Sunday, November 30, 2014


There was a child went forth everyday,
And the first object she looked upon, that object she became,
And that object became part of her for the day or a certain part of the day,
Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.
The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass and red morning-glories and the song of the phoebe-bird...
And the apple-trees covered with blossoms and the fruit afterward, and wood-berries, and the commonest weeds by the road,
And the old drunkard staggering home from the outhouse of the tavern whence he had lately risen,
And the schoolmistress that passed on her way to the school,
And the friendly boys that passed, and the quarrelsome boys,
And the tidy and fresh-cheeked girls,
And all the changes of city and country wherever she went...
Her own parents; he that had fathered her and she that had conceived her in her womb and birthed her, They gave this child more of themselves than that,
They gave her afterward every day, they became part of her. 

(From There Was a Child Who Went Forth by Walt Whitman

The streets of Gaza were flooded the day we returned. Axle-deep water was playing havoc with traffic - trapping cars in the middle of the road...

This is Gaza, on the cusp of winter - wet, cold and dirty.

In roadside garages groups of Palestinians were huddled around fires burning in drums or simply on the concrete floor. Outside, spirited smiling children wade through the knee-deep water in bare feet. The scars of war in Gaza are still obvious - many destroyed buildings are left in ruins...

Almost 4 months on, I have been drawn back to Gaza by the face of a seven-year-old girl. Her name is Aseel Al-Bakri.

The last time I saw her was on August 4. She was lying in a morgue at Gaza's Shifa Hospital, a few hours after an Israeli airstrike had killed her.

That day, the ABC crew in Gaza had arrived at her house, just minutes after it had been crushed from above. The concrete structure was a crumpled mess of twisted metal and the destroyed remnants of a family's life. We watched and filmed as the girl's tiny body was rushed out on a stretcher, and thousands of Palestinians swarmed around the rubble in the summer heat.

Ever since, I have wondered why Aseel Al-Bakri's home was targeted by an Israeli bomb. So I have come back to Gaza to find out.

After several detours around the floodwater, we arrive at Martyrs Square street in the ash-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. I immediately recognise the house... still a mass of rubble lying untouched.

Over the road we meet Aseel's father, Mohammed Al-Bakri, and his 4 surviving children.

It turns out, his daughter, Aseel was not the only death that day. His wife, infant daughter, brother and nephew were also killed in the same air strike.

Now the family lives in 3 small rooms across the street. The children bear the scars of the lethal attack.

Ten-year-old Haneen has burns on her face and wears a brace on one arm. 'I can't bend my elbow properly,' she said. 'I had to have a skin transplant onto my face, and you can see the burns on my forehead.'

On the morning of August 4 Haneen and her little sister Aseel had just returned from buying falafel. Their mother Ibtisam was baking bread and the family was preparing to eat breakfast. That is the last thing the children remember. Their next recollection is waking up in a Gaza hospital and being told their mother and two sisters were dead.

Mr Al-Bakri is a religious man. He stoically insists that his wife and two children are now in a better place. 'It was very sad for me to discover what happened,' he said. 'But we believe in God and we wish that they are all now in heaven.' When pressed, he opens up a little more about the family's trauma. 'I can't explain what I'm feeling right now. I can't hide my sadness. I feel stressed and depressed,' he said.

His eldest daughter Yasmeen, 12, sits listening as her father speaks. Later she too talks about the death of her mothers and sisters. 'I remember the nice times we used to have going with my mother to visit our grandparents. I miss playing with Aseel and talking to her,' she said.

Ever since the air strike, the Al-Bakri family has been moving from place to place, living where they can. They cannot afford to rebuild. Everything was destroyed and the family only has two grainy photographs of Aseel. In one, the 7-year-old is smiling at the camera as she holds her 8-momth-old sister Asma, who was also killed... "

(From Gaza conflict: Family of child killed in Israeli air strike relives attack, Hayden Cooper,, 30/11/14)

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