Gaza – Childhood in Ruins


December 17, 2009
Richard Kuper
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Childhood in ruins

guardian Guardian foreign editor Harriet Sherwood 17 December 2009

Last December, Israel began a 23-day bombardment of Gaza, killing around 1,400 people. One year on, a generation of children is growing up amid the wreckage of that attack, traumatised – and radicalised – by the experience.

Ghiada abu Elaish’s fingers twist in her lap and her eyes cloud over as she recalls the day an Israeli shell killed four of her cousins and left her in a coma for 22 days. She has had almost 12 months to reflect on the tragedy, a time in which hatred and anger might have consumed the 13-year-old. Remarkably, though, not only has she survived shocking injuries and a dozen operations, with many more to come, but she has retained both her sweet nature and faith in a bright future.

Which makes it all the harder for her to return each day after school, dressed in the ubiquitous Palestinian uniform of blue-and-white-striped smock over jeans and trainers, to the scene of the massacre – her family home.

It was Friday 16 January and Ghiada was studying for exams. Her father, a pharmacist, woke from a nap, demanding tea and shouting at the younger children to be quiet. “Suddenly I could hear my cousin downstairs, screaming ‘Dead! Dead!'” A shell had hit the building – a block of five apartments, housing the extended Abu Elaish family – smashing windows and causing extensive damage to the flat below.

In the ensuing panic, Ghiada defied her father and followed him downstairs. “One room was completely black. I saw Aya [my cousin], she was on the ground with wood on top of her. There was a big hole in the wall.”

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