Mondoweiss / August 7, 2022
How do parents in Gaza, who are dealing with their own trauma and fear, help their children endure yet another Israeli attack ?
Receiving the “panic call” was no surprise to me. It was my friend Laila, who used to live in the Gaza Strip and emigrated to Britain. She called checking on me and my family after hearing the news about the latest escalation in the Gaza Strip that began Friday. I told her that we are OK, and that we checked on her family members in Gaza. Thankfully, they are all safe and sound.
“Every day my husband and I question our decision of getting out of Gaza, leaving behind our beloved family members, friends, memories and lives,” Laila tells me over our messenger call. “However, it is situations like this, where no civilian in Gaza is safe and women and children are dying, that makes me feel less guilty for the drastic step we took.”
Laila has two young children who still remember what war feels like. She always tells them stories about Gaza and shares memories with them that they might not recall. Once, she told her oldest son that she hopes one day they will go back to Gaza and he started crying. He told her he does not want to live in war again, and that he doesn’t want to die.
Sitting in my living room, sweating profusely while hearing the news not only about the escalations but also the announcement that Gaza’s only power plant might stop completely working due to a lack of fuel, I thought about all the mothers in the Gaza Strip, especially those of young children, who have to deal with this horrible experience. I reached out to some of the mothers I know personally, and I was surprised by the different responses I got.
Noor, a mother of five, told me: “My children are no longer young, I cannot ‘beautify’ the reality to them anymore, especially the older ones. They have very specific, and scary, questions: Why is this happening to us? Are we 100% safe? Is this another war like the previous year? They started evaluating the spaces in the house to choose the safest one. For me, I chose to be realistic and honest, I decided to answer all their questions while trying to give them some hope. I really wish it will end.”
Amal, a mother of two, agrees with what Noor mentioned, and she highlighted the access to information that children have these days. “My children don’t need me to tell them what is happening, they have smart phones and an internet connection, the news is everywhere. I decided to answer their questions and discuss the situation openly, but I try at the same time to encourage them to do different things to get their minds off the topic.”
On the other hand, some mothers chose to completely ignore the situation and act as if nothing is happening. Doaa, a mother of four, told me, “I told my kids that we want to have a camping experience, where they will turn all their mobiles off and I will not go to work to spend time with them. I collected all the big puzzles we have, the games we own, and the books we all agreed to read but haven’t yet. And when they hear any bombings, I will tell them it is no big deal, just a sonic bomb. It is still day two, so I am not sure if I can continue with this approach or not.”
Another mother, Sondos, lied to her only daughter and told her that the sounds she heard were fireworks. “My daughter did not believe me. I was such a mess. She told me — ‘Mommy, this is a war, not fireworks.’”
During my discussions with the mothers, most of them were trying to keep their feelings and fear under control. However, some of them couldn’t. Salma, a mother of four shared with me how angry she is that after four aggressions, the story is happening all over again. “There should be a space for vulnerable civilians to take refuge at. A space that is guaranteed to be safe. Once they announced the horrible news, I went directly from calm to hysterical, and my children had to witness all this. Isn’t it enough the economic struggles that we face every day?! Another escalation within one year!”
Sarah and Noha, mothers of two and three children, told me that they are applying the techniques they read about. They try to always hug their children when they get scared, they are doing their best to prevent them from seeing any disturbing pictures on social media, and they are trying to stay calm in their presence.
Recently, I read a disturbing study conducted by Save the Children which said that 80% of Gaza children (four in five children) say that they are living with depression, grief, and fear. Is this surprising to me? It is not; I live in Gaza and I can see the impact on the children, but seeing it translated into numbers shows how horrible the situation has gotten.
It all takes me back to a very essential question I have asked myself over and over again — do I need to have children in Gaza? Having children is a responsibility that the parents should bare. My mother, may she rest in peace, used to apologize to me, an adult, for being in Gaza. Whether it is because of the unstable political situation or the very difficult circumstances we are living in. Right now, while hearing the sounds of the escalations, I feel thankful that I do not have children to feel guilty about.
But one thing I do feel guilty about, is writing this article from the mothers’ perspective only. Fathers, too, feel a huge responsibility while they and their children are facing these unbearable conditions.
One final mother I talked to, her name is Nadia, told me that her son is one-year-old. He is too young to realize what is happening around him. “Well, this is something I need to care about in the next escalation, if we stay alive.”
“You think there will be another one?” I asked.
“Come on! 2008, 2012, 2014, 2021 and 2022. Do the math.”
Even though Nadia was not optimistic at all, and even though the reality says it all, a tiny part of me chooses to remain hopeful and wish that her child, will grow up to live a healthy life, that is full of happiness and achievements.
Ziad Ali is a pseudonym for a writer and blogger from Gaza