Emerging into a world of chaos and conflict, the newborn infant in the incubator has yet to experience the comforting touch of a loving career.
She was born via Caesarean section following her mother Hanna’s tragic injury in an Israeli air strike. Tragically, Hanna did not live to give her daughter a name.
“We simply refer to her as the daughter of Hanna Abu Amsha,” states nurse Warda al-Awawda, who is currently tending to the delicate newborn at the al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al-Balah, located in central Gaza.
Note: Some people may find the vivid depictions in this work distressing.
Amidst the turmoil caused by the ongoing conflict and with entire families nearly decimated, medical professionals and rescuers frequently face challenges in locating carers for grieving children.
“We have lost contact with her family,” the nurse informs us. “None of her family members have arrived and there is uncertainty surrounding the whereabouts of her father.”
The lives of children in Gaza, who account for almost half of the population of 2.3 million, have been devastatingly impacted by the violent conflict.
Israel claims to make efforts to prevent civilian casualties, even going so far as to issue evacuation orders. However, according to Palestinian health officials, over 11,500 individuals under the age of 18 have lost their lives. Additionally, there are a significant number of individuals who have sustained injuries, with a considerable portion of them experiencing life-altering consequences.
Obtaining precise figures can be challenging, but a recent report from Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, a non-profit organisation, reveals that over 24,000 children have tragically lost one or both of their parents.
Ibrahim Abu Mouss, a young child of only 10 years, endured devastating injuries to his leg and stomach as a result of a missile striking his residence. However, his tears are a result of the loss of his mother, grandfather, and sister.
“They insisted that they were receiving care upstairs at the hospital,” Ibrahim recounts, his father holding onto his hand tightly.
“However, I discovered the truth when I came across some photos on my dad’s phone. I shed tears to the point where my entire body ached.
The cousins of the Hussein family once enjoyed playing together, but now they find themselves sitting quietly beside the sandy graves where their relatives have been laid to rest near a school that has been transformed into a shelter in central Gaza. Every individual has experienced the loss of one or both of their parents.
“There was a tragic incident where a missile caused severe damage to a person’s body.” Abed Hussein, a resident of al-Bureij refugee camp, recounts the heartbreaking task of recovering body parts from the rubble of the house for several days.
“Upon receiving the devastating news of my brother, uncle, and entire family’s tragic demise, an overwhelming sense of anguish engulfed my being, as if my heart was ablaze with indescribable pain.”
Abed, plagued by sleepless nights, is haunted by the unsettling sounds of Israeli shelling, leaving him feeling isolated and fearful.
“When my parents were alive, I used to sleep peacefully. However, since their passing, I have been struggling to find rest.” “I used to sleep next to my father,” he explains.
Abed and his two surviving siblings are being cared for by his grandmother, but their everyday life is filled with challenges.
“There is a severe shortage of food and water,” he states. “I’m feeling quite unwell after consuming seawater.”
As Kinza Hussein’s father hurried to get flour for bread, he was fatally wounded. After he was killed by a missile, his body was taken home for burial, and the picture of him continues to haunt her.
“He was blind and had a severed tongue,” she recalled.
“All we want is for the war to be over,” she continues. “Everything is sad.”
Nowadays, almost all Gazans must rely on humanitarian aid for their daily needs. United Nations estimates put the number of displaced persons at around 1.7 million, with many having to relocate multiple times before finding a safe haven.
However, some 19,000 children who have lost an adult carer or who have found themselves in a vulnerable situation are the primary focus of Unicef, the United Nations agency for children.
“Many of these children have been found under the rubble or have lost their parents in the bombing of their home,” says Jonathan Crick, chief of communications for Unicef Palestine, speaking to me from Rafah in southern Gaza. Some have been discovered in hospitals, in the streets, or at Israeli checkpoints.
“The youngest ones very often cannot say their name and even the older ones are usually in shock so it can be extremely difficult to identify them and potentially regroup them with their extended family.”
Even if family members are available, they may not always be in the best position to support grieving children.
“It’s important to remember that they are frequently in a very desperate situation,” Mr. Crick remarks.
“It can be challenging, if not impossible, for individuals to care for these unaccompanied and separated children when they already have their own children to look after.”
Since the war began, a local non-profit organisation called SOS Children’s Villages, in collaboration with Unicef, has provided shelter for 55 children under the age of 10. Additional specialist staff have been hired in Rafah to provide psychological support.
I was informed by a senior staff member at SOS about a heart-wrenching incident involving a four-year-old child who was abandoned at a checkpoint. She arrived with selective mutism, an anxiety disorder that prevented her from discussing her experiences with her family. However, she is now making strides in her recovery, thanks to the warm reception she received and the opportunity to interact with other children in her new home.
According to Unicef, the situation in Gaza has led to a significant increase in the number of children requiring mental health support.
Amidst the devastation, even in the wake of a long-awaited truce, countless individuals will face unimaginable hardships that will test their resilience.