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With smiles belying the horrors they have witnessed, four Palestinian children in Gaza have told The National about life under bombardment and how they lost their homes, their safety and everything that mattered to them.
When Israel started bombing their homes and neighbourhoods, the children said they sought refugee in UN schools, temporary tents and hospitals. But no place is safe any more, with strikes hitting a refugee camp, schools and hospitals.
Sad and scared yet hopeful, Oday, Aya, Jouri and Maisara are some of the lucky ones.
They may not fully comprehend the gravity of the war, but the toll it has taken is obvious.
“Our whole home was destroyed by air strikes,” seven-year-old Oday said, standing outside his tent in Khan Younis.
Both of 13-year-old Aya's best friends were killed by Israeli air strikes.
“I went to their funeral. It made me very sad,” she said.
More than 4,000 children have been killed in Gaza by Israeli air strikes.
Unicef’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, Adele Khodr, told The National a child has been killed in the Gaza Strip every 15 minutes on average since the current war broke out.
To many, they are faceless numbers on a long list of civilian casualties, but these four children are a symbol of the people of Gaza's resilience in the face of tragedy.
'I want the war to end and go back to Gaza'
Oday has big dreams.
“I want to become a surgeon to heal the injured people in Gaza and Khan Younis,” he said.
Displaced from their home, his family were sheltering in a camp before moving to temporary tents.
“I only managed to get two T-shirts,” he explained.
“I wanted to bring my toys with me, my backpack and my notebooks so I can play, draw and study.”
The seven-year-old likes Batman “ because he can fly, he is strong and helps people”.
Oday misses watching his favourite cartoons.
“I like Tom and Jerry … and SpongeBob”, he said, but without a television or even electricity, he has been unable to distract himself from the horrors around him.
“I want the war to end and go back to Gaza,” Oday said.
'I still can’t believe they are dead'
Aya left her home in Gaza on October 7, when Israeli army started the bombardment of the enclave, where more than 2.3 million Palestinians live.
“Everything important is in this bag – if we have to evacuate the school, I can just carry it,” said Aya, who now lives in a UN school with her family.
“I am very sad … we are displaced in schools … we have no food,” Aya explained. She added that despite going to the bakery often, her family can never find bread.
On Sunday, the UN warned of a “catastrophic” situation for children in Gaza, as Israeli bombs hit a school being used as a shelter while another landed outside a hospital.
In addition to the thousands killed, 1,250 are missing and presumed to be buried under the rubble.
Aya has already lost her two best friends.
“It makes me really sad. I went to their funeral,” she said. “Everyone loved them.
“They were my best friends I still can’t believe they are dead.”
Aya now aspires to become a police officer.
“They protect us from criminals … they have a special place in my heart … I want people to be proud of me.”
The UN says that “women, children and newborns in Gaza are disproportionately bearing the burden” of Israel's air and land operations.
"It's one of the most densely populated regions in the world and this is why we are really concerned about the impact of the war on children," Unicef's Ms Khodr said.
'I was one of the top five in my classroom'
Jouri misses school because she loves studying and “was one of the top five in my classroom”.
Now living in a school in Khan Younis, the 10-year-old said she was “sad that our home was destroyed by the Israeli occupation”.
When she hears the frightening sounds of air strikes, she hides behind her mother and “reads verses from the Quran and cries”.
Many parents feel lucky to still be able to hold their children and comfort them.
Jouri's family was separated when they left their homes, with all communications cut off with her uncles and grandparents, whom she said she misses.
She said she also misses her books, which were all destroyed.
'I just wanted to bring my football'
Maisara is sheltering with his family in a hospital. When they were ordered to evacuate their home, he took nothing with him.
“I just wanted to bring my football,” the 10-year-old said.
An avid lover of the sport, his favourite player is Ronaldo because “he is the best”.
Maisara's dream is to become a journalist so he can “document the injuries [of Palestinians]".
“I am very scared, I can’t sleep at night,” he said, as other children hiding in the hospital gathered around him.
"If you see a whole house destroyed, if you see someone being picked from under the rubble, this is not something that a child should see," Ms Khodr said.
The number of children killed over the past month is almost five times the number of those who died between 2008 and September 2023 in Gaza.
About 130 children are killed in the current conflict every day.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned on Monday that the besieged Gaza strip is becoming a “graveyard for children”.