Blinded by wartime blast, Gaza boy dreams of school

Belal Al Sabbagh and Mai Yaghi, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Aug 17 2021 07:58 PM

Palestinian students inspect a classroom at a school destroyed during the recent 11-day war between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement, on the first day of the new academic year in Gaza City, on August 16, 2021. Mahmud Hams, AFP
Palestinian students inspect a classroom at a school destroyed during the recent 11-day war between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement, on the first day of the new academic year in Gaza City, on August 16, 2021. Mahmud Hams, AFP

Eight-year-old Mohammed Shaban dreamed of returning to the classroom in Gaza for the start of the school year. But after an exploded missile blinded him in May, he is staying home.

Mohammed used to attend school with his cousins and neighbors in the town of Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip.

He is one of hundreds of children the United Nations says were injured during fighting in May between Israel and the Hamas Islamists who control the Palestinian enclave.

From May 10 to 21, the Israeli army pummelled the Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire by Hamas.

Mohammed said he was walking to a market to buy clothes during the conflict when a missile exploded.

As a result of the blast, his father Hani said, "Mohammed was injured in the eyes, which led to the loss of his eyes, and Mohammed became completely blind."

The Shabans say Mohammed was injured by a missile fired by the Israelis, although AFP could not independently verify it.

The boy still hoped to return to school, Hani said, and his new disability left him moody and unpredictable.

"He sometimes asks me, 'When will I see', or 'When will I go back to school with the children', or 'When will I go out to the street alone'," Hani said.

Human Rights Watch has accused both Israel and Gaza of war crimes during the conflict.

Israeli air strikes killed 260 Palestinians, including fighters, while munitions fired by militants in Gaza killed 13 people in Israel, including a soldier.

HRW said Israeli strikes were not always directed at military targets.

Also it said Palestinians fired indiscriminately at Israeli cities, with rockets that fell short killing at least seven Palestinians in Gaza and wounding others.

For now, Mohammed grips his father's hand, his head facing down, as they walk through their neighbourhood.

They step along narrow dirt streets lined by cinderblock walls covered in graffiti.

At home, Hani Shaban guided his son to sit down on cushions and showed him the collared shirts of his school uniform.

Mohammed gripped a pen and tried to form letters in a notebook as his parents encouraged him.

"In the future, I hope he can go to a special school for the disabled," said Somaya Shaban, Mohammed's mother.

She took her son in her arms and burst into tears.

"I wish to go to school and see the children, and wish see my sisters, and I wish to see my mother and father, and to play with the children," Mohammed said.

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