A smiling girl, killed by Israel

Musleh al-Shaer (left) sits beside a pictorial tribute to his daughter Layan, a victim of Israel's latest major attack on Gaza (Abdallah al-Naami)

Abdallah al-Naami

The Electronic Intifada  /  September 9, 2022

It was a scorching afternoon in Gaza.

Layan al-Shaer, 10, wanted to play on the seashore.

“It was her idea that we go to the beach,” Layan’s mother Haala said. “She was so excited. ‘I want to have a trip to the beach before I go back to school,’ Layan told me.”

Using a van rented from a neighbor, several members of the extended family set off from where they live in the Khan Younis area.

Musleh, Layan’s father, stayed at home. Recalling how he waved at Layan as the van drove off, Musleh said: “I didn’t know that this would be the last time I would see the smile of my little girl.”

Soon after they had set out, a missile was fired at the truck from an Israeli drone. Israel had begun a major attack against Gaza on that day, 5 August.

“My children and their cousins were chatting and singing,” Halaa, Layan’s mother, said. “Then, in the blink of an eye, there was an explosion and the van’s floor was covered in blood.”

Realizing that Layan had been badly injured, her cousin Kamal got out of the van and hailed a passing car. Its driver brought Layan to Nasser hospital in Khan Younis.

Musleh, Layan’s father, received a phone call from Halaa, his wife. She was so shocked that Musleh had trouble grasping what she was saying.

“I was just able to understand that the truck was hit in an Israeli strike and that Layan was severely wounded,” Musleh said.

Heartbroken

He rushed to Nasser hospital, where Layan was being treated in the intensive care unit. After a few hours, she was transferred to the European Gaza Hospital, also in Khan Younis.

Layan spent a number of days at the European Hospital. For most of that time, Israel kept on bombarding Gaza.

As her condition deteriorated, her father insisted that she should be taken outside Gaza for specialized treatment unavailable inside the Strip.

On 9 August, Layan was driven in an ambulance to al-Makassed hospital in occupied East Jerusalem. Layan’s mother accompanied her.

Musleh, her father, sought a travel permit from Israel so that he could join them in Jerusalem.

He was unable to get the documentation in time. Two days later, Layan died.

“I wanted to see Layan before she died,” Musleh said. “But I couldn’t. This has broken my heart.”

Targeting civilians

Layan was among 17 children killed because of Israel’s attack on Gaza last month.

Israel knows that it can terrorize Palestinians without being held to account.

The Israeli authorities even tried to avoid being blamed for some of the deaths.

For example, Israel’s military initially claimed that a rocket misfired by Islamic Jihad caused the deaths of five children in the al-Fallujah cemetery, northern Gaza, on 7 August.

Later that month, Israel admitted that it killed the five children.

Defense for Children International-Palestine has established that Israel directly killed three other Palestinian children in airstrikes during the August offensive. The organization’s assessment was published shortly before Layan al-Shaer’s death was announced.

Al-Haq, another Palestinian human rights group, has documented how Israel repeatedly targeted the homes of civilians last month, including many homes where children lived.

Targeting civilian homes and infrastructure violates the principle of distinction. Enshrined in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, that principle requires warring parties to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants.

Al-Haq has contended that Israel’s use of drones and other weapons against civilian buildings “may amount to war crimes.”

Layan al-Shaer will be remembered for her love of dabke, the traditional Palestinian dance, which she used to practice with the Nawwar Educational Center in Khan Younis.

Najwa al-Fara, the center’s director, described Layan as “a butterfly on stage,” adding that “she always loved to lead the show.”

Layan used to dance alongside her cousin Roa. Since Layan’s death, Roa has found it extremely difficult to practice dabke.

“I cannot imagine the stage without Layan,” Roa said. “We shared everything together, hopes and dreams of better days.”

Layan wanted to be a doctor when she grew up. Whenever she heard about relatives falling ill, she would ask if there was anything she could do to help them.

Like so many other children in Gaza, Layan’s future has been stolen by Israel.

Abdallah al-Naami is a journalist and photographer living in Gaza