Tragic human tales from Israel’s brutal four-week offensive on Gaza are only now emerging amid a fragile ceasefire
GAZA CITY - A ceasefire which ended a four-week long Israeli offensive on Gaza held for a third day on Thursday, while talks in Cairo on a longer-lasting truce took place.
It has remained relatively peaceful at Shifa hospital, although hundreds of displaced families are still camping on the floor there. But among the crowds, Narjes al-Qayed, 21, grew more anxious as the days passed. She was waiting for her 12-year-old brother, Ahmed.
Ahmed had returned home with his 14 year-old older sister, Walaa, on 25 July amid reports of a ceasefire. The plan was to bring mattresses and new clothes for the Eid festival to mark the end of Ramadan, back to the UNRWA school where they were sheltering.
Narjes said she remembered his smile as he told her, “make sure you get me an Eid gift”.
But the brother and sister never made it back to the shelter - and never saw Eid; An Israeli drone missile hit them both on their way back to the UN shelter, killing Walaa instantly. Her young body was collected in small pieces by an ambulance crew and brought to the al-Aqsa hospital in Deir al- Balah.
But Ahmed’s body was not there when the ambulance crew arrived - raising both fear and hopes among the family who desperately phoned hospitals and aid workers for news. To their relief, officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said they had found out that Ahmed was still alive and had been taken by Israeli troops for treatment at Sorko hospital in Beersheba.
“We were so relieved to hear he was alive,” said Ahmed’s brother-in-law.
Waiting for 13 days with no news about his condition or injuries proved terrifying for the family. The only person, Walaa, who would know about Ahmed’s injuries, was now buried in Deir al-Balah’s cemetery.
When a more durable ceasefire was announced last week - the family ran to their home, and found leftover supplies of IV fluid bags and bandages there. They took this as a sign that Israeli military, controlling the area, had offered medical aid to the boy.
Palestinian ambulances generally evacuate patients and bodies to hospitals for triage treatment or storage - they have meager ambulance supplies to treat patients en-route to hospital. The Israeli army has more than adequate medical supplies in the field.
The family was in a limbo, with Narjes franticly wanting to see her brother. On 5 August, the family heard that some injured people had been discharged from hospitals and brought back by ICRC.
Narjes took the Eid gift she had kept for Ahmed and - with her husband Adham al-Qayed, and sister-in-law Amal al-Sayad- jumped into a taxi on Saladin Road in Deir al- Balah, and rushed back to Shifa Hospital.
On arrival at the hospital, she ran to every corridor and corner to check the patients on stretchers and beds - but Ahmed was not there, neither was his name on medication charts or the patient register.
Her husband tried to reassure her that perhaps if Israel was treating Ahmed, he wouldn’t be released until considered stable enough for discharge home.
Shifa hospital staff was not able to provide much information, other than the message they received from ICRC “Ahmed al-Qayed is injured and alive.”
Narjes was more reassured, but still wanted to hold him and give him his Eid gift, after almost two weeks of grieving the loss of her younger sister. After a time, a medic dressed in a white coat came and asked, “Are you al-Qayed’s relatives?” When they said yes, they followed him to the southern part of the hospital.
Narjes, her husband and his sister knew little about the layout of Shifa hospital or where they were headed. They just followed nervously behind hospital staff, hoping to see Ahmed.
“May Allah bless his soul,” said the man while opening a white metal door . When the morgue door opened, Narjes broke down sobbing and stepped forward to try and wake Ahmed, his little face cold and stiff and part of his head shaven, showing some sutures.
“Ahmed! Brother Ahmed, my Ahmed,” she screamed, banging against the wall then collapsing on the ground in tears.
Her husband - also in shock - tried to help her stand up - but she couldn’t.
Ahmed and Walaa had both been killed. In 2002, their brother Mahmoud was also killed by Israeli gunfire when he was just 12 years old.
Narjes called out again, “Ahmed, I love you. Wake up, I brought your Eid gift, darling.”
But Ahmed was dead, from injuries sustained to his head, chest and leg.
He may have survived a few days, before his body was brought back to Gaza.
“It breaks my heart that both my children were killed for no reason, they just wanted to celebrate Eid,” says their mother, with no home left to receive her family and friends offering condolences.
Saying a final goodbye to Ahmed wouldn’t happen at their home, destroyed by Israel, but at the UNRWA school, their new home for an indefinite future.
“If my two children had been Jewish, would the world have been so silent?” Ahmed and Walaa’s mother asked, between tears.
Relatives of Ahmed mourn during his funeral service at a UNRWA school (AA)