham and Nader. Allah yerhamhum (Allah, God, bless them).
In the days following Reham’s murder, we visit the family in the simple Nusseirat home. Beside a mourning room set up to receive family and friends, a portrait of the girl I’d only until then seen dead in the morgue.
The home is barebones simple, the old Palestinian style of home and courtyard reconstructed with refugee camp means: cheap cement, toxic asbestos roof, chipped paint, thin walls and doors, sparse decor…no frills. A single olive tree grows in one side of the courtyard.
Um Reham sits amongst female relatives and although her daughter was killed only a few days earlier, is strong and tells me of the day. We’d seen her at al-Aqsa hospital in Deir al Balah on Nov 21, after the shelling. Further back from where the explosion hit, Um Reham was still wounded in her face by flying shrapnel. Her other two sons suffered only minor injuries.
“We’d gone to my sister’s home in Bureij, at the beginning of the attacks. There was so much bombing in Nusseirat, we were afraid to stay here, our kids were terrified. On the last day, we heard there would soon be a cease-fire and wanted to come home. I wanted to do laundry, to change my kids clothing. My sister told me to leave Reham with her, but I said no, I couldn’t leave my daughter behind.
After we’d returned to Nusseirat, we realized the bombing was still very heavy here. We were going to return to Bureij…“
Abu Reham, who we’d seen at the hospital morgue leaning over his daughter’s lifeless body, sobbing and kissing her, stoically continues explaining what happened that day.
Although Nusseirat was still being hammered, at the moment of the Israeli shelling which killed his daughter, it was relatively calm, he says.
“There was no visible danger, our neighbour across street was sitting on a chair by his doorway just minutes before the bombing. He left to go see something at a neighbour’s home…if he had not left, he would have been killed.“
He points out the two narrow courtyard doors to the street where a pocket in the asphalt speaks to the earlier bombing.
“It was around 4pm, one of the doors was closed, we were getting the kids ready to go back to Bureij. I’d brought out some cookies, and Reham went to get them out of the bag. She was reaching into the bag when the bomb struck. She was near the door, the shrapnel went right into her head. She died soon after, there was blood all over.
The sound of drones was insane then, it could’ve been a drone strike.”
“Tank,” his brother says, “it was a tank shell.”
The brother holds a girl.
“This is my daughter, Roa’a, she’s a year and a half old. Reham used to play with her every afternoon, she’d bring Roa’a chips and snacks… Reham used to always take care of her.”
A neighbour daughter comes over with his daughter, Fatoum (Fatema), 4 years old as Reham was. She is chubby cheeked and lovely, but unsmiling and won’t say a word.
“She came to play with Reham every day. A four year old shouldn’t have to know what death is, that her friend has been killed. She said to me, ‘my friend is dead, my friend died.’“
Abu Reham, whose daughter is just days dead, is worried about Fatoum who fell ill after learning Reham was dead.
“I love her like a daughter. Every child who loved my daughter, I love them like my own child (breaks down crying). I went to the cemetery, saw children from the area there, they had brought flowers and were tending Reham’s grave. They told me ‘we will visit her, even if your family moves, we’ll continue to visit her.’“
On the eastern outskirts of Deir al Balah, central Gaza, we go to the home of the 14 year old whose mutilated body set me sobbing when I saw it in al-Aqsa hospital on Nov 21. The family has a number of olive trees, from which they exist. Their simple home, just over a kilometre from the border and surrounded by trees on a small plot of land, is a little oasis in the over-crowded Strip. But for Abu Nader, it is now hell.
“I look at his jeans, I remember him. I look at the house, I remember him. I look there, look there, wherever I look, I’m reminded of Nader.
I hate this house, this area. I hate life now. I started to hate life when my son was killed.
You don’t stay in a place if your dear one is no longer there.”
