'See you after the next war' – a child's harrowing goodbye as Gaza struggles to recover

Over a month on from the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas on August 26, the people of Gaza are struggling to recover from a deadly and violent conflict.

At least 2,150 Palestinians and 73 Israelis died during a war sparked by the murder of three Israeli teenagers by Palestinian militants and sustained by the ever-present tension between the two nations.

Amy Merone, Middle East communications officer at Christian Aid, spent five days in the fractured region earlier this month. She told Christian Today that the level of destruction and devastation in Gaza remains "beyond comprehension".

At least 100,000 people are thought to have been made homeless. "There are whole neighbourhoods where roads of houses have been destroyed and reduced to rubble," Merone said.

"There are whole communities whose ways of living and entire livelihoods have been destroyed. Everyone I met had a harrowing story of loss to tell."

16-year-old Baha' was hit by shrapnel and badly wounded. His older brother died while trying to help their neighbours.Photo: Christian Aid / Heidi Levine

Merone visited several families who suffered the consequences of life on the front line, but who are now being helped by Christian Aid's partner organisations in Gaza.

Wael and Mariam, of the Shejaiya region, lost their son Ala'a during the war. He was killed by a bomb on his 22nd birthday after hearing shellfire and going outside to try to help other people caught up in the violence.

His younger brother, Baha', was hit by a piece of shrapnel and also badly wounded, but the family are poor and couldn't afford treatment, or even the cost of transport to get to and from the hospital as often as he needs.

Now, the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) are visiting Baha' every day in his home to change his dressings, and have begun physiotherapy in the hope that he may be able to walk again. The hospitals in Gaza remain overwhelmed by the sheer number of incoming patients, and so Merone says it is clear that the work of organisations like PMRS is vital.

15-year-old Lama outside her home, which was bombed during the conflict.Photo: Christian Aid / Heidi Levine

Another young girl being helped by a Christian Aid partner is 15-year-old Lama, who was pulled from the rubble of her home by her father after it was hit by a shell. She is now receiving psychological and social support from the Culture and Free Thought Association (CFTA), which provides a space for children, young people and women to share their experiences and support one another.

"Children in Gaza are growing up every couple of years with an intense period of violence and conflict, and CFTA provide therapeutic activities for children and young people," Merone said. They use art, music and drama as a way to help express what they've seen and been through." 

An estimated 373,000 children are showing signs of extreme distress in Gaza and centres like those of CFTA – which operates five in total along the strip – are a "lifeline" for those in need.

"You walk into the centre and there are lots of bright colours around, and a cartoon room for children. It sounds basic but in Gaza these places just don't exist and children and young people feel very afraid to be out on the streets, so these centres are a real haven," Merone said.

"We went to the scene where Lama's home once stood and all that's left is a bed frame...she uses art as a way to try to express her feelings, what she's seen, and it provides an escape."

Merone also said that despite the ceasefire, she was struck by how little hope Gazans have for a peaceful future.

"The intensity, duration and scale of the conflict has left many people without hope and knowing what to do – the conflict changed everything.

"A month, two months on and you'd still pass by people sat in the rubble on top of what used to be their home. They just don't know how to rebuild and recover, and there's a real sense from people that there will be another conflict.

"One of the most compelling moments was when we were leaving Shajihah [east of Gaza city] on the final morning. A 10-year-old boy waved at us and said, 'See you after the next war.'"

William Bell, Christian Aid's Policy and Advocacy Officer for Israel and the Palestinians, said it is vital that Gaza is given space to reconstruct after the conflict, without interference from Israel.

"Any plan that allows Israel to continue to control the flow of goods in and out of Gaza is condemning the population to endless poverty and aid dependency," he said.

"It is within the power of the international community to challenge any system that doesn't address the security and viable future of both communities. Unfortunately, both in the West Bank with Israel's continued land seizures and its continued blockade of Gaza it is hard to see what vision of peace is driving things forward."

Bell is calling for political engagement that "helps lift the blockade and allow Palestinian movement and trade between Gaza and the West Bank".

"For Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory to be truly secure, democratic and peaceful, then occupation must end and all within it must be treated equally," he said in a statement in July.

"This latest outbreak of violence is not about Gaza. The people who are now dying in their hundreds are paying the price for a lethal combination of international political impotence and indifference to decades of Palestinian dispossession and displacement."

You can learn more and donate to the Christian Aid's Gaza Crisis appeal here.