War turns Gaza into a children’s cemetery

After reading the New York Times article republished and translated by Là-bas si j’y suis*, we feel it’s essential to relay the facts on the ground, demonstrating a real genocide in progress. What could be more despicable than to massacre the children of the people, their future? At least 5,500 children have been killed since the start of the bombardments, bringing the total to 13,000 dead and 35,000 wounded. 53 journalists have been killed since the beginning, including 46 Palestinians. 

Khaled Joudeh, 9, mourns the death of his little sister, Misk, last month in Deir al Balah, Gaza. Samar Abu Elouf for The New York Times.

Thousands of children have been killed in the enclave since the start of the Israeli assault. According to the United Nations, Gaza has become « a graveyard for thousands of children ». Yet the Israeli army claims to be taking « every possible precaution » to avoid civilian deaths.

Our warmest thanks to them.

Tearful and barefoot, 9‑year-old Khaled Joudeh rushed to the dozens of bodies wrapped in white shrouds, blankets and carpets outside the overcrowded morgue.

« Where’s my mother? » Next to a New York Times photographer, Khaled yells, « I want to see my mother! ». His voice white, between sobs, he asks where his twelve-year-old brother is: « Where is Khalil? A morgue employee opens a white shroud to allow Khaled to kiss his brother one last time.

Then he bids farewell to his 8‑month-old sister. Another shroud was lifted, revealing the bloodied face of a baby, with curly red hair. Khaled bursts into tears when he recognizes her. Her name was Misk, which means musk in Arabic.

Misk Joudeh. ©Joudeh family

Softly, he says: « Mummy was so happy when the little one was born. He gently touches her forehead and her tears flow.

She was the joy of her family. After three boys, her parents desperately wanted a girl. When he was born, Khaled’s mother delighted in dressing Misk in frilly, colorful dresses, and fastening his little curls with multicolored barrettes.

Through his tears, Khaled bid farewell to his mother, father, older brother and sister, with all those bodies lined up around him. Only he, Khaled, and his younger brother, Tamer, 7, survived the air strikes on October 22. The two buildings where this large family lived were destroyed.

According to three separate testimonies, a total of 68 members of the Joudeh family were killed that day as they slept in their beds in Deir Al-Balah, in central Gaza.

Several branches and generations of the family had come together before the attack. Some had fled the northern Gaza Strip, as Israel had ordered all inhabitants to do. The Israeli army said it could not comment on questions relating to the attack on the family.

Finally, the family members were buried together, side by side in a large grave, according to the testimony of relatives showing images of the burial and sharing a photo of little Misk before she was killed.

Determining the exact number of children killed in Gaza — in the midst of a ferocious bombing campaign, with hospitals collapsing, children missing, bodies buried under rubble and neighborhoods in ruins — is a Sisyphean task. Health officials in Gaza claim that 5,000 Palestinian children have been killed since the start of the Israeli assault, and possibly hundreds more. Many international civil servants and experts familiar with the method used to compile death tolls in the territory confirm that the figures are generally reliable.

If the figures are correct, far more children have been killed in Gaza in the last six weeks than the 2,985 children killed in total in the world’s main conflict zones — in two dozen countries — in the whole of last year, even with the war in Ukraine, according to UN figures on verified deaths in armed conflict.

A wounded child arrives at Al-Nasr hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza. Yousef Masoud for The New York Times
The body of a child pulled from the rubble in Khan Younis. Yousef Masoud for The New York Times
A child’s funeral in Khan Younis on October 26. Yousef Masoud for The New York Times

The Israeli army claims that, in contrast to the « murderous assault on women, children, the elderly and the disabled » perpetrated by Hamas on October 7, Israeli forces are taking « all possible precautions » to « mitigate the damage » caused to civilians.

According to the Israeli army, Hamas deliberately caused « the maximum possible damage and brutality to civilians ». During the attack on Israel, parents and their children were shot dead inside their homes, according to witnesses and officials, and children were taken hostage.

In response, the Israeli army declared that it was waging an « aggressive war to dismantle Hamas’s military and administrative capabilities ». It reports that Israeli forces have asked residents to flee to the south of the Gaza Strip, and are issuing warnings ahead of air strikes « where possible ».

