Two orphaned teenagers brought their seven siblings to Rafah; Now they live in fear The Israeli war on Gaza

Rafah, Gaza – In a small tent in Rafah, 15-year-old Nagham Al-Yazji and her brother Muhammad, 14, are holding down the fort as best they can, taking care of the house and looking after their seven younger siblings, the youngest of whom is six. -Tulin’s one-month-old sister.

The children have lost their parents over the past four months and have had to bring their younger siblings south alone, set up a tent, and struggle every day as best they can.

Holding Toleen in his arms and gently rocking her, Mohammed tells Al Jazeera about the day they lost their mother, Shouq Al-Yaziji, 37, in the first week of the Israeli war on Gaza.

Muhammad plays with Toulin in their tent
Mohammad plays with Toleen in their tent (Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera)

“On that day, my mother asked us to take care of my little sister, Toleen, who was three months old at the time, because she was going to visit my grandfather nearby,” Muhammad recalls.

While Shouq was visiting her elderly parents, the house next door was bombed, killing everyone in it and the neighboring houses. Her husband and children found out late that evening.

“It was devastating to hear that,” Nagham says, describing the feelings of sadness and utter loss they all felt when they realized they would never see their mother again.

Left alone

After Shouq’s murder, the family struggled without her as their fears piled up as the security situation in their neighborhood deteriorated.

Five children standing outside their tent
Five of Al-Yaziji’s children stand outside their tent (Abdul Hakim Abu Rayash/Al Jazeera)

Seeking safety among the large numbers, their father took everyone to Al-Shifa Hospital in search of shelter. But the conditions there were terrible, with overcrowding and a severe lack of everything, even hygiene.

So the decision was made to flee to the south, and the children’s father began preparing for the trip.

“My father left us that day to go to our house and get some things we needed. But he never came back,” Nagham says. “We lost contact with him and we don’t know his fate.”

In the confusion and anxiety over their father’s disappearance, the older children were painfully aware that the situation was getting worse and that something had to be done to protect the younger children.

Muhammad carries a large bottle and walks with two younger brothers
Muhammad and two of his younger brothers walk in their camp to get water (Abdul Hakim Abu Rayash/Al Jazeera)

“So, we fled to the south with my uncle,” Nagham says.

Their uncle does not live with them. All he could do was help them set up their tent and look at them from time to time.

For today, the older children take care of the younger children, and somehow the nine children take over the task of doing so.

“I stand in line to get water, aid and bread every morning. I light a wood fire and heat water to prepare formula milk for my little sister,” Mohammed says proudly.

Nagham, the eldest daughter, worries about her siblings every day. Nagham adds: “Life without a father and mother would be painful under normal circumstances, let alone such difficult circumstances.”

Muhammad, despite his young age, tries his best to do the things his father used to do for the family, and it seems to pain him that the small makeshift tent they are all sheltering in lacks even the simplest and easiest things. The simplest necessities.

Muhammad pulls sweat from a sheet stretched between the two columns
Muhammad collects the clothes that have been hung to dry. With no washing facilities, it is never clean (Abdul Hakim Abu Rayash/Al Jazeera)

“Sometimes I go out to look for work for a day when we have nothing to eat and I need to earn money to support my brothers.

“But sometimes I come back without any money, and they go to bed hungry,” Mohammed says.

For her part, Nagham takes on the responsibility of motherhood, and tries to take care of the entire family, especially 18-month-old Youssef and baby Toleen.

“I make their bottles for them with Mohamed’s help. I change their diapers and find out what our meals are every day.

“Yesterday I was able to prepare falafel for them with the help of my aunt,” Nagham says.

Nagham stands holding Toulin while her younger brothers eat
Nagham stands holding Toulin while her younger brothers eat the falafel that she was able to prepare with the help of her aunt (Abdul Hakim Abu Rayash/Al Jazeera)

While she is doing the best she can with her circumstances, Nagham is still a child and suffers from fear, doubt, and sadness.

“I don’t understand everything that children want. Sometimes my little sister wakes up in the middle of the night crying, but I don’t understand what she wants.

“I don’t know: Is she hungry? Is she in pain? I often end up crying with her,” Nagham says while crying.

While both Mohammed and Nagham hope day after day that the war will end soon and that they will be able to find out what happened to their father, they also live in constant terror of Israeli raids and the ground attack that Israel is threatening to launch.

“This situation is very terrifying. We are afraid when they bomb at night. I try to reassure my brothers and allay their fears, but I shake all the time,” says Mohammed.

“We don’t know where we’re going anymore,” Nagham interjects. “It’s not like there’s anywhere safe we ​​can take the little ones and go, so we stay here with our fears.”

“I miss my parents very much. Life without them is very difficult and unbearably sad,” Mohammed concludes.

Mehmet carries Tulin out of their tent
Mohammad holding Toleen outside their makeshift tent in Rafah (Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera)

(tags for translation)Features

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