Last year I took my three year old son, Zino, to Gaza on his second trip to visit his grandparents, three uncles, four aunts and many cousins. It was warm; the April wind wasn’t too chilly for his half-English, half-Palestinian olive skin. Despite waiting for hours at the Egyptian side of the Rafah border, we got in and, to Zino’s delight, a family beach trip was planned for the next day. He is in love with the fresh air and sea water and was thrilled when he was taken by my two fishermen uncles on their small fishing boat.
Today, Zino is four and a half years old, a bit older, and asking difficult questions. Not just the ‘How was I born?’ type, but also ‘Why is Gaza being bombarded?’ The innocent soul inside him doesn’t comprehend why that lovely holiday place is being ruined. A few days into the assault on Gaza, he was watching Channel Four News and saw images of destruction from the tragic attack on four children playing football on the same beach where he once stood and had an ice cream. I will never forget the look on his face as he turned around to me. He recognised the beach but only said, ‘Oh no, there will be no ice cream in Gaza, and it is too hot.’
The ones who are paying the heaviest price in this tragic situation are those innocent souls. Zino is thousands of miles away in London, yet he is having his fantasy world of Neverland shattered in front of his eyes on the small screen. The children living in Gaza have of course paid a higher price than anyone, not just with their bodies, but with the destruction of their own fantasies, the same ones that may have kept them going in what has now become a wasteland around them. Seeing their beach, playgrounds, schools, hospitals, homes, mosques all being targets for the Israeli war machine has left them with nowhere to go, not even the little worlds inside their heads. Over the phone, my six-year-old nephew tells me, ‘Spiderman and Batman cannot come to Gaza to fight the baddies because the border is always shut.’
This kind of thing doesn’t make the news on a lot of international media outlets, who keep on reporting Israeli propaganda without even any fact-checking, always giving the same excuse of a Palestinian rocket having been fired from the vicinity of a school.
Even if we assume this is correct, which hasn’t been proven, does this give anyone the excuse to target an area deliberately, knowing that it is highly likely that children will be killed? Those very same children have now witnessed three wars on Gaza in less than six years.
I have written about those previous wars and had hoped that I wouldn’t have to again. Now I am writing this and dedicating it to the spirit of those children in Gaza, not those who died, because hopefully they are happy somewhere else, but to those who are still there, to those who have become Hogwarts ghosts as the assault rages on. Thousands are either badly injured or waiting for their turn.
Zino wants to go back to Gaza as soon as the border is open. He already knows that it will be different from last time. But he says he wants to go so he can take the recipe for ice cream. His Teta (grandmother) can make it then give it to the children in Jabalia Refugee Camp.