“If this happened in Israel, they would have gained so much international support, everything would be turned upside down, because we are talking about children in a graveyard”, says Fayez Abu Karsh, a Palestinian father who lost his son to an Israeli airstrike. The families of the victims now call for Israel to be brought to the International Criminal Court to be tried for war crimes.
On August the 7th an Israeli airstrike killed five Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip. Israel initially tried to blame the massacre on a misfired Palestinian rocket. However, after it was clear that the shrapnel removed from the bodies was of an Israeli munition, unnamed Israeli officials took responsibility for the strike, 9 days later, according to Israel’s Haaretz news.
Israel’s three day attack on the Gaza Strip, earlier this August, resulted in 49 Palestinian deaths, 17 of which were children, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health. No Israelis were killed or sustained notable injuries. Israel claimed that its military were targeting Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) Party fighters, yet the majority killed were civilians.
Various attacks against civilians were recorded by human rights groups in Gaza. Perhaps the most shocking of which occurred at the Fallujah cemetery, located in Jabalia refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip. It took place at around 7PM (local time), on August 7, when an Israeli airstrike murdered a group of children visiting the graves of family members. The victims names were Nazmi Karsh, 15 years old, Hamed Najm, 16 years old, Mohammad Najm, 16 years old, Jamil Ihab Najm, 13 years old, and Jamil Najim al-Din Najm who was only 3 years old. Three of the young boys were already being treated for trauma, at a Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)’s facility in Gaza, before their deaths.
After the controversy surrounding the case, we now hear from the victims’ families and their initial reactions from the day they heard the news that Israel had admitted to committing the massacre. They spoke on what they saw on the day of the strike, tell us about their loved ones that they lost and react to the false claims originally made about the circumstances surrounding the massacre.
We first heard from Umm Hamed Najm, the mother of 16 year old Hamed, who she described at length to us, first by saying “If I want to speak about Hamed and his personality, I need a long time to talk about that.”
“He was a good person, excellent at school, he was kind, loving his sisters, whenever there was fighting between his sisters, he used to say “don’t fight I will clean the dishes, I will do this or that, just don’t fight”…”, she went on.
She said that “If I wanted to go to the supermarket, he would tell me to “wait I want to go with you”, he was like my bag, wherever I go he comes with me. Whenever I had plans I would tell him. He was my arm, my leg, wherever I go he is with me.” Commenting on her son’s hobbies she said that “Hamed liked swimming, he liked the sea, he liked hanging out, whenever there was a chance he would go out and used to play football with the neighbors.”
When asked about Hamed’s dreams she spoke with a proud smile, which she summoned with strength, trying to hold back tears; “He wanted to become a nurse, he said “no not a doctor, I don’t like that, I want to become a nurse”, there was a white uniform in our house and he used to wear it and use the mobile headphones as a tool like a doctor and put it on people’s chests just to check them out. He was very kind.”
Umm Hamed said that when the explosion occurred, she was in shock, “I went to see the news on my mobile to see what was happening, I couldn’t even read, I was very concerned.” Then as she broke into tears, she continued; “I said please God, please, please God, I don’t want to grieve for someone getting killed, save our children”. As she was saying this, she heard someone calling out “come! come! Hamed is dead! Hamed is dead! I saw his head!”. “I told him maybe it’s not him, then he said no, no, I saw his head.” She then ran out onto the road, towards the cemetery, but she was prevented by a group of ladies from going inside. “I told them I just want to know if he is there or not, I asked someone called Bilal, please, please tell me”, she said.
“I ask all organizations, global organizations, the United Nations, everyone who has authority to take Israel to court…I accept that our children are the victims, but I want to save the other children. Where is the Fourth Geneva Convention that should protect children and civilians in times of conflict? Where is the protection? They should protect our children and guarantee them safety.”
