"She was my first and only child"

News and Press Release
Originally published

Huda and Khaled Tafesh (21 and 25) got married in 2010. One year later their daughter, Haneen, was born. The young family, which lives in a modest tin-roofed dwelling in the Zeitoun district of Gaza, came under attack in the 8-day Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip last November.

As International Women’s Rights Day and Mother’s Day approach, Huda speaks of what happened to her as a young mother during those days of fear and bombardments.

“We were all at home that day. It was one day after the Israeli attacks had started and there were many drones in the sky above us. Our neighbourhood was calm though, and there was no sign of military activity. We started our day as usual. Haneen had woken up early in the morning, eaten some food, and gone back to sleep. Khaled had gone out earlier to buy eggs for her. She always asked her father to take her with him, whenever he went out of the house. She always wanted to join him.” That morning Khaled told Haneen she couldn’t join him. He thought she would be safer in the house than outside.

Huda continues: “Shortly after Khaled returned from the shop, there was a sudden big explosion. An F16 had fired a missile at an empty plot of land next to our house. The explosion was huge.”

Hardly noticing her own injury, Huda only thought of one thing: “I quickly ran into the house to see whether Haneen was okay. But when I got to the bedroom, the door had been jammed shut by the force of the explosion. I wasn’t able to open the door. Then my husband came and he finally got the door to open. Haneen was under the rubble. Only her feet were showing. A lot of the rubble had landed on her head and caused her many head injuries.”

Both Khaled and Huda realized that Haneen’s injuries were serious. “Because ambulances weren’t arriving immediately, Khaled took Haneen to the hospital”, explains Huda. “Once an ambulance came to take me to hospital, a drone dropped a second missile. This one landed directly opposite our front door. It didn’t explode. When the police came to remove the missile, they said it was defective. It might have been dropped just to terrify us.”

Huda recalls the hectic moments in the hospital: “They discovered a fracture in my right shoulder blade. The doctor gave me a sling and some anaesthetic spray and, in the afternoon, he told me I could go home. I think both the doctor and my husband wanted to protect me from the shock of finding out how Haneen was doing, but in my heart I already knew that she had passed away. I could feel it.”

After receiving a phone call from the doctor that evening, Khaled told Huda he was going to the hospital to donate blood for Haneen. “I told him not to go,” says Huda. “I told him I didn’t think she needed blood anymore. Then he admitted that Haneen had passed away.”

Huda was admitted to hospital again that same evening, after the pain in her back and shoulder became unbearable. She stayed there for a week. “On the second day, I went home briefly to say my goodbyes to Haneen before her funeral.”

While her physical injuries are slowly healing, memories of that day and the loss of her daughter are with her constantly. Huda cherishes vivid memories of her daughter: “She was a very clever girl. A child who was very close to everyone’s heart. What I remember most of her is the sound of her laughter. She would even start smiling and laughing as soon as she woke up. Haneen was a calm girl who never cried.” Thinking of upcoming Mother’s Day, Huda sighs: “I had only just become a mother when I lost my child.”

When talking about her outlook on the future, Huda smiles: “I have been pregnant for 2.5 months now. I hope that the pregnancy will pass quickly, and that I will have a child again soon.”

In addition to the loss of their child, the Tafesh family has been forced to deal with damage done to their home as a result of the attack. The walls and floor of the house have holes in them. According to Khaled’s mother, they are so big that mice are entering through them. The tin roof was severely damaged and leaks whenever it rains. “We received this home as a shelter from a charity initiative less than one month before the attack. Before that it was just a single room shack. Now we have multiple rooms with brick walls,” says Khaled’s mother.

The family faces poverty as it is without any form of permanent income. Haneen’s father, Khaled, received a pushcart form the government. “I gave the cart the name ‘Haneen’, and I put my daughter’s picture all over the side of it. I am trying to sell pastries from the cart in order to have some income.”

The targeting and severely injuring or killing of a civilian, a protected person, is a war crime, as codified in Article 147 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention and Articles 8(2)(a)(i) and (iii), and Article 8 (2)(b)(i) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.