Stolen childhood: A Palestinian story

The world is resoundingly indifferent to Palestinian suffering and demonstrates that policy of indifference daily.

The loss of the Bakr children is really just one more drop in a sea of Israeli injustice, writes Bazian [Getty]

Ismail, Zakaria, Ahed, and Mohamed are four names that are seemingly random and have no particular significance for the average person in the world.  

However, these four names are well known and engraved into every Palestinian’s consciousness. 

They are the Bakr family children – each of them between nine and eleven years old. I don’t blame you for not recognising their names.

The truth is – Palestinian names, families, and faces are not remembered in a world where public opinion and awareness is dictated by a 24/7 news cycle.

Their story wasn’t spread. Their loss wasn’t humanised and interviews with their loved ones weren’t conducted. So no one learned of their joys, their dreams, or their aspirations.

A year ago, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, was burned alive by Israeli attackers in Jerusalem in a “price tag” revenge killing.

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Last Friday, the burning of an 18-month-old toddler, Ali Saad Dawabsheh, in an arson attack by settlers on the family home in the Duma village, marked the one year anniversary of Abu Khdeir’s death.

The truth is we don’t mourn the loss of Palestinian lives. We don’t pause to remember the families who were wiped out, the homes and schools methodically blown up, the hospitals and ambulances surgically targeted, or the countless innocent individuals murdered while simply trying to live their lives.

The killing of Cecil the Lion had far more global coverage and calls for investigations than the Bakr children, Abu Khdeir, and the 18-month-old Ali.

The world is resoundingly indifferent to Palestinian suffering and demonstrates that policy of indifference daily.

Systematic erasure

But how can we do this? How can we turn a blind eye to the constant and systematic erasure of Palestine’s woes from our global consciousness?

How do we excuse Israel’s holding of 6,000 Palestinian political prisoners – some as young as 11 years old – and one out of four elected Palestinian parliament members being locked up?

How do we explain the disproportional response of diplomats flocking into Gaza seeking the release of one Israeli soldier captured in the aftermath of Israel’s summer assault on the Strip?

Where are the delegations seeking the release of 1.4 million Palestinians from Israel’s open-air “concentration camp-like” Gaza Strip? 

Al Jazeera World – Staying Human

In frustration I digress. The Bakr children deserve their moment of remembrance.

They were playing football on the beach on a sunny day – a brief respite from a childhood in Gaza which is innately characterised by oppression, fear, and violence – when an Israeli shell fell on their game.

Journalists nearby, who themselves were playing football with the children just a few minutes before, witnessed the carnage.

They testified that no military activities were present in the area, but regardless, the Israeli military held Palestinian fighters responsible for the incident – stating they were the intended target.

Not the first, nor the last

This is not the first, nor the last murder carried out by the Israeli military in broad daylight with cameras rolling – yet they are never held accountable or responsible for their actions.

The violent loss of these four children continues to weigh heavy on my own conscious.

I, too, avidly played football growing up. Every open space, courtyard, and stairway was my field.

For me and my childhood friends, any free time before and after school meant an open-ended pick-up game with a metaphorical half-time reserved for a run to the nearby mosque for prayers.

Football made everyone equal on the field and created a bond among all the neighbourhood kids. We often pooled our pennies together to buy a new communal ball.

As kids growing up during war, protests and political instability did not stop us from playing. For those few moments during the game we were able to put aside the violent world around us and enjoy running freely after a ball.

Periods of ceasefire were always an opportune time to start a quick game and release some of our pent-up childhood energy after long hours of hiding behind closed doors in the basement during times of fighting.

Terrifying truth 

The terrifying truth is, the Bakr children could have been my friends. They could have been my family. I too, could have tragically lost my life while running and laughing and playing on the beach during a quiet and sunny day.

The loss of the Bakr children is really just one more drop in a sea of Israeli injustice. Their case will be lost in the stacks of evidence against Israel and their illegal occupation. But while the world may forget the Bakr children, Palestine will not.

As we mark the first anniversary of Israel’s last operation in Gaza, more than ever, the world must support efforts like Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.


The facts are clear. The last assault on Gaza was the third in eight years – 1.4 million Palestinians were besieged. Within a span of 50 days during the summer of 2014, Israel conducted more than 6,000 air strikes, which targeted attacks on residential and other buildings.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 142 Palestinian families had three or more members killed in the same incident owing to the destruction of residential buildings, for a total of 742 fatalities.

According to the UN OCHA report the Palestinian death toll stands at 2,220 Gazans killed; and 1,492 of them were civilians, including 551 children and 299 women.

Grasping for understanding

The percentage of civilian causalities is almost 70 percent. I’m left grasping for some kind of understanding of how any regime could get away with such atrocities. Who will hold Israel responsible?

In addition to the killings and maimings of Palestinians, the Israelis heavily damaged 9,644 homes and there are around 90,000 partly damaged houses in the Gaza Strip.

At present, some 100,000 Gazans are still living as refugees within their own lands or are living in dangerously damaged buildings – simply to have shelter. No reconstruction or aid has been allowed into Gaza, so efforts towards recovery are halted before they begin.


When children are being targeted and slaughtered for political gain, decisive and bold action must be taken. We simply cannot stand to let such injustices continue.

As we mark the first anniversary of Israel’s last operation in Gaza, more than ever, the world must support efforts like Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). Systems must be put into place to hold Israel accountable for the suffering of millions.

International attention must be called to the plight of the Palestinians. But more simply, children must be allowed to be children. They should never have to live in fear, huddled in basements, hiding from gunfire, scared to play their games or to laugh too loudly or to run in the sun.

The Bakr children’s story stands as a monument to the world’s indifference to Palestinian suffering. The children, and all Palestinian people, deserve justice.

Hatem Bazian is co-editor and founder of the Islamophobia Studies Journal and director of the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, and a senior lecturer in the Departments of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.