“The Jews shot me.” I was eating breakfast with 3-year-old Ibrahim Awajah in February 2015, in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahia, when he made this proclamation. His father, Kamal Awajah, saw the surprise on my face.
“No, no, you’re the second Ibrahim,” Kamal quickly corrected the small, sandy-haired boy. “It was your brother who was shot, not you.”
The first Ibrahim, 9 years old, had been shot and killed by an Israeli soldier during the 2009 attack on Gaza, which the Israeli military named Operation Cast Lead. His parents and siblings witnessed the killing, along with the demolition of their home. The second Ibrahim, born in 2011, was named after his martyred brother. He has already lived through two massive military campaigns. He has also lived most of his young life in tentlike structures, first while his family’s house was being rebuilt after Operation Cast Lead, and then after it was destroyed again during the summer 2014 war.
Israel launched its Operation Protective Edge on July 8 last year; its stated aim was to “restore calm to southern Israel” after an increase in rocket fire emanating from the Gaza Strip. The 50-day onslaught left 2,131 Palestinians dead, of whom roughly 70 percent were civilians, including 539 children. Hamas forces in Gaza executed at least 23 alleged collaborators with Israel. Seventy-one Israelis (66 of them soldiers) were killed during the same period, including one 4-year-old boy. Over 16,000 housing units in Gaza were demolished or severely damaged, leaving nearly 118,000 people homeless. The Awajah family is still among them. Though many of the damaged houses have been repaired a year after the war, not one totally demolished home in Gaza has been rebuilt.
I climbed with Wafaa Awajah on the mound of debris that had been her home. “Here was the girls’ room, and next to it was the boys’ room. This was the kitchen, a bathroom, and the stairs,” Wafaa said. “All my dreams are buried under this rubble. Even if the house gets rebuilt, we will always be afraid of its being demolished again.”
I asked about Sobhi, the Awajahs’ 15-year-old son. He seemed more withdrawn than on my previous visits, when I filmed the family for my documentary One Family in Gaza. Once an eager student, he was now skipping school. “Sobhi lost hope in many things,” Kamal answered. “First he lost his brother Ibrahim, and his home. We gave him mental support. ‘Life goes on,’ we told him. ‘Things can be rebuilt.’ But with the 2014 war and the destruction of the house again, Sobhi’s mental and emotional well-being were damaged. I don’t know how to deal with him.”
In a February 2015 report, UNICEF estimated that nearly 300,000 children—approximately one-third of Gaza’s youth—were still in need of psychological and social support six months after the war.