Gaza father's cry of grief: 'Wake up baby'
It was meant to be a quiet, dignified goodbye and a last kiss for his toddler daughter. But the grieving father collapses unable to let go of her little body and screams out “Wake up, baba. Baba wake up!" A few days ago, his words and embrace would have woken up his three-year-old - her eyes would have fluttered open brightly - but not after dawn on Sunday.
Her little body is cold and still, covered with scratches, and now she must be carried, together with her 30-year-old mother Noor Hassan - pregnant by 20 weeks - to their grave.
“Enough, enough,” say the mourners around the young father - signaling that it is time to take her body to the midday prayers and then onward for her burial at the Gaza City cemetery. But it is not enough for the father, he wants to hold her for just a little longer.
It is a day of heartbreak and catastrophe for the young, injured father, who survived - along with his two-year-old son who was briefly in a coma - an attack that came in the night when an Israeli war plane fired on the house next door, which caused their home to collapse on top of them.
The injured father - Yahya Hassan - just cannot bring himself to let go of his daughter. "Rahaf," he weeps, as he strokes the soft hair on his daughter's head, "Rahaf!"
On Saturday night, it took hours for rescue teams to search out Rahaf’s body underneath the ruins of their destroyed home. She was found, crushed under the debris, her face bruised, wounded and covered with cement dust. She had suffocated and died.
Rahaf is Arabic for profound delicacy - and her last memory is of her mother’s face and embrace before daylight brought them eternal rest.
“Only the cruelest wars are waged at night - upon sleeping people who have the choice of how they die taken away from them. I would surely want to know how I will die,” says Abu Hatem, a relative of the Hassan’s during the funeral.
Everyone watching the young father is emotionally devastated - videos of the mourners went viral on global social media. After days of unrest in Jerusalem and the West Bank, Gaza was drawn into the violence last Friday, with clashes along the Israeli separation fence, leaving 21 Palestinians and over 1,000 injured in all occupied territories, including teenagers, dead from Israeli gunshots.
“Rahaf’s laughter on earth is silenced forever,” Abu Hatem adds, while trying to comfort a weeping woman during the funeral, as the mourners also say goodbye to the Rahaf’s deceased mother, Noor Hassan.
Rahaf’s favourite doll - wearing a green shirt - is rescued from under the ruins of the farming community house, waiting for Rahaf to come and play, chatter and change her clothes.
The neighborhood is still in shock from what happened. They are outraged by what they see as Israel’s cruelty, and fear that no-one cares about blockaded Gazan families anymore, sleeping in their beds and murdered by Israel’s military might.
“Rahaf is dead, my wife and unborn child are dead,” shouts grieving husband and father Yahya.
Neighbourhood children gather around the house left shattered by an Israeli F-16 guided missile. Everything belonging to the Hassan family is scattered everywhere - twisted, torn and broken.
“Please bring her to me, so that I can see her one last time,” asks Yahya, lying on a mattress, crying still. He also sustained injuries to his arms and legs, and can’t get up from the floor as his daughter, wife and unborn child are taken for burial.
What a night
“We were woken up in the night by the house shaking as a first missile hit nearby. My wife Noor shouted out, 'What is happening!' as I got up from the bed."
Yahya told his wife he would go and see what was happening, and then everything - water tank, the walls, and roof started falling on top of them.
“I could hear my daughter Rahaf screaming “Papa come, take me out, stones are on my head!” he recalls, in tears.
Rahaf’s voice was silenced by the next Israeli missile and he stumbled round to see his pregnant wife bleeding on the floor.
Yahya says he felt powerless, unable to reach his daughter whose voice was still calling out for him. He still feels powerless as his two-year-old son lies injured and having recently woken from a brief coma.
An ambulance crew member said he arrived at the scene, not sure where to look. The father was then unconscious at that point, unable to tell him how many people were in the house to look for.
8am at hospital
In the morning at the hospital, Yahya Hassan asked his relatives about his wife and his daughter. In an attempt to save him pain, they lied and said his wife and children were still alive on a ward.
But Yahya insisted they take him in a wheelchair to see them at Shifa hospital.
“The doors of the morgue opened and there were my wife and daughter - dead - they were dead,” he screams out in tears.
“Wake up baba, wake up, wake up,” the father calls to his daughter in the cold morgue.
Yahya Hassan lived in a rural area among farmers in Zaytoun, east Gaza City. Everyone says this area was no threat to Israel as farmers rise early and go to bed early after a working day.
Israel’s official response was that missiles were targeting “two Hamas weapon manufacturing facilities”.
Hussam Hassan, a cousin of Yahya, responded to Israel’s allegations by stating that they were never a security threat to Israel, just a community of poor farmers growing vegetables for the local market.
“Are those toys weapons against Israel?” asks Hussam while holding some children in torn clothes carrying old torn toys.
Yahya asks: “Why does Israel kill our wives and daughters? What sin have they committed?” as he recalls the final moments before they went to bed, when Rahaf was asking her dad to play games, before going to sleep.
Unable to move, due to deep shrapnel wounds in his legs - he knows there is nothing left for him, of Rahaf, except memories and a doll, among the ruins of stones.
“Israel destroyed my life… in a blink of an eye, they took my wife, my daughter, unborn child, my home, and my son traumatised forever,” says the crying father to MEE.
Yahya Hassan does not know what the future holds, but all those offering condolences know that he will have to join the ranks of thousands more homeless families, waiting for simple construction materials to reach Gaza to rebuild after Israel’s routine military attacks.
For those on the scene on Monday it was heart-breaking to see the young father begging to hold his dead three-year-old daughter one last time, just for a few more seconds.
Yahya Hassan is left unable to explain to his two-year-old son why his mum is gone. He saw her cold body and unresponsive face, and no-one can explain why he can’t play with sister Rahaf anymore.