But the frantic pace of strikes — over 15,000 to date, according to the Israeli army, including in southern Gaza — makes the Israeli bombing campaign on Palestinian territory one of the most intense of the 21st century. And it’s happening in a dense, besieged urban enclave, with high concentrations of civilians, especially children, triggering growing worldwide alarm, even from Israel’s closest allies.

After initially casting doubt on the death toll reported by health officials in Gaza, the Biden administration is now declaring that « too much of Palestinians have been killed, conceding that the true figures for civilian casualties could be « even higher than those quoted »..

At the morgue of Deir Al-Balah’s Al-Aqsa Hospital, there are so many children that its director, Yassir Abu Amar, explains that he has to cut the funeral shrouds into several child-sized pieces to cope with the influx of corpses.

« The children’s bodies are coming to us broken and in pieces, » he said. « It’s chilling.

« We have never seen so many children killed, » he added. « We cry every day. We cry every day as we work to prepare the children for their funerals ».

During previous wars in Gaza, an overcrowded enclave of over two million inhabitants, parents often put their children to bed in different rooms of their homes. If an air strike damaged part of the house, the other children could survive.

Faced with the scale of the bombardments this time — indiscriminate and without warning, according to residents — some parents separated the children by sending them to relatives in different parts of the Gaza Strip, in an attempt to increase their chances of survival. Others have taken to scribbling their name directly on their skin, in case they’re lost, orphaned or killed and need to be identified.

In the emergency room of Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospital, many children were brought in alone and in a state of shock, with burns and injuries from shrapnel or crushed rubble, explained Dr. Ghassan Abu-Sittah. In many cases, he says, no one knew who they were.

Waiting for treatment at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. Samar Abu Elouf for The New York Times
A wounded child was treated at the Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir al Balah. Samar Abu Elouf for The New York Times
Waiting for treatment at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. Samar Abu Elouf for The New York Times

« They are given a designation — unknown traumatized child — until someone identifies them, » he said.  » The most terrible thing is that some of them are the only survivors in their families, so no one ever comes to look for them. »

« There are more and more of them, there’s a feeling that this is a war against children, » said Dr. Abu-Sittah. He continues: « Two weeks ago, the Al-Shifa emergency department recorded ‘unknown traumatized child number 1,500’  ».

Then, in recent days, Israeli forces stormed the hospital, where thousands of Gazans had taken refuge, claiming that the facility was above an underground Hamas command center. UN officials warned that the raid was further endangering the already most vulnerable people in the Gaza Strip.

International experts who have worked with health officials in Gaza (during this and previous wars) confirm that the enclave’s hospitals and morgues collect and report names, identification numbers and other details of victims. While urging caution about public statements on the precise number of people killed in a particular strike, especially in the aftermath of an explosion, experts say that overall death figures reported by health professionals in Gaza have, in general, proved accurate.

The Israeli army says it « regrets the damage caused to civilians (especially children) », adding that it is « reviewing all its operations to ensure that it respects its own rules and complies with international law ».

But a growing number of human rights groups and officials claim that Israel has already violated this law.

After condemning the attacks  » Hamas’s « abhorrent, brutal and shocking » actions, calling them war crimes, Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said this month: « Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinian civilians also constitutes a war crime, as does the illegal and forced evacuation of civilians.

« Israel’s massive bombardment has killed, maimed and wounded women and children in particular, » he added. « This toll is unbearable.

Some international officials are warning that children are at risk wherever they are.  » Gaza’s one million children have nowhere to turn for safety, » said UNICEF Director Catherine Russell.

On October 15, Dr. Mohammad Abu Moussa was on 24-hour duty at the Al-Nasr hospital in Khan Younis — south of the evacuation line drawn by Israel — when he heard a loud explosion nearby. He called his wife at home, but when she picked up, all he heard was screaming.

His wife, 12-year-old daughter and 9‑year-old son were taken to emergency, bloodied, panicked and covered in dust from the rubble. He tried to comfort them, but was in turn panic-stricken when he noticed that his youngest son, Yousef, aged 7, was not with them.

Yousef Abu Moussa. Mohammad Abu Moussa

He remembers asking, « Where’s Yousef?
No one wanted to answer.

When he asked again, a neighbor simply replied: « May God have mercy on his soul ».

Doctor Abu Moussa didn’t want to believe it. Videos taken by journalists at the hospital show him frantically searching for Yousef. Dr. Abu Moussa recounted how he had asked other departments, including the intensive care unit, if his son had not been rushed there.

