Gaza one year on: how do I explain this to my children?
Lubna Iskander is a Technical Advisor on Child Rights Governance and has been working with Save the Children since 2009. She has three children; Nuha (13), Tamer (10) and Natal (3) and has a Masters in International Cooperation and Development. She is also a poet and enjoys learning languages, art and music. This piece reflects her personal impression from living and working in Gaza.
I can’t believe that a whole year passed.
I remember how we’d stay up until dawn watching the news from Gaza, after a long day of fasting during Ramadan.
We saw the displaced families, torn bodies and entire buildings, families and neighborhoods erased, children and parents roaming in the hospitals looking for their family members. Eating or sleeping weren’t an option.
The days and nights seemed very long and painful.
We live in the West Bank, and the bombing was happening in Gaza, but part of me wanted to protect my children from seeing the horrible images. I wanted them to feel secure and safe.
All I wanted then was just to hold my kids tight to me. I wanted them to sleep in my bed, in my room. I did not want there to be any space between me and them.
I don’t let them watch horror movies on TV. So how could I allow them to see this? I couldn’t tell them that it was just acting.
But at the same time, this was happening in Gaza – in Palestine. I wanted them to know what was happening there.
I was only seven years old in 1982, during the war in Lebanon. I still remember watching the news and seeing families and children killed, and bodies thrown on the roads.
Home felt safe when I got back from school under the thunder of bullets and clouds of burnt tires. I still remember the pain when our 13-year-old neighbour was shot and killed. We used to play together. He was still a kid.
It took me years to overcome my fear that occupying forces could just break the door and shoot all of us. What would I do if I was the only survivor? Would life be worth living without my family and in my home?
No words to explain
In 2000, during the second Intifada, I was pregnant with my first child. My husband, brother and other neighbours were taken by the occupying forces and put in a military camp as prisoners; I was left alone, in the last trimester of pregnancy.
The roads had been broken down by bulldozers, the national security building was being bombed and my house was shaking.
I used to look up at the planes and the missiles in the sky, and wonder if they would hit us by mistake. What if I went into labour then, alone and with no way of getting to a hospital? It was my first baby and I knew nothing.
At the same time I thanked God that I did not have children yet. Otherwise, how was I going to feed them, take care of them or comfort them?
The mothers and fathers in Gaza faced even greater questions than me. They had to find ways to explain to their child why they had lost limbs and couldn’t play with their friends, or why their brothers and sisters had been killed or injured.
I imagined caregivers would struggle to find ways to explain to orphan children why their parents had left them so early or what happened to their home. And why the world had stayed silent.
How would these children feel safe and secure again?
How many years will it take them to stop looking at the doors or panic when they hear planes overhead, or fireworks?
And what would happen to the dreams they had nurtured?
In 2014, I decided that I had to tell my children about what was going on in Gaza.
I had to find a way of letting them feel the pain and agony of other Palestinians outside Ramallah, but without causing a great shock to them, or making them feel that they weren’t safe. Eventually, they would grow up and know the truth.
One year on from the conflict, and I still feel shocked. I expected the whole world to condemn the killing and injuring of children, the displacement of families, and the erasing of neighborhoods.
Yet nothing happened and everything has gone quiet again.
Now, we reread the stories from a year ago, and look out on the destruction. We see empty neighborhoods and empty seats at the table. We imagine the children who have lost limbs and the confusion in their eyes. What could they have they done to deserve this? When will they be able to run and play again?
So many questions
Can we at Save the Children do anything to help? Can we save them from the bad memories of the war, from nightmares and keep old beautiful memories? Will our psychosocial counselling be enough? Is it enough to document the stories?
I do not have the answers, but I know that I am now more committed to the case management system for children with disabilities that we have been working on for a couple of years.
There are more traumatised children with disabilities. They weren’t born that way – they need our help to learn to live with a new reality.
Children who have been burnt need our help so they realise they are still beautiful. And their parents need help as well.
How can we reassure children and their families that everything will be ok? That they will be safe?
How do we keep the light of hope shining?
The burden is huge and the responsibility is increasing.