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More Than 1,000 Gazan Children Are Dead. How Can We Even Begin to Mourn?

In my career as a Gazan American physician, I’ve delivered 1,000 babies. Israel has killed that many children in a week.

A Palestinian woman carries an injured child to a hospital in Khan Yunis on October 16, 2023.

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My husband and I are 100 percent Palestinian from Gaza. We live in diaspora in the United States with my 5-month-old daughter. My husband’s entire immediate family is in Gaza. They live in the now-devastated Rimal neighborhood and are among the hundreds of thousands internally displaced in Gaza within the past seven days. This displacement is both due to airstrikes flattening more than 1,300 residential structures in Gaza, and due to the evacuation order issued October 13 to over 1 million people to flee the north for the south of Gaza.

Per the evacuation order, our family feared almost certain death if they stayed in their homes in the north. They made the harrowing trek to the south only to find Israel bombing the very road it had ordered them to take during the hours they were told it would be safe. These airstrikes targeted trucks evacuating families from refugee camps in the north and 70 were killed, overwhelmingly women and children. Somehow, our family survived and are spread out between relatives’ homes that are now hosting hundreds of displaced family members, UN schools and staying in the rubble of residential buildings that were already bombed. All day we have been getting the cruel and horrifying (though unsurprising) news that Israel is showering the south of Gaza with airstrikes. Many of the victims are those families who had just fled the north, raising the death toll in Gaza to over 2,700 in just one week.

To anyone calling and texting to ask if our family is okay — the answer is going to make you uncomfortable. No, they aren’t. Nowhere is safe and no Gazan is “okay” — whether alive, dead or injured. They are blockaded into a strip of land that is 25 miles long and about five miles wide, and have been bombed by more than 6,000 bombs in a seven-day period. Israel has cut off their access to food, water, electricity, gas and telecommunications. They have not had water for more than five days. One million children in Gaza have been without water for over five days. The health care system is under attack in every way, with ambulances, medics, doctors and hospitals targeted by airstrikes. Hospitals — which were considered the final shelter — are being ordered to evacuate, and Doctors Without Borders has called the situation on the ground a calamity and has pleaded for humanity: “Dying under bombs cannot be the only option left to people.”

My daughter has this big beautiful family waiting to know and love her. She has two grandparents, two aunts, two uncles, 12 first cousins and countless second cousins in Gaza. It is a huge hole in my heart and a deep sadness that she and I have never and may never have the chance to meet them. My husband finally has his citizenship after 15 years of being stateless, and we started to plan a trip for one year from now exactly to go to Gaza as a family. Despite still recovering from the trauma of 2021, when his family’s home was a target of airstrikes, we imagined the best-case scenario: my daughter getting to meet and spend time with her grandparents. She would learn Arabic, belly laugh with her cousins, eat too many sweets and play on the beach. We agreed it was worth trying. The past week has shown us the worst-case scenario and made even the idea of this trip seem like a pipe dream.

The last communications we have from our family have been statements of accepting God’s will and wishing they didn’t live to see this happening to their people. They have suggested to us that we not watch the news for fear the reality may traumatize us. I asked if we can send money. My father-in-law said, “Everything is closed. There is no way to pick it up; besides, there is nothing to buy. They are out of bread.” We are now at a point where Gazans have asked that we turn our prayers from survival to praying that their death is quick, praying that they not get trapped under rubble alive or die of thirst. They don’t see a way out anymore as it has become clearer and clearer that no one is doing anything to help them.

While picking up my daughter today out of her crib, I felt a despair that was dizzying and brought me to my knees in body-shaking sobs. It was a moment of surreal depersonalization, imagining all possible permutations of this 100 percent Gazan baby’s life. I felt the weight of her sleeping body in my hands, saw her olive skin and huge brown eyes that look right into the depths of your soul. I felt the innocence of her giggles and wiggles. Her value to me can only be measured in diamonds and divine light. God, how are over 1,000 Gazan children like her dead?! Thousands like her injured?! Countless others trapped under the rubble?! How has their life become so meaningless, so cheap to the world? How has the world failed them over and over again? I can’t turn off the images that flash in my head when I look at my daughter — babies orphaned awaiting someone to claim them; babies in body bags with their umbilical cords still attached; children being carried on foot into hospitals, lifeless and covered in white phosphorus; the ice cream trucks that have become morgues for children’s bodies outside the hospitals… I have seen things I can’t unsee.

