They Are No More

The Children of Gaza

Richard Hall & Ariana Baio

[One little girl desperately wanted to be a YouTube star. Her brother adored football and his favourite player, Cristiano Ronaldo. Their cousin was a teenage electronics wiz. Since the start of Israel’s offensive in Gaza, more than 7,000 children have been killed in airstrikes, artillery and mortar fire. Often entire families disappeared in an instant. Here are the stories of four Palestinian children who’ve been killed in the war, as told to Richard Hall and Ariana Baio.]

Before the war began, Gaza’s streets teemed with children. Roughly half of the two million people who call the narrow strip of land home are under 18. At the weekend, and when school was out, the beaches, parks and playgrounds were full of the sounds of children laughing and playing.

But Gaza’s children have had to endure so much in their short lives. A 15-year-old will have lived through five wars in their lifetime, including the current conflict. Many have been displaced several times because their homes were destroyed by bombing.

Even so, they had never experienced destruction like this.

Since the start of Israel’s offensive in Gaza, more than 7,000 children have been killed in airstrikes, artillery and mortar fire. That number only accounts for those who have been identified, and many more likely lie beneath the rubble. Thousands have been injured. The United Nations has described Gaza as “a graveyard for thousands of children,” and “the most dangerous place in the world to be a child”.

Lost in those unfathomable numbers are the faces, the names, the lives, and the moments of joy those children brought.

SiwarAlmadhoun, 13
Siwar was tall for her age, and she put it to good use. Basketball was her passion. She played whenever she could–at school, in her own time, in the summer–and she won trophies. There’s a video of her, taken after winning a basketball tournament, showing her dancing on a big stage in front of a crowd while confetti sprays around her and music blares. The whole team jumps up and down with their medals. She used to wear an old basketball jersey from a Florida high school all the time because it had a hoop and a ball on the front. She loved volleyball, too–another sport where her height gave her an advantage.

She was the most outgoing of all of her siblings; despite only being 13, she brimmed with confidence. Hani remembers her always wanting to help her parents.

Siwar loved to picnic. If she had a dollar in her hand she would go to a nearby restaurant with her girlfriends where they would order the same meal every time: a shawarma sandwich, pickles, a corn salad and fries. It came in a clamshell container.

She was everybody’s favourite, everybody was her friend. Siwar was a middle child, and was fiercely protective of her younger brothers and sisters. She loved looking after her younger cousins when they came to visit, too, Hani’s own daughters used to spend all of their time with her when they visited Gaza from their home in the US.

Omar Almadhoun, 9
Omar was crazy about football. He used to fight with his father, Majid, about who was the greatest player in the world. Omar was certain it was Cristiano Ronaldo; his father thought it was Karim Benzema. They were both Real Madrid fans, so Lionel Messi did not enter into the discussion.

Omar spent most of last year obsessing over the World Cup, but he couldn’t buy any of the jerseys or merchandise worn by his favourite players in Gaza, which has been blockaded by Israel since 2007. So he asked his uncle, Hani, to help.

Hani went to the store and got him some goalkeeper gloves, a football and a bag, which he sent to Gaza with someone he knew. Omar was thrilled.

“He wasn’t even a goalkeeper. He played offence. He just wanted to show off,” Hani says.

But Omar took it seriously. He was attending a summer football camp so he could practise his skills.

When he wasn’t playing football, Omar liked to stay close to his dad. He would hang around him in his store, where he sold general household goods. He was always trying to get his dad’s attention, which made work difficult.

Omar was particularly close with his grandfather. On the night that he was killed, Hani says, his grandfather had a dream about young Omar. He awoke in the middle of the night. Not 10 minutes later, Omar was dead.

Ali Almadhoun, 7
Ali was the troublemaker of the family. He was small, but he had an athlete’s physique, and he was always fighting. His father used to joke it was a full-time job having to go around to his neighbours’ houses to answer for Ali’s latest fist fight. His uncle, Hani, says his father was just the same when he was a kid.

No one could figure out where he got his energy from. When the family would go to the beach, he would always disappear out of sight.

“He was the hardest to have him listen to instructions. He would go crazy and run off into danger and he would not listen. He was very stubborn,” his uncle Hani says.

But he was the youngest of the family, so he was doted on by everyone: cousins, grandparents, parents, older siblings. Ali got away with so much by flashing his cheeky smile.

He was inseparable from his dad. He would follow him everywhere.

Ali, Omar and Siwar were killed in an Israeli airstrike on 24 November, together with their older sister Riman and their parents Majid and Safa. They were killed just an hour before the first ceasefire of the conflict began, in their family home, where they had been sheltering for 40 days.

The strike would have killed more, but half of the family was visiting Majid and Hani’s sister in hospital. She had been injured by a separate airstrike and was receiving treatment. The family stayed there overnight because they were worried about snipers on the way home.

GhinaAlkrunz, 8
Ghina desperately wanted to be a YouTube star. At just eight years old, she was already making videos that demonstrated her humour, irreverence and confidence. In one that she never got to post, she gesticulates like a seasoned presenter as she shows the viewer around her home. She takes us into the kitchen and shows us her favourite chocolate doughnuts her mother has made for her. Ghina was always making videos like this, says her uncle, Mahmoud Alkrunz. Whenever she saw a microphone, she would grab it. You never knew when you were going to get a song or presentation.

“She wanted to document her daily life and show people her sisters and brothers and her toys,” he says. “She had a lot of dreams, but most of all she wanted to be a famous YouTuber or maybe a journalist.”

Ghina was incredibly smart, too; she always got high marks at school. Being the youngest in the family meant everyone looked after her, and her strong personality ensured she had a ton of friends. Ghina was close with her aunts and uncles, so Mahmoud got to spend a lot of time with her. He used to take her to the local pool and taught her how to swim. It was their special time together.

“She was so attached to me; she used to call me ‘Mahmoud Pool’ because we always went swimming together.”

Ghina was killed in an Israeli airstrike on the building where she was sheltering with her family in Rafah, southern Gaza, on 23 October. The family had fled from bombing further north in search of safety. After her death, her mother told Mahmoud about the day she died.

That day, though, her mom was cooking one of Ghina’s favourites: beans with tomato soup. Ghina used to call it “red food” because of its deep red colour. She was deliriously happy at the prospect of the meal. As her mother stirred the pot on the stove, she was jumping around shouting “Red food! Red food! Red food!”

Just minutes later, she was killed by an airstrike that collapsed the building. Her body was found under the rubble 24 hours later. Her mother was lucky to survive. Ghina died hungry.


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Vol 56, No. 27, Dec 31 2023 - Jan 6, 2024