Asked whether it could have been a mistake from the Israeli military, she answered “How? How could it be a mistake? It’s a crime…How could it be a mistake? Don’t tell me it could be a mistake, they have very good technology and knew it was children just sitting”. She went on to describe how Israeli drones “can even see inside my house, while I am sitting, it could never have been a mistake”.
After the interview, she walked over to a poster made of her son, with his photograph on it. She reached out and stroked the photo as her eyes filled with tears, then summoned a strong smile and continued to stare at her son’s photo.
Fayez, the father of Nazmi Abu Karsh, who was killed in the strike, says that his son dreamed of being a football player and loved to watch Lionel Messi play. He also recounted the harrowing story of how he discovered that it was his son, Nazmi, who was killed in the blast.
We first asked him how he remembers his son, to which Fayez answered:
“He was beloved, everyone loved him. I was surprised by the women in the neighborhood who said he would help them all the time, every time someone used to need him, he was there…he was always helping old ladies and old men…he was so playful, he used to play football.”
“I have so many memories…he was very emotional, he loved his sisters and brothers, there was a belonging to them. He was very connected to his mother, he was the most connected amongst his brothers,” which is why Fayez said he stayed at the site of the grave of his mother on the day of the attack, where he too would later be laid to rest.
Can you tell us more about his dreams? We asked.
“He loved football, he loved the sport and his dream was to play with Messi and take a photo with him. He used to like Barcelona…he wanted to be a football star, a football player, that was his only dream,” replied Fayez.
He then recounted the moment that the attack happened and he lost his son:
“They [the children] were happy, playing. Then my younger son told them that they should go to the house to get water. There were 30 children in the graveyard. They went to go get the water and only 5 stayed,” as they were leaving the strike then took place. He said that the sound of the bombing was “frightening, horrific” and that “people started hiding, they ran in many directions without knowing where they were going, it was a big mess”.
“I was collecting parts of the neighbors’ sons, without knowing they were my neighbors…when we reached the cemetery we saw ambulances and heard sirens,” he continued. Fayez said that he went to help the paramedics take the children into the ambulance and that “I didn’t know my son was one of them”.
“I got the news as a shock, I went next to a shop and one of the young people came and he said, “uncle be strong but I want to tell you that your son was killed”, I couldn’t believe it,” saying that he didn’t believe the news until he went to the hospital and was shown his sons body.
When we asked him what he thought about the Israeli military initially claiming that his son was killed by a misfired Palestinian rocket, he replied by saying that the “occupiers have taught us that they are always lying, there is no respect…the biggest crime in this world is not respecting the sacredness of graveyards, everywhere in the world, even in the Israeli society, graveyards have their sacredness.”
“They didn’t want to admit it at first, because they wanted to cause a mess in our society, by saying these are Arab rockets, resistance rockets, that killed your sons”, he said. “We did a lot of investigating from the beginning…and we collected parts of the missile from the heads of the children that had Hebrew letters on it”. He said that the “security forces in Gaza, on the same day, collected all of the parts…they took it to experts who confirmed it was the rocket of a drone” and that the Israeli military were then “squeezed in the corner” and finally admitted they committed the massacre.
This part of the story has not yet been reported on in the English speaking press. If the munition was fired from a drone, this would indicate that the Israelis who fired the munition saw their target clearly.
Mira Najm, only 9 years of age, witnessed the instant aftermath of the strike that killed her little brother and described that very moment. Although clearly affected by what happened, she seemed at times throughout the interview to not understand exactly what just occurred. Holding a brave smile on her face, she would momentarily go blank with a look of shock and her answers to the questions asked were like nothing that would be expected.
“We used to go out and play together, eat together and joke together, everything we used to do together”, she said. “We used to go to the land and go to swim, he used to go under the water and catch us from underneath”, “in the house we used to sit and play on the mobile, Jamil used to push me and say no, no, no, that’s not me, that’s Mohammed, he would say it’s everyone but not him, he was joking with me.”
