There’s an ugliness to war beyond the ugly things war does. There are scars beyond the rough, imperfectly mended flesh of the gunshot wound, beyond the flashback, the startle reflex, the nightmare. War finds peculiar and heinous ways to distort lives, and when children are involved, it can mean a lifetime spent trying to recapture what was, to rebuild what never can be.
I’ve met these former child victims again and again. I think of the man whose features seemed to be perpetually sliding off his face because a grotesque incendiary weapon landed near him when he was just a boy. I think of the woman who, as a pre-teen, watched as her grandmother and neighbor were gunned down right in front of her. I think of the little boy who, after fleeing from a town in the midst of a rebel assault, hadn’t seen his father in over a year. I think of the tiny girl who sang a song about orphans for me just months after her mother, father, and brother were killed by an old artillery shell. The boys who, on the cusp of their teens, had assault rifles thrust into their hands and were sent off to battle.
Those whom I met in adulthood were still suffering the after-effects, decades later, of adult wars that intruded on their young lives. Those I met as children were already thoroughly marked and, I have no doubt, will join the ranks of this enormous legion of the damaged. And they in turn will find company among the countless child victims in present-day Iraq and Syria, Yemen and Libya, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Ukraine, not to mention Palestine.
After last summer’s 50-day war between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas government, hopes were high for the reconstruction of battered Gaza City. Instead, all these months later, rubble remains ubiquitous, the economy is in shambles, and living standards are deteriorating as the enclave struggles to stay afloat. “A lot of factors pile on top of each other: unemployment remains [at] 40 percent, youth unemployment is more than 60 percent,” says Robert Turner, the director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.
The Gaza War and its aftermath have scarred yet another generation of Palestinian children, but Gaza has no monopoly on hardship. Suffering can be found even in the smallest of villages on the West Bank, too. In her latest report from the front lines of trauma, TomDispatch regular Jen Marlowe focuses on one family of war victims: a father scarred in his youth by war and occupation whose young son seems about to follow in his footsteps — to follow, that is, a path to displacement and despair so common to so many Palestinians.
What does it mean for a family to be made refugees again and again, generation after generation? What does it mean for the children of yesterday, today, and tomorrow to be made homeless in a way that transcends the loss of a house? What does it mean for them to have lost their place, quite literally, in the world? Just what does that pain do to children? Where does it take them as adults? Let Jen Marlowe lead the way in answering these questions. Nick Turse
Expelled for life
A Palestinian family’s struggle to stay on their land
By Jen Marlowe
Nasser Nawaj’ah held Laith’s hand as, beside me, they walked down the dirt and pebble path of Old Susya. Nasser is 33 years old, his son six. Nasser’s jaw was set and every few moments he glanced over his shoulder to see if anyone was approaching. Until Laith piped up with his question, the only sounds were our footsteps and the wind, against which Nasser was wearing a wool hat and a pleated brown jacket.
“Why did they take our home?” the little boy asked.