My mind as a first-time mother feels raw and exposed to the dichotomy of how I would have spent my maternity leave in Gaza. I watch my baby learn about gravity by dropping her pacifier and waiting for me to pick it up. I see her emotions cycle from joy to fear to surprise and worry all day as she makes sense of this world. How cruel of a world has it become that mothers in Gaza are having to figure out how to take care of a newborn while dodging explosives falling from the sky? What are wake windows against a background of ear-splitting explosions? How will they make breastmilk, wash bottles, deal with blowouts without water? How will they charge their breast pumps without electricity? How much fear will they have to see in their children’s eyes as they smell burning buildings and bodies around them? Does the innocence of children supersede the cruelty of the world? Do they look to their parents to pick up all that is dropping all around them?

As an OB/GYN, my mind often wanders to what my job would look like in Gaza. My life’s work has been delivering about 1,000 babies over the course of a decade. I think of each one as a part of my heart and can remember each sleepless night spent supporting these women through what is the most medically vulnerable state the majority of them will ever be in. I think of all the decision-making and literal blood, sweat and tears. I think of the estimated 50,000 women in Gaza who are currently pregnant — among them, my sweet sister-in-law Fatima, who is about five months pregnant now. Cruelly, she was six months pregnant during the last war in 2021 and miscarried, as she puts it, “from fear.” When she first found out she was pregnant this year, she called me asking me how to prevent it from happening again. We had no idea what was coming.

Earlier today, I read an eyewitness account of doctors doing an emergency delivery on a pregnant woman killed by Israeli airstrikes in Nuseirat, Gaza. I imagined myself in their shoes. This procedure is called a perimortem cesarean section and is one of the most anxiety-provoking surgeries in our field. From the time a woman’s heart stops, you have four minutes to get the baby out while doing chest compressions on the mom for any chance of meaningful survival for the neonate. Meanwhile, I saw videos of neonatal ICU doctors pleading for humanity after the evacuation orders were issued to their hospitals, stating their intention to stay with their tiny patients: “We can’t and will not leave them,” they said. I later saw a video of a Gazan doctor seeing his own kids as victims of an airstrike in his emergency room, his son getting rolled away in a body bag.

As a physician and as a mother, my heart is in a million pieces. Grief has seized the space between my ribs and I can hardly breathe. How is this happening?

Amid the death and destruction from the shower of bombs dropping on Gaza like rain, truly the thing that has forever changed me is seeing how the world is turning into a hate mob against a civilian population, a majority of whom are refugees, the majority of whom are children, all of whom have been living besieged for 16 years. It is the media coverage priming the public to accept mass atrocities by using hateful and racist rhetoric that has left me feeling the most hopeless and scared. This incendiary and dehumanizing language used to describe Palestinians is going to contribute to genocide in Gaza and increasing violence against Muslims in the U.S., like the stabbing to death of Wadea Al-Fayoume, a Palestinian 6-year-old in Illinois.

We need to change the trajectory now. We need to call for an immediate ceasefire and deescalation to prevent imminent genocide. The U.S. government is actively fueling violence by sending more weapons to Israel and this must stop. We need to open borders to allow medical aid, food and water into Gaza. We need to shatter the false premise that Israel can only exist for Jewish people at the expense of displacing, subjugating, controlling and killing Palestinians as it has for over 75 years. Everything possible needs to be done to condemn this indiscriminate violence against a trapped population of 2 million people who are now completely cut off from the world.

Our old and young are being killed, but we will never forget.

استودعتك غزةعائلتنا وأطفالنا يا الله، ربي رب السموات والارض

“I have entrusted my beloved Gaza, our family and our sweet children to God, creator of the world and the heavens.”

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