Mira’s final memory with Jamil, on the day he was killed, was playing hide and seek with him. “I saw him two minutes before he got the missile”, she said, explaining that he had joined his cousins who were visiting their grandparents’ graves. “I was in my room and when I heard the screaming and the airstrike, I went out to see what was happening and I saw my brother as a martyr, when I saw him, I started crying because it isn’t something you can imagine, not at all.”
The window from Mira’s home directly overlooks the cemetery and is right next to the graves where the Israeli airstrike hit, she pointed out the window to show us where it happened. “I feel that without him I am nothing, I am like sand, I am like a piece of sand on the ground, nothing”, she said as she peered into an open space with a somber look. “Very much I wish he was still alive, I miss him so much, I wish he could still be alive.”
We then asked Mira, what her message to the world was. Her answer, a completely unexpected one, almost to the point that we thought she had misheard the question. She stated: “I tell the mothers of the world, that whenever there is an airstrike, take care of your children, don’t let them go outside at all.” After hearing this, I paused, speechless when confronted with the saddening reality that little Mira lives, in which she’s been taught to think that airstrikes are just a regular part of life outside of the Gaza Strip too. To see how innocently she said it and even repeated it, when the question was rephrased, spoke volumes. Mira really thinks that the whole world must be just like where she lives, her situation is normal and that the advice she is giving is valid everywhere and to all mothers.
Mira finished by saying that she wishes “all the big countries will come together and fight for my case and Jamil’s case”.
“Jamil was the smile, he was the happiness, he was the brave stance, the excellent student, he was my first son…he wished to become something respectful, a doctor” says Ehab Najm, when describing his late son.
“He had a first aid kit from when he was four or five years old, he used to do testing for us…he loved his mother and was so playful, he was always smiling,” Ehab said, before continuing to say that the Israelis “have kidnapped the happiness, kidnapped the smiles from this home”.
The following is the graphic and horrifying response that he game when we asked him what he recalled when his son was killed:
“The explosions sound, it was the first time I had heard such a sound. My wife was inside and she was screaming, “JAMIIIIIL!”, I felt like a bullet entered my chest, I felt that my son was killed. I couldn’t feel in front of me. I went out to the street and my brother shouted to me “Jamil, Jamil”, I said La Ilaha Ilallah. There was smoke, a few seconds after the airstrike…I was so emotional and that’s why I entered the area and we were looking for my son, we were shocked by what we saw.”
Ehab then went on to describe the moment he entered the Fallujah cemetery: “Bodies were everywhere, parts of bodies, blood. Although I am used to these scenes, in my professional career, this was the first time I had seen such a massacre. I couldn’t find my son, I couldn’t recognise him. A neighbor found his son, a three year old…I then found my son’s t-shirt and then knew it was him. I ran to go and carry him, provide first aid or do anything just to keep him alive, I then found parts of his body here and there.” He then paused and said that he asked for God to give him patience and strength, stating that “only God can give me patience, only God”, explaining that “only then I could recognise that my son was dead” and that at first he couldn’t accept it.
When Ehab first found his son, he was still breathing and he explained that he had told him to say the Shahada “but he was bleeding so much”. The Shahada is the Muslim profession of faith and is often said before death and whilst holding his sons dying body, Ehab wanted his son to say this as his last words. “That feeling, whatever words you have in Arabic they cannot describe what is inside me, I wish that no one will ever witness what I witnessed. All of our sons who were killed, we collected their body parts and we took them to the hospital, we transported them, their blood stained our shirts,” he continued.
His body covered in his son’s blood, Ehab felt that he didn’t want to change his clothes and that he only did it because of the people around him. The shock of losing his son in this way was simply too much for him to bear. After he had opened up about this, he then firmly called on “the free people of the world, the international community and the International Criminal Court” to bring Israel to justice.
Ehab finished by saying the following: “We will stand up to the occupation on all levels, we will never give up our rights, we will never allow this to pass, this massacre. We are now passing on the message of the Palestinian people, of Palestine’s children who are being killed in cold blood. They have the right to live peacefully and to dream, but my children have no safety.”