Gaza: Israel's killing of Palestinian children leaves classmates in shock
Mayar and Ali bought candies and food, prepared their clothes, and slept early on Monday night, looking forward to waking up the next day for a fun school trip in the Gaza Strip.
Around five hours before the trip, an Israeli air strike hit their home, taking the lives of the two siblings and their father.
A video circulating online shows the mother bidding farewell to the shrouded bodies of her children and husband lain on the ground.
“May God have mercy upon you. My soul, my children,” she said, as her relatives try to pull her away and keep her from collapsing.
Mayar, 11, and her brother Ali, eight, are the children of Tareq Ibrahim Ezz el-Din, a Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) military commander.
The family was sleeping when an Israeli fighter jet targeted the entire floor of their residential building in al-Remal neighbourhood in the centre of Gaza City.
Over 20 others were wounded, including three children and seven women, some of whom are in serious and critical condition, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.
Ezz el-Din, 48, is originally from Jenin in the occupied West Bank and was a former prisoner who was released from Israeli prisons as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange in 2011, which included the release of 1,027 Palestinian detainees.
Following his release, Ezz el-Din was banished to Gaza by the Israeli authorities.
“The IDF has just announced the beginning of Operation Shield and Arrow,” the Israeli military tweeted around 80 minutes after carrying out the air strikes.
A total of 40 fighter jets participated in bombing different locations in the besieged enclave just after 2am local time on Tuesday, according to the Israeli military.
Cancelled school trip
“In this sad morning that our steadfast Strip is witnessing, and with grieving hearts, the Pioneers and Leaders School bids farewell to two of its innocent students, who were martyred as a result of the Zionist violent bombing of the Gaza Strip,” Mayar and Ali’s school posted on Facebook.
When they woke up, classmates who were to go on the same school trip as the siblings, were only told that it was cancelled, as their parents hesitated to tell them why.
“Mayar was a good friend of my daughter Leen. She was an excellent student and Leen loved her very much,” Aya Abu Taqia, 35, told Middle East Eye.
“A few days ago, Leen got sick at school, and she told me how affectionate Mayar was, staying with her and comforting her until we arrived to pick her up.
“They were very excited about today’s trip. Yesterday, we bought candies and food because Leen, Mayar and their friends were planning to take a picnic blanket with them to sit on and share food. I had not seen them this excited before.”
Before Abu Taqia went to bed, the first Israeli air strike took place. A few moments passed before she saw the news on the school’s group on WhatsApp.
“Mayar’s teachers shared the news and they started mourning her and posting photos of her. I was terrified that Leen would learn the news by seeing those messages. I did not want her to know the news by accident, in the same way she learned about her father’s martyrdom,” she said.
Leen’s father, Osama Abu Taqia, was killed 10 days after Israel’s May 2021 attack on Gaza, while he was trying to neutralise an unexploded Israeli ordnance at the Explosives Engineering Department in Gaza.
Abu Taqia said this time she put away all mobiles and devices in her room, and waited until her daughter had woken up.
“I then told her the news gradually, before telling her that someone she knew was martyred. ‘It is Mayar,’ I said, and she collapsed in tears,” she said.
The Israeli army says the air strikes were meant to target PIJ leaders who “have been threatening the security of Israelis for too long”.
“Leen was in shock," Abu Taqia said. “It is not easy to explain the idea of death to an 11-year-old child.”
On her page on Facebook, Mayar’s teacher Samah Jaafar shared a video of Mayar playing and dancing in school, describing her as "the princess of my class".
‘Your friend was martyred’
“I haven’t yet told Jamal that he was killed. I don’t have any idea how I’m going to tell him. His little heart cannot take all of this,” Yusra al-Aklouk, the mother of Ali's best friend and classmate, posted on Facebook.
Aklouk agonised all morning over how to break the news to Jamal, who has already experienced heavy losses in his life.
“He lost his father, grandfather, and uncle [in Israeli attacks in May 2021]. This is his fourth experience [of] losing people really close to him,” she told MEE.
“I have not slept all night, I was scared that Jamal would wake up and check my phone, and find out what had happened or see a picture of his friend.”
Ali had been Jamal's close friend since his father was killed, and a source of comfort and support. Aklouk said Ali and his father Tareq Ezz el-Din would regularly bring Jamal gifts to help him cope with his loss.
'This is his fourth experience losing people really close to him'
- Yusra al-Aklouk
When her son woke up, Aklouk decided to deliver the news in stages over a few hours, hoping to cushion the blow.
“I told him that there was bombing in adjacent areas, then I said that the bombing affected the building where Ali lived. He asked me about Ali, I told him that I still did not know,” she said.
Aklouk first told him that Ali was wounded, and then that his father was killed.
“Then I told him that Ali himself was martyred,” she said.
“He cried. But then he started reminding me of all the things I always say to him about meeting [loved ones] in heaven later.”
Jamal, who was already dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following the loss of his father and grandfather, told his mother that he would only absorb the idea that he had lost his friend when he returns to school and does not seen him at his desk.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.