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In the cradle of war: What it means to be a parent in Gaza

In the cradle of war: What it means to be a parent in Gaza

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"If I could turn back time, I would have had more children. I didn't appreciate the thought enough. In a place like Palestine, where the monstrous occupation devours the bodies of our children, we find ourselves suddenly without support or offspring to bring us comfort in this harsh life."

Abu Osama Al-Swaissi, 56, who was displaced from northern Gaza to Deir al-Balah, spoke with Raseef22 after losing his three children in an Israeli airstrike on a house adjacent to the family’s shelter.

Abu Osama has been left only with his wife, whose legs have been severed by the shells and is paralyzed, requiring intensive medical care.

There are currently no accurate statistics on the number of bereaved mothers and fathers in Gaza.

"I never expected this cruel war to come and steal the toil of a lifetime; my children, whom I considered my most precious treasures and my comfort and support in my old age, gone in an instant."

For some parents in Gaza, the occupation’s indiscriminate killing of Palestinians, coupled with their maddening fear for their children's lives, has left many hesitant to have children. For others, the decision to have many children is one way to ensure survival.


Birth in the face of death

Palestinians commemorate crises in numbers: the number of times they have been forcibly displaced from their land and homes, the number of disappointments they carry along with the recurring tragedies that haunt them, and the number of children they need to have in an unstable land.

"What I wish for is to remain pregnant with my daughter until the war ends, even if it takes another two years. Only then, would I give birth to her under normal conditions and provide her with the necessary care to grow and adapt to life."

"I will look for another opportunity to have children in the near future. This is the way of life, to survive and carry on as much as we can, reproduce and increase in number, as long as we have the ability to do so," says Abu Osama.

"I had three children when I was younger. I thought I would be able to provide them with a decent life, unlike our parents and grandparents, who came from families with twelve children," Abu Osama tells Raseef22.

He adds, "I never expected a cruel war to come and steal the toil of my lifetime; my children, my most precious treasures, my comfort and support in my old age, gone in an instant."

He pauses, before asking, "Do you know what it means to lose all the fruit of your life’s labor and the security for your future?"

"Life gave me everything, before suddenly taking it all. I am an old man; my body is frail and weak, and my sight no longer helps me avoid harm and danger in my path," Abu Osama emphasizes that he needed his children by his side. "They deemed my offspring too much for me, and took them away, leaving me only with fatigue and disappointment," he concludes with sorrow.

"What fault do these children have to live in such terror or be subjected to such cruelty? They are arrested, killed, and burned. This is something even adults cannot comprehend, so what will its psychological impact be on my children?"


Are we to blame for bringing children into a terrifying world?

Amani Abu Hilal, 34, a mother to two daughters, sees things differently. She tells Raseef22, "We bring our children into this world through immense pain and effort, raise them amidst hardship, and then find ourselves consumed with anguish and terror for their safety as they are threatened on a daily basis by indiscriminate bombings and shelling amidst the genocide in Gaza."

She adds, "I regret bringing children into this world. If I could go back in time, I wouldn't have done it. I’ve done it before, and I won't repeat this mistake on this unstable land."

Amani, like many other Palestinians who have gotten married during the war, feels that the burden of being Palestinian is too heavy to bear.

"Horrible thoughts invade my mind, especially at night. I have been taking sedatives since the beginning of the war just to be able to perform the bare minimum of my daily activities as a wife and mother."

"At what fault are these children, to live in such terror or be subjected to such cruelty? They are arrested, killed, and burned. What will its psychological impact be on my children?" Amani asks.

She adds, "My heart burns, day and night, from my deep fear for my daughters. Horrible thoughts invade my mind, especially at night. I have been taking sedatives since the beginning of the war just to be able to perform the bare minimum of my daily activities as a wife and mother."

With an air of regret, Amani admits, "It is heartbreaking to know that I brought children into a world where they face torment. I have caused them suffering and subjected them to a fear that no living being can endure.”

Amani says that she would not have any more children, in order to avoid bringing children into this world with inherent psychological trauma.

"I regret bringing children into this world. If I could go back in time, I wouldn't have done so on this unstable land. It is heartbreaking to know that I brought a child into a world where they face all forms of torment. I cannot bear the thought that I have caused them suffering."


Pregnant until the war ends

Sara Abu Jahjouh, 27, is pregnant with a daughter, her first child. At eight months pregnant, she is forcibly displaced from one place to another, living in crippling fear for both her life and that of her unborn child.

Sara shares, "I live in confusion, with anxiety and unparalleled stress. I am in a situation no one would envy, dealing with physical exhaustion, mental fatigue, constant fear, pregnancy pains, and malnutrition since the beginning of my pregnancy. This makes me think negatively about childbirth."

She continues, "It's difficult to welcome your first child under such conditions. If our house was bombed, I would die, and my daughter would die with me in my womb. But what I can't bear to imagine is giving birth and being in one place and my daughter, this lifelong dream of mine, being in another when we are attacked."

"It's difficult to welcome your first child under such conditions. I imagine if our house was bombed, I would die, and my daughter would die with me in my womb. But what I can't bear to imagine is  giving birth and being in one place, and my daughter, this lifelong dream of mine, being in another when we are attacked"

Death, as Sara says, does not discriminate. There are those who were born during the war and died in it without even being able to utter the word mama.

She adds, "I am living in a constant psychological crisis, and I hope this inferno, this holocaust, ends. In truth, I am living between the joy of having a daughter of my own flesh and blood, and a crippling fear over her fate."

Sara emphasizes that there is nothing more horrifying than bringing a child into the world during wartime. She wonders how her delicate senses will endure the deafening sounds of bombing that even adults cannot bear.

"I wish I could remain pregnant until the war ends, even if it takes another two years. Then, I would give birth under normal conditions and provide my daughter with the necessary care to grow and adapt to life. During war, we are not qualified to be mothers and fathers."

Death, as Sara says, does not distinguish age. There are those who were born during the war and died in it without even being able to utter the word "mama"


Death is common in our land

The people of Gaza welcome newborns with joy, and view childbirth as a way to affirm existence and strengthen ties with life, place, and land.

One might marvel at the ability of Gaza's residents to persist in a place filled with all kinds of hardship, and to continue having children to the extent that this small geographical spot has become one of the most densely populated places in the world.

I once asked my grandmother why she had nine children. She replied, "We have many children because death is common in our land. Those who die, die, but we will have those who survive, and they help and accompany us through our old age."

Sara emphasizes that there is nothing more horrifying than bringing a child into the world during wartime, and wonders how her baby’s delicate senses will endure the deafening sounds of bombing

Many people in Gaza have large families because they see children as a source of honor, pride, and joy. When living and security conditions become harsh, the head of the family becomes akin to a protective cat, gathering the children around and fiercely guarding and protecting them against any threat.

But when the war machine ravages everything, destroying anything in its path, even the most instinctual protective measures are rendered powerless.



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Being mindful of our children, in the present and for the future.

“This is how we are used to it. This is how our parents always did it," and other such ready-made answers only contribute to further decelerating change.

Our children’s bright future starts with a healthy life in the present.

At Raseef22, we work towards this by shedding light on their stories and what affects them, as well as pushing for their right to a well-rounded upbringing. Through reports, articles and dialogues, media can push for change in policies regarding education and promote social dialogue on children's issues.

Together we can raise sensitive issues related to children’s psychological, physical, environmental and social well-being.

When we lift our children on our shoulders, we see tomorrow through their eyes. We see tomorrow as if it were happening now.

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