Gaza baby ‘only knew how to smile’: An Editorial from the BBC

Jehad Mashhrawi with Omar

The death of civilians on either side in the Israel-Gaza conflict is tragic – especially when children are among the casualties. The BBC correspondent in Gaza, Jon Donnison, witnessed just such a tragedy at close quarters.

My friend and colleague Jehad Mashhrawi is usually the last to leave our Gaza bureau. Hard-working but softly spoken, he often stays late, beavering away on a laptop that is rarely out of arm’s reach.

He has a cool head – unflappable, when others like me are flapping around him. He is a video editor and just one of our local BBC Arabic Service staff who make the office tick.

But on the Wednesday before last – only an hour or so after Gaza’s latest war erupted with Israel’s killing of Hamas military commander Ahmed al-Jabari – Jehad burst out of the editing suite screaming.

He sprinted down the stairs, his head in his hands, his face ripped with anguish.

He had just had a call from a friend to tell him the Israeli military had bombed his house and that his 11-month-old baby boy Omar was dead.

Most fathers will tell you their children are beautiful.

Omar

Omar was a picture-book baby.

Standing in what is left of his burnt-out home this week, Jehad showed me a photo on his mobile phone.

It was of a cheeky, chunky, round-faced little boy in denim dungarees, chuckling in a pushchair, dark-eyed with a fringe of fine brown hair pushed across his brow.

“He only knew how to smile,” Jehad told me, as we both struggled to hold back the tears.

“He could say just two words – Baba and Mama,” his father went on.

Also on Jehad’s phone is another photo. A hideous tiny corpse. Omar’s smiling face virtually burnt off, that fine hair appearing to be melted on to his scalp.

Jehad’s sister-in-law Heba was also killed.

“We still haven’t found her head,” Jehad said.

His brother, Ahmad, suffered massive burns and died of his injuries in hospital several days later.

Jehad has another son Ali, four years old, who was slightly injured. He keeps asking where his baby brother has gone.

Eleven members of the Mashhrawi family lived in the tiny breezeblock house in the Sabra district of Gaza City. Five people slept in one room.

The beds are now only good for charcoal. The cupboards are full of heaps of burnt children’s clothes.

On the kitchen shelves, there are rows of melted plastic jars full of Palestinian herbs and spices, their shapes distorted as if reflected from a fairground mirror.

And in the entrance hall, a two-foot-wide hole in the flimsy metal ceiling where the missile ripped through.

Despite the evidence pointing towards an Israeli air strike, some bloggers have suggested it might have been a misfired Hamas rocket.

But at that time, so soon after the launch of Israel’s operation, the Israeli military says mortars had been launched from Gaza but very few rockets.

Mortar fire would not cause the fireball that appears to have engulfed Jehad’s house.

Other bloggers have said that the damage to Jehad’s home was not consistent with powerful Israeli attacks but the BBC visited other bombsites this week with very similar fire damage, where Israel acknowledged carrying out what it called “surgical strikes”.

 

As at Jehad’s home, there was very little structural damage but the victims were brought out with massive and fatal burns. Most likely is that Omar died in the one of the more than 20 bombings across Gaza that the Israeli military says made up its initial wave of attacks.

Omar was not a terrorist.

Of course every civilian death on either side – not just Omar’s – is tragic. The United Nations says its preliminary investigation shows that 103 of the 158 people killed in Gaza were civilians.

Of those, 30 were children – 12 of whom were under the age of 10. More than 1,000 people were injured.

The Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said every non-combatant death or injury was tragic and an “operational failure”.

In Israel, too, there were fatalities: four civilians and two soldiers. There were also many injuries. But the fact the Israeli Ambulance Service was also reporting those suffering from anxiety and bruises is an indication of the asymmetric nature of the conflict.

Jehad’s baby Omar was probably the first child to die in this latest round of violence.

Among the last was a six-year-old boy, Abdul Rahman Naeem, who was killed by an Israeli attack just hours before the ceasefire was announced.

Abdul Rahman’s father, Dr Majdi, is one of the leading specialist doctors at Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital.

The first he knew of his son’s death was when he went to treat a patient, only to find it was his own boy.

Apparently, Dr Majdi had not seen Abdul Rahman for days. He had been too busy dealing with the wounded.

Inside Jehad's houseA bedroom in Jehad’s house after the attack

Before I left Jehad’s house, leaving him sitting round a camp fire with other mourners, I asked him – perhaps stupidly – if he was angry over Omar’s death.

“Very, very angry,” he said, his jaw tensing as he glanced at the photos on his phone.

This from a man who I cannot ever remember raising his voice in anger.

My thoughts, after a week where I have had little time to think, are with Jehad and his family.

Remarkably and unnecessarily, he told me his thoughts were with me and the rest of our BBC team.

“I’m just sorry, Jon, that I had to go and wasn’t there to help you with your work,” he said, before we hugged and said goodbye.

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Crisis in Gaza

It’s not news to anyone what has been happening since last Wednesday, at least I hope it’s not.  But I wanted to create an ongoing post that will attempt to keep up to date information on what is going on in Gaza.  I feel it is important to air all statistics for both sides.  I think once those are seen, you will be able to tell what is really going on here.

Our newly re-elected president today has said merely that Israel has a right to defend themselves.  I think “defense” is what is at question here.  Is it defense when you bomb a house full of people with only one member of your enemy inside it?  Is it defense when you bomb a media tower with journalists?  He also said that the precipating event of this crisis was Hamas firing rockets into Israel.  Which, if we look back, the precipitating event is actually the attack by Israel that killed the Hamas leader in the middle of a cease fire between the two sides.  It is this breaking of the ceasefire that led to more rockets.  I am not condoning the rockets.  Civilians on both sides are equally tragic.  But the force of response that Israel is showing is simply not equal.

Here is how we stand five days into the conflict:

72 Palestinians have been killed in total.  26 of those were today.  11 of those were children of the same family when their house was hit.  Some of those killed are from Hamas, a great portion are civilians and children.

Three Israeli civilians were killed last Thursday.

76 missiles were fired into Israel today.  Some hit civilian areas and there are several injured or being treated for shock.

Israel is also firing shells from the sea, completely surrounding Gaza.  Eight Palestinian journalists were injured from this when the media tower was hit.  One had his leg amputated.

Total injured Palestinians: 660

Hospitals in Gaza don’t have enough supplies for the injured.

Many families in Gaza are trapped in their house without power and water and are running out of food.

November 19:

Death toll in Gaza has reached 100. 

In somewhat better news, Obama has urged a cease fire and made a statement implying that a ground invasion was discouraged.

November 20:

Egypt has claimed that Israel will stop air strikes later today. Inshallah this is true.

One Israeli soldier and civilian have been killed by a rocket and two civilians were injured.

Death toll in Gaza: 130

Leaflets dropped over villages in Gaza asked residents to evacuate to Gaza City.

November 21:

Hamas has claimed responsibility for a bomb on a bus in Tel Aviv. How, I don’t know. 10 Israelis were injured.

Morsi and Clinton announce ceasefire has been agreed!

The ceasefire is in effect. Both sides have agreed to stop hostilities. Thank god for Morsi, Ban Ki-Moon, Clinton and all negotiators.

Final death toll in Gaza reached 150 over the past week. Total Israeli casualties were seven. Let’s all hope it doesn’t happen again.

Hillary has also promised to help improve conditions in Gaza. I’m going to hold her to that.