by Julie Webb-Pullman
Flashback. July 16, 2014.
Boys. Beach. Sun. Sea. Sand. Football. Fun. An ordinary summers’ day like that in any other coastal city in the world.
Bomb. Blood. Missile. Martyrs. Mayhem. Mourners. An ordinary summer’s day in Gaza 2014.
Three months later the world has all but forgotten the “Bakr Boys,” the group of cousins playing on the beach that afternoon. Four of them – Ismail, Zakaria, Ahed and Mohamed – were killed. Four more survived the horror, physically at least.
Montasr, Hamada, Sayed and Younis are all now out of hospital, and could even play football again, despite legs peppered with shrapnel scars. But they don’t.
Though the scars on their psyches are not so obvious, a short time in their company will reveal them.
I caught up with the children on an autumn afternoon in Gaza City, the pale sunlight and lengthening shadows a tangible reflection of their diminished spirits.
So diminished, in fact, that they resemble zombies more than young boys. They don’t talk, they don’t laugh, they don’t run – and they especially don’t play football.
“We didn’t lose four children that day,” says Montasr’s father, “We lost eight.”
Only one managed a tentative smile when I gave them the money donated by individual women in the United Kingdom and New Zealand to buy gifts for the surviving children. I could not decide what to buy, and eventually decided to give them the money directly so they could each choose something for themselves.
I breathed a silent sigh of relief that I had not bought them a new football.
Montasr seems the worst affected. He was also the worst injured, receiving head, back, arm and leg injuries in addition to shrapnel wounds all over his body.
“Montasr is very badly damaged,” said his father. “He is very nervous, very distracted. All of the boys are receiving psychological counselling once a week, but they have told us that Montasr needs specialised help not available in Gaza. He needs to go out for treatment.”
So far that has not happened, despite their hopes being raised by a woman journalist from Jordan who came back to visit them to get details to arrange for a passport for him.
“She never came back after that. We don’t know what happened – is she still trying, or has she forgotten him?” he asked. “Other countries offered to help Gaza children. Venezuela offered to take injured Gaza children. We don’t care what country he goes to, as long as he gets help. Any country.”
As the shadows lengthen further the boys say “thank you” for their gifts and shuffle back home.
Despite the money clutched in their hands and the brief moment of pleasure it seemed to bring, their spirits again seem lower than the sinking sun.