Published on 23 October 2023

Born in Gaza

Professor Joseph Sung
Dean, Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine

Last night, I watched a documentary in Netflix, Born in Gaza. It depicted a group of children, from 4 – 12 years old. The documentary was filmed in 2014, after the offensive war with Israel. The conflict ended up with 506 children dead, and 3598 wounded. The film was dedicated to these children.

In one scene, Mohamed was picking up plastic bottles in the ‘garbage hill’, saying that war happened there every two years. He left school to help his family. Their life was totally shattered by the ongoing war. Another boy, Udai, said his brother died in a bombing. “My brother loved me very much. He took me everywhere he went. I saw him bombed and the largest piece of him was this big,” Udai held up his hands. “I have a lot of bad dreams. In one, I saw my brother being attacked.” The whole area was in ruins. Their families were totally destroyed. Mahmud’s father was a farmer and the family grew cucumbers, eggplants and other vegetables. “We grow vegetables, we do not grow bombs,” he said. At Al Shifa Hospital, Sondos was screaming as a nurse was cleaning up a wound. Multiple gunshot wounds were leaving scars on her belly. “I passed out before I reached the hospital. I was in ICU for two days. The doctor told me that my heart stopped beating twice. Yet, I am grateful because there are kids who died and some more badly injured than me.” Rajaf’s father was an ‘ambulance man’. “My father was a good man. He saved people’s life. He was a hero. Yet, his ambulance was bombed. He and four other ambulance men were killed”. On the day of filming, Rajaf brought his siblings to his father’s grave to pay tribute. “We could not see the body of my father because there was hardly any distinguishable piece.” Malak’s girls school was bombed and many were killed. A bomb fell between her sister and her cousin and they both died. Four kids were playing on the beach when missiles hit. “They were just kids!” Somebody shouted. Mahada and Montasem were together, both covered in blood. Their cousins were killed. Mahada showed her grapeshot and Montasem said his fingers had several tendons injured. He could not open his hands anymore. Shaima and Haia were playing at the playground when their homes were hit by missiles. They were taken to the hospital with head injury…

There are many, many other sad stories. What struck me was that these children were telling their stories of injury and death with no tears in their eyes. They just described their misery with an apparent sense of helplessness.

In Gaza, home of 2 million, unemployment is said to be as high as 45%. 80% are surviving on humanitarian aid. Conflict happens here at least once every two years. Tens of thousands of children are in trauma. PTSD is prevalent. Last week, the most serious conflict in 20 years broke out. We all watched it unfold on TV and social media. Death toll rise every day. More families broken. More children lost their limbs. More parents lost their children.

“I would like to be a fisherman like my father, but there is very little fish”; “I want to go to school with no fear”; “I have no friends left and I don’t even want to play at home”; “I want to kill myself. I want to jump out of my window at home,” said the children.

Dean's Blog November Image

12 years ago, I was in Israel for a holiday. I bathed in the Dead Sea, floating on the miraculous salty water and enjoying sunbathing. Suddenly, there was a group of children around me. I didn’t know who they were, and I didn’t understand a single word they spoke. After a short while, they started to play with me by putting the Dead Sea black mud on my face and on my chest. They signaled that they wanted to play with me. I didn’t realise that they were Palestinians until I saw their mothers wearing hijab calling them shortly after. They were beautiful and friendly.

Why should they suffer so much? Why can’t they live a normal life like all other children around the world? What can we do to relieve some pain? The Netflix documentary ended with a poignant scene of a group of children running happily on the broken streets of Gaza city. Their faces haunted my dream. Let us not forget these unfortunate children “born in Gaza”.