In the aftermath of Israel’s latest military offensive in the Gaza Strip, dubbed “Operation Protective Edge,” the process of evaluating the true extent of the damage has begun. The Gaza Strip, already battered by an eight- year old siege, has emerged from the assault shattered.
Passing through Gaza, you will meet Amir Hamad, 11, and his four siblings living in a rented house with their grandmother. They were orphaned during the war after Israeli warplanes attacked their home in Beit Hanoun, north of the Strip. The attack killed their parents and turned their house to rubble.
Amir, the oldest among them, hoped that he had been killed along with his parents in the same attack. While speaking, he burst into tears and said: “They [his parents] were drinking coffee after breakfast, when a rocket hit the house. I knew that they had died.”
Looking at his younger brother Nour, 6, he went on: “I saw him swimming in a pool of blood. He was pulled out and rushed to hospital by the ambulance.”
Amir and the other three siblings miraculously were not hurt. But four other relatives in the same house were killed in the attack. “I will take care with my brothers and sisters,” he said. “But I am afraid that my father and mother will not return home again.”
The five orphans are now living with their 60-year-old grandmother, who was forced to leave her house in the same area after it had been attacked by the Israel military. “I will never leave them,” she said “but I am sure, they will face many difficulties as their grandfather is over 70 and he is jobless.”
Official statistics showed that the latest offensive has taken the lives of 2,160 Palestinian citizens and wounded more than 11,000 others. Around half a million Gazans have been displaced as a result of the war, while thousands of houses, mosques, hospitals and cemeteries have been either partially or fully destroyed.
According to statistics from the United Nations (UN), there are now 1,500 new orphans in the Gaza Strip as a result of “Operation Protective Edge.”
Despite his plight, Amir was luckier than Bisan Daher, 8, who has lost both her parents and four of her siblings in the Israeli attack on Sheja’ia neighbourhood in the east of Gaza City. While a bandage is still wrapped around her head, she says: “We were sitting in the house, but they attacked us, we had no rockets. My mum, dad and all my brothers and sisters went to Paradise.”
She spent six hours under the rubble of her house before she was pulled out by the paramedics and taken to hospital in a critical condition. “I was aware of everything, but there was sand in my eyes. I wanted to see my mum then,” she said.
Bisan is now living with her married sister Noha, 28, and she shows clear signs of severe trauma in her face, her speech and the movements of her body.
UN statistics showed that at least 373,000 children suffered psychological strain after the latest Israeli attack on Gaza. In the past six years there has been three major attacks on the Strip.
There is only one leading orphanage in Gaza, which takes care of around 120 orphans. Al-Amal Orphanage said that it is preparing to receive more orphans. Director of Al-Amal Iyad al-Masri said: “We exceptionally opened the door for new orphans. We expect to receive from 250 to 300 new orphans.”
Al-Masri mentioned the sad story of the two orphan brothers from Beit Hanoun. Relatives of orphans Ali and Ibrahim al-Shimbar, 10 and 11, asked to take them to one of the UN schools used to shelter displaced Gazans.
When the Israeli military targeted the school, Ali was killed and Ibrahim was wounded.
In order to be able to receive more orphans, Al-Amal is urgently needing to finish one of its new buildings. “But this is connected to the situation of the Israeli siege on the Strip,” said Al-Masri.