Barefoot and weeping, Khaled Joudeh, 9, hurried toward the dozens of bodies wrapped in white burial shrouds, blankets and rugs outside the overcrowded morgue.
“Where’s my mom?” he cried next to a photographer for The New York Times. “I want to see my mom.”
“Where is Khalil?” he continued, barely audible between sobs as he asked for his 12-year-old brother. A morgue worker opened a white shroud, so Khaled could kiss his brother one final time.
Then, he bid farewell to his 8-month-old sister. Another shroud was pulled back, revealing the blood-caked face of a baby, her strawberry-red hair matted down. Khaled broke into fresh sobs as he identified her to the hospital staff. Her name was Misk, Arabic for musk.
“Mama was so happy when she had you,” he whispered, gently touching her forehead, tears streaming down his face onto hers.
She was the joy of his family, relatives later said — after three boys, his parents were desperate for a girl. When she was born, they said, Khaled’s mother delighted in dressing Misk in frilly, colorful dresses, pinning her tiny curls in bright hair clips.
Through his tears, Khaled bid farewell to his mother, father, older brother and sister, their bodies lined up around him. Only Khaled and his younger brother, Tamer, 7, survived what relatives and local journalists said was an airstrike on Oct. 22 that toppled two buildings sheltering their extended family.
A total of 68 members of the Joudeh family were killed that day as they slept in their beds in Deir al Balah, in central Gaza, three of Khaled’s relatives recounted in separate interviews.
Several branches and generations of the Joudehs, a Palestinian family, had been huddling together before the strike, relatives said, including some who had fled northern Gaza, as Israel had ordered residents to do. The Israeli military said it could not address questions about a strike on the family.
In the end, members of the family were buried together, side by side in a long grave, relatives said, showing footage of the burial and sharing a picture of Misk before she was killed.
Determining the precise number of children killed in Gaza — in the midst of a fierce bombing campaign, with hospitals collapsing, children missing, bodies buried under rubble and neighborhoods in ruins — is a Sisyphean task. Health officials in Gaza say that 5,000 Palestinian children have been killed since the Israeli assault began, and possibly hundreds more. Many international officials and experts familiar with the way death tolls are compiled in the territory say the overall numbers are generally reliable.
If the figures are even close to accurate, far more children have been killed in Gaza in the past six weeks than the 2,985 children killed in the world’s major conflict zones combined — across two dozen countries — during all of last year, even with the war in Ukraine, according to U.N. tallies of verified deaths in armed conflict. [Continue reading…]