Alaa Balata: Right to a Childhood

In Jabalia, Gaza’s most populated refugee camp, some 110,000 refugees pack an area of only 1.4 square kilometers.

Lacking a steady supply of basic services, like water and electricity, Jabalia has been hit hard by the eight-year Israeli siege on Gaza.

On July 28, 2014, 17-year-old Alaa Balata moved with his family to his uncle’s house deep inside Jabalia refugee camp and farther from the Israeli tanks shelling everywhere along Gaza’s border.

“[My father] thought we would be safer here.”

Alaa’s uncle, Abdel Karim Balata, recalled the day the shells reached his neighborhood.

“It was after lunch, around 3:30 in the afternoon,” he said.  “Alaa had just stepped outside to get water when the shells hit.”

The path to the home was strewn with shrapnel—the same dense metal that tore through every member of Alaa’s immediate family on the afternoon of July 29.

During Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli army fired 34,000 artillery rounds into Gaza.

Despite Israeli claims that they did everything possible to protect innocent lives, Idan Barir, a former Israeli infantryman, tells a different story.

“The shells have caused unbearable damage to human life and tremendous destruction to infrastructure, the full scale of which will only be revealed when the fighting is over.”

“Those who use artillery weapons in Gaza cannot honestly say that they are doing all they can to avoid harming innocent civilians.”

Even Israel’s allies were shocked by the intensity of its shelling on civilian areas.

US military officials called the shelling of Shuja’iyya, the Gaza City neighborhood south of Jalablia, “absolutely deadly” and meant only “to kill a lot of people in as short a period of time as possible.” According to a Pentagon briefing, Israel pumped 4,800 shells during a seven-hour attack on the area.

Speaking to Al Jazeera America, Lt. Gen. Robert Gard said: “That rate of fire over that period of time is astonishing. If the figures are even half right, Israel’s response was absolutely disproportionate.”

Returning to the house after the blast, Alaa found two men carrying his younger brother, Yahya, wrapped in a blanket.

“I need to go with him. I need to go with him. My brother is alive.”

In the taxi to the hospital, Alaa hoped that his brother might somehow survive.

“I kept talking to him, but there was a big hole where his stomach used to be, and I couldn’t figure out how to do it — how to hold his insides in.”

When they arrived to the local hospital, eight-year-old Yahya was barely breathing. Doctors rushed him immediately to the better-equipped Gaza City’s Al-Shifa Hospital.

Yahya did not survive.

By the time Alaa got the news, he had just heard that the rest of his family — his father, his mother and his six sisters — were gone, too.

Alaa’s family is one of 142 families that lost three or more members in single incidents during Operation Protective Edge.

Children died at a rate of 10 a day, every day.

Parents, too, perished in unprecedented numbers, leaving more than 1,500 of Gaza’s children orphaned.

Prayer: God, we take the time to mourn the loss of life. In Alaa’s young life, and for many in Gaza, they have experienced more loss than most of us know in a lifetime, and we ask for your comfort. God be with them. We pray your strength embodies Alaa and the people of Gaza. For the people of Jabalia refugee camp, we ask for divine relief. That Gaza would come to know a day without constant war and strife. Let us press on in our commitment to speaking against the violence in this conflict against innocent children and families, especially in Gaza. We come to Lord, and ask you to the break chains that besiege Gaza and we lift up the 1,500 children who were orphaned in 2014 in prayer. For them to have loving families here on earth, and come to know the love of their heavenly Father.

This story was initially shared on Defense for Children International – Palestine’s website and is reprinted here with permission. CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute to our Prayers for Peace blog. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.

One Comment On “Alaa Balata: Right to a Childhood”

  1. Considering the operant dynamics in this seemingly intractable violence we must recognize that the loudest voice for change is
    money. When the coffers of the Israeli military are deprived of American foreign aid then their ears will be tuned to Olam Chesed Yibaneh. Any challenge to the first amendment right to advocate for BDS on college campuses or in any public space must be defended. The very existence of our democratic process depends on a vigorous press and freedom of speech. The lives of thousands of children are at stake.

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