We’re sitting in the small, nylon-walled tent behind his home, drinking bitter coffee and listening as Abu Nader tells us how his son was killed. Nader’s six younger siblings, for whom he’d been going to get food when killed, sit beside their father. When we walked into the tent, Abu Nader ran to one corner to grab a small vial of cologne, which he rolled onto the backs of our hands. Nader’s favourite.
“I had lit a fire and we were sitting like this. Sitting like this exactly. Nader asked if I had money, said he wanted to go to the shop to get food for dinner. I didn’t want him to go, but he said the ceasefire would start in a couple of hours, he’d be okay.
There was nothing to eat in the house. These kids need to eat, we’d had nothing in the house for 5 days.
Nader told me to warm the bread over the fire. He said he’d get some yogurt, some canned meat, anything so that all the kids could eat. One of his younger brothers went with Nader, but halfway there Nader told his brother to go back home. His brother kept saying he wanted to go with Nader, but Nader insisted he go back home, told him to wait for him at home.
His brother came back here and said to me, ‘Dad, Nader told me to come back here. He wouldn’t let me go with him to the store’. While he was telling me this, we heard a loud explosion.
My wife said that the explosion was very close to here. She told me to call Nader’s cellphone to see where he was. I called Nader but he cellphone was off. I kept trying to call him, and I ran to the street to try to find Nader.
I kept running until I reached the mosque. From the mosque I saw the light of the store.
And it was night, dark, about fifteen minutes after the evening prayer.
I was looking at the store and waiting for my son to come out of it, and didn’t see that my son was on the ground near me. There was blood all over the street. I thought it was water.
They fired a missile right at him.
When I saw him, I knelt down and grabbed him. There was no one around. I tried to pick him up but couldn’t. He was dead weight, heavy, I couldn’t pick him up on my own. And his legs were shredded, falling apart.
I started screaming, for anyone to hear and help me pick up my son and take him to the hospital.
No one heard me.
I left Nader and screamed to the houses around me, then came back to Nader, but no one heard me.
I sat next to him for a minute, panicking, didn’t know what to do.
I ran to another house to yell for help, but no one heard me.
I came back and wrapped my arms around him, put my head on his head. And I woke up in the hospital.
They killed him in a horrible way. They shot the missile right at him.
In the morning, one of Nader’s brothers came to me and said, ‘Nader’s bed is empty. Where is Nader?’
I told him, the Israeli army killed him.
We are all traumatized.
I’m not angry because Allah chose to take Nader. Allah gives and Allah takes. The hardest thing is that I saw how Nader died. In pieces. How can I live seeing my son cut into pieces? He was a child. He went to get food for his siblings.”
Abu Nader, a wiry frame and the weathered face of a farmer, repeatedly breaks into sobs as he re-tells the story of Nader’s killing.
He takes out a bag of the shrapnel bits he collected from the bomb which killed Nader, a collection of circular, square and jagged pieces, some with serial numbers inscribed, some with the wiring and chips of a precisely-fired missile. He also shows us Nader’s wristwatch, something I’d honed in on at the hospital, looking away from Nader’s shredded legs and noting the watch, a bright plastic stopwatch the kind most teens love.
We walk through the darkness of the unlit village, the only lights being the mosque near which Nader was killed and the shop to which he’d been headed. Abu Nader shows us the hole in the road where the missile hit, points out shrapnel marks… The same tormented pointing out of details that Abu Reham performed.
He points out the mosque, which Nader prayed at devoutly. Nader’s mother later reiterates, “he was such a good boy, didn’t talk back to his parents, was excellent in school.”
At the small shop Nader never made it to that day, the shop owner shakes his head in regret, echoes the words of Nader’s parents about the boy’s character. Abu Nader pulls hummus, processed meat and yogurt from the fridge, waving it at us… this is why Nader was killed, because he’d wanted to bring these things to his family.
Two children, of 47 in the Nov 2012 Israeli attacks alone, killed in brutal ways their parents can never forget, on the afternoon of the impending cease-fire. Zionist aggressors know no bounds.