How are the children?

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By Erma M. Cuizon

Sun.Star Essay

Saturday, August 30, 2014

THE daily news on the war in Gaza makes one ask what’s happening to children in the Middle East. An article written by AFP journalist Sara Hussein and other articles on war zones worry about children in war time—in civil war or otherwise, in condition of being on the verge of, or in what looks like war. That's in places where there is supposed to be war and not quite, or where there's supposed to be peace but angry men are on the brink of blasting it.

In the Gaza Strip war between Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas, they have been sending out drones to each other and the world is shocked about the death toll of children. Journalist Hussein has covered painful events worldwide but never anything like the Hamas-Israeli fight in Gaza where many children have died and are dying and the count grows between hours.

The children are like being eaten up by giant vehicles sweeping across on their own power in a huge crossing where no one is fully in control over where exactly to hit. Drones are aerial vehicles without pilots, they could hit anyone while the enemy dispatcher stays safe and away miles far off.


What is war to children? The children played where the world blew up, that’s perhaps how the little ones see it.
During the Japanese-American war in this country, I was a kid who was carried by a grown-up cousin during the evacuation from Cebu City to the hills of Compostela. I heard no blasts during the long walk going north. I don’t remember anything loud and threatening. In fact, in the evacuation of the clan, it was fun to a 4-year-old girl because cousins were all in two similar houses close together where urbanites were welcomed by the mountain folk.

There was only one frightening time I remember and that was when more Japanese soldiers came to town and became belligerent, letting their planes hover above. When the planes flew in, we children scampered for cover back to the hut and down where our host had built an “air raid shelter.” Inside the underground shelter, we all squatted close together while the older clan prayed aloud so the enemy pilot would not drop a bomb on us. Then there was the blast which hit my head and rammed against my chest although I was actually safe in my mother’s arms and the blow-up was perhaps a town away. I felt I was hit, I bawled out loud. A boy cousin about my age stood next to me, quietly watching me wail. Later in my teens, I’d look back to that scene and remember him looking so sad, about to cry but unable to understand everything strange going on.

In today's wars in the Middle East are children in refugee camps. Journalist Hussein sought them out, she connected with the small ones who weren’t sure about what was going on. But some of them were willing to pose for pictures in a playful mood. One reached out to shake the journalist’s hand in an adult hello. Two played a clapping game with her. Another hung out with her as she went around the camps. But most others were quiet, too quiet.

At a certain time of the coverage, the journalist stayed inside a morgue and watched three dead children being carried in. Earlier, these children were playing on the rooftop when a rocket was dropped on the building where they were. Hussein saw not just the dead children as we see them carried in a coffin but broken little bodies where the skin was ripped off and cut in pieces by the sheer slap of the hot steel.

At presstime, more than 2,100 people have been killed since Israel first threw rockets to Gaza on July 8 so that that Hamas militant group’s anti-Israeli fire would stop. As of this month, a total of 401 Palestinian children has been reported killed.

There are now actions leading to a truce or a temporary ceasefire, at least to allow border crossing of aid and “reconstruction materials,” according to the news. Or it would be even to make the ceasefire work longer, although not long enough to heal the pain of the children.

Journalist Hussein wrote: “I continued to take notes and observe, but I cried as I did so. And when I wrote about it later, I cried again.”

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 31, 2014.


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