Washington's Museum of the Palestinian People mourns deaths in Gaza

Members of the Palestinian community and allies host a candlelight vigil after the killing of 44 civilians, including 16 children

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At Washington's Museum of the Palestinian People on Monday night, director Ahmed Mansour read out the names of the children recently killed in Gaza by an Israeli aerial bombardment.

"Jamil Najm al-Deen Naijm, 4, Alaa Abdullah Riyad Qaddoum, 5, Momen al-Nairab, 5, Haneen Abu Qaida, 8, Hazem Salem, 9, Ahmad Al Nairab, 11, Jamil Ihab Najim, 13, Muhammad Yasser Nimr Al Nabahin, 13, Dalia Yasser Nimr Al Nabaheen, 13, Mohammed Hassouna, 14, Hamed Haider Najim, 16, Nazmi Fayez Abu Karsh, 16, Ahmed Walid Al Farram, 16, Mohammed Salah Naijm, 17, Khalil Abu Hamada, 18," said Mr Mansour, who is from Gaza, repeating their names and ages for emphasis.

The museum, which its Director of Programs and Curator Mr Mansour calls “the de facto Palestinian embassy”, hosted a Monday night vigil for victims in Gaza.

A diverse crowd gathered in solemn mourning, focusing particularly on the young people killed.

“Weeping is the first act of resistance,” Mr Mansour said.

“What I can hope as a Palestinian in America … is to become a true voice for the voiceless.”

Wounded Palestinian Rayed Qadoom lies near a poster depicting his five-year-old sister Alaa, who was killed during the latest conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants, in Gaza on August 9, 2022.  - Alaa was the first of 16 children killed in three days of intense conflict between Israel and Islamic Jihad militants in the densely populated Palestinian enclave of Gaza.  (Photo by Mahmud HAMS  /  AFP)

Israel began a deadly aerial and artillery bombardment of Gaza on Friday in what it called a “pre-emptive strike”, killing at least 44 Palestinian civilians, including 16 children. Buildings in Gaza were reduced to rubble, while Israelis were forced to seek shelter amid the barrage of rocket fire when Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired hundreds of rockets across the border in retaliation.

Vigil attendants, which included Palestinian-Americans, Jewish youth, and elderly couples bearing flowers, shared a moment of silence and placed candles in front of photos of the young victims.

The Muslim Chaplain for Georgetown University, Imam Yahya Hendi, who is also Palestinian, gave an emotional plea for understanding of the plight of the Palestinians before his prayer for justice and peace.

“Many Palestinians go to sleep not knowing whether they will wake up the next day,” Mr Hendi said.

“To my brothers and sisters, this is so real, and this is so painful.”

Gaza's children tell their story through art

“This evening means a lot,” Mr Mansour told The National. “This space is very humble, its very small, but this place gives a platform for us Palestinians to be creative, to imagine and to weep, and to remember.”

Mr Mansour stood in front of the “Dreams Rising” exhibit he curated, asking children in Gaza to create art that tackles the question: How do you make sense of the world?

A banner for the "Dreams Rising" exhibit at the Museum of the Palestinian People, which showcases art from children in Gaza. Ellie Sennett / The National

“I thought to tell the Gaza story through the children. Everybody has a narrative that they fight for, whether it be the Israeli side, Palestinian, the American, the Emirates, the Qataris … nobody is talking about the children.”

The works profoundly “tell the story of Gaza”, ranging from paintings of children holding red balloons to gun-wielding creatures set for battle.

Being Palestinian in America

For Mr Mansour, the juxtaposition of what is unfolding at home versus life in Washington, the hub of US government and its pro-Israel policies, can be “overwhelming”.

In response to the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire between Israel and Gaza, US President Joe Biden issued a statement reiterating that his “support for Israel’s security is long-standing and unwavering”, and emphasised “the United States is proud of our support for Israel’s Iron-Dome”.

In fiscal 2020 alone, the US provided Israel with $146 billion in military, economic, and missile defence funding.

“I believe for every free person living in this country, we have two personalities,” Mr Mansour said. “One personality where we call this home … but we ignore everything that government does. This is where the second personality that we've very much suppressed because the truth is overwhelming.”

Mr Mansour admitted that he has stopped listening to the US government though conceded that if things change, he might tune in.

“As of now I'm taking the time to allow myself to acknowledge the loss of the 16 children.”

Updated: August 09, 2022, 7:16 PM