Saturday was the first day of school for my children. My 12-year-old son Yazan is in the 6th grade. He went to school and realized he had lost six schoolmates. One of the boys used to sit at the desk behind Yazan, so every time he turns and looks behind him, the boy he used to talk to, to laugh with, is not there anymore.
The children lived through the air strikes, the danger, the lack of sleep, and now they have a world that they don”t recognize. They can”t understand why their classmates are dead. Yazan asks me, “Why did my friend die? Why was his house hit? What did he do wrong?’
They want to know why children were killed. They know that many adults were killed, but for them, it is more difficult to understand when it is children, children like them, who were hurt, or killed, or were in pain.
For Ziad, who is six, his school was destroyed in a bombing two weeks ago. They haven”t found any place for the kids yet, so they sit in tents surrounded by rubble.
I sent Ziad to the tent school for two days, but I didn”t like it. It”s outside, so it”s very cold, and it”s in the middle of broken glass and brick and debris. I don”t know what”s in the rubble – we have heard that there could be remains of weapons like white phosphorous or depleted uranium, or unexploded bombs. It is not safe. So now, Ziad will stay home. He will miss his first year of school. He just started going to school in September.
He used to be so excited about going to school, but when I told him he would stay home from now on, he didn”t say anything. Some of his friends have gone back to the tent school, but their parents are starting to think twice, too.
There are no temporary spaces for schools, but they will not allow construction material into Gaza. So many houses and schools are destroyed. The houses that remain standing are holding several families. It is a mess in Gaza, until we can start to rebuild. But how can we rebuild, without cement, or glass, or wood?
I can”t tell you how agonizing these stories are that the kids are talking about. They keep talking about it – the war, what they saw on TV, their friends who died. They imagine how they died. Counselors at the schools are doing activities for the children to talk to their sadness out. I hope these things work. It”s a big trauma for the children. They are so young.
My daughters, who are older, don”t open up to me. Maybe they talk to their mother. All my life I thought girls like to talk, but now I realize that sometimes it is hard to get girls to talk. They look so sad, but they only answer yes or no to my questions. They are still shocked. They smile less than usual.
One of my daughters is trying to write poems. She is talking about her experience in Gaza during the war, and how we Palestinians felt abandoned by the world. She wrote, “We were crying out for peace, we were crying out for help, but no one listened to us.’ She is 15 years old.
I am working again. It used to take me 30 minutes to get to work; now it takes one hour. The asphalt is destroyed. We drive slowly. There are holes everywhere.
At first, I was still shocked, especially seeing Gaza City for the first time, and the level of destruction – the houses, the schools, the buildings. At first, I couldn”t work. I was sitting with my colleagues, asking about people, trying to find out who had died, because we couldn”t find out during the war. The one thing we all missed during the conflict was sleeping at night. At least now we are able to sleep peacefully again, and we all hope this will continue.
But there are many things ahead of us. CARE will continue to distribute food, and emergency supplies, and medicine. Gaza will need to rebuild. And children, like my children, will need help recovering from this trauma.
CARE has unique access to first-hand information from Gaza and the West Bank, where our work includes programs in health, economic development, water and sanitation. We began providing aid in Israel and the Palestinian territories in 1949, concluding our programming in Israel in 1984 as the Israeli government improved its own capacity to address poverty.
NOTE: Jawad Harb is a Palestinian living in Rafah, Gaza, with his wife and six children. Harb has worked with CARE since 2002, managing a program supporting women”s centers in Gaza. Throughout the 22-day conflict, Harb maintained a regular blog about his family”s experiences.