Then, he said, a journalist showed him photos of his demolished house. Doctor Abu Moussa said he recognized the gray clothes Yousef was wearing when he kissed him that morning.

Dr. Abu Moussa left the emergency room to go to the hospital morgue. That’s where he says he finally found Yousef, a joker with a mischievous grin who was sticking his tongue out in the photos. Today, his lifeless body lies on a stretcher.

The impact was too violent. Dr Abu Moussa remembers looking away before a colleague took him in his arms.

Several family members said that air strikes had hit their house without warning and that Dr. Abu Moussa’s family had been pulled from the rubble. The Israeli army said it could not answer questions about a strike on the family.

Yousef wasn’t the only one killed. Dr Abu Moussa’s brother, Jasir Abu Moussa, lost his two sons and his wife.

Dr. Abu Moussa’s 18-year-old nephew, Hmaid, had just graduated from high school with top marks. His younger brother, Abdulrahman, 8, was even more intelligent, according to the family. He was also killed.

Many children are showing signs of trauma, including night terrors, according to Nida Zaeem, mental health officer for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza.

Families in Khan Younis leave their homes for safety after an explosion. Yousef Masoud for The New York Times
Injured children in Khan Younis. Samar Abu Elouf for The New York Times
Children inspect their family home after an explosion in Gaza City. Samar Abu Elouf for The New York Times

« They wake up screaming, shouting, » she adds from a Red Cross shelter in Rafah, in the south of the country, where she lives with her family, which includes four children. Every night, » she added, « the children in the shelter shout: ‘We’re going to die, we’re going to die’.

They cry out, they beg: « Please protect me, please hide me. I don’t want to die ».

In a camp sheltering thousands of people around a UN center, Hammoud Qadada, 4, was concentrating on a video game inside a tent when the sound of the strikes was close enough to make the ground tremble beneath his feet.

When the soccer players on the screen scored a goal, everyone in the tent — his siblings, cousins and other children from the makeshift camp — shouted « buuuuut » so loudly that people in nearby tents thought a ceasefire had been announced.

Their parents had hooked up a TV to a solar panel, and when the situation seemed safe enough, people played soccer outside, between the tents, trying to distract the children.

It wasn’t enough.

The next morning, Hammoud’s grandmother reported that he had woken up and said « I’m going to die ».

« I told him no, » said his grandmother, 53-year-old Hanaan Jaber. « God willing, you’ll grow up, get married and tell your children what happened to us here, like a story ».

Hammoud’s vocabulary has already been shaped by war. Shortly after it began, he asked his parents what the word  » martyrdom » meant. When asked what’s going on around him, he answers without hesitation: « Air strikes. Air strikes and war ».

Gaza, a coastal strip where shacks and catering huts line the Mediterranean, once had a lively seaside culture. Yasser Abou Ishaq, 34, remembers teaching his three daughters to swim.

« They were always asking me to go to the beach, the amusement park, the parks, » he said. « I loved watching them play. »

Habiba and her sisters Israa and Amal. Yasser Abou Isha

Amal, her eldest daughter aged 7, was named after her mother. At school, she was a good student with excellent penmanship, » he recalls. At home, she became the teacher who got her younger sister Israa, 4, who loved chocolate and Kinder toys, to play.

When his house was destroyed by an air strike, he lost them both. His wife was also killed.

In all, 25 members of his family, including 15 children, were killed. Local journalists reported a strike and broadcast images of bodies in funeral shrouds lined up on the ground, while relatives wept. The Israeli army said it could not answer questions about the attack on the family.

Mr. Abou Ishaq said that he and his one-year-old daughter, Habiba, had been injured and taken to hospital. Most of his family members, including his wife and Amal, were pulled from the rubble the same day and buried by relatives, he said, while he was still being treated in hospital. He never had a chance to say goodbye.

The next day, Israa’s body was removed from the rubble. He was able to see her in the hospital morgue and take her in his arms one last time.

« I hugged her and kissed her. I said goodbye and cried, » he said. « God knows how much I cried.

Mourning relatives in front of the Al-Aqsa hospital morgue in Deir al Balah. Samar Abu Elouf for The New York Times


journalist: Raja Abdulrahim, correspondent for the  New York Times
photos: Samar Abu Elouf and Yousef Masoud, photographers and Gazans

Espace membre

Member area