This coming Sunday, on June 16th, families across the UK will be celebrating Father’s Day sat at the table, exchanging gifts, laughing, and smiling together. With the national holiday fast approaching, the city and its shops are filled with adverts, decorations, and gift ideas. I cannot help but feel bittersweet about my excitement to shower my father with love and appreciation, whilst knowing there is a cruel disparity between us in the UK and Palestinians in Gaza. Images of Palestinian fathers crying in pain at the loss of their homes, children, wives, and livelihood as their screams go unheard by the western media and international communities, haunts my mind. Families in Gaza will not be celebrating Father’s Day. Thousands of children have been left traumatised after losing one or both of their parents and thousands of heartbroken fathers have witnessed the horrifying deaths of their children.  

Since October 7th, Israel's indiscriminate bombings in Gaza have displaced two million civilians, destroyed 90% of Gaza’s infrastructure, and killed over 45,000 civilians (not including the thousands trapped underneath the rubble or those left so maimed they are unrecognizable) in the name of ‘self-defence’ and the eradication of Hamas terrorists. This ongoing military offensive is the deadliest to date, quickly surpassing the casualties of the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, which saw 2,251 Palestinians killed. According to the OCHA and Human Rights Watch, among these casualties, 1,462 were civilians, including 551 children and 299 women. Palestinians are no strangers to discrimination and Israeli violence. The Nakba, or catastrophe of 1948 — known to Israelis as the War of Independence and the establishment of the state of Israel — led to 750,000 Palestinians being forcibly displaced from their homes. Their villages were destroyed, wiped off the maps, and their culture, history, and existence prior to the migration of European Jews were completely erased, an act akin to ethnic cleansing. We are currently witnessing one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, home to 2.3 million Palestinians (approximately 70% are refugees and 50% are under 18 years old). These horrors are now being called by many ‘the second Nakba’ and an intentional genocide committed by Israel’s leaders and the IDF.

“Take Them to Heaven with You:” The heartbreak of Gaza’s Fathers

Throughout this ‘war,’ there has been a particular emphasis on the impact of Israel’s brutal military offensive on women and children in Gaza, who make up around 70% of casualties. Given the nature of Israel’s missile strikes on such a densely populated area, resulting in the destruction of many homes, schools, hospitals, and other buildings, it is inevitable that most victims will be women and children. Although Israel has distributed papers warning civilians in advance of targeted areas, several factors make these warnings largely ineffective, which the OHCHR findings confirmed. The dangers of navigating through mass destruction, Israel’s bombing of routes and ‘safe zones,’ the sheer density of the Strip, lack of bomb shelters, and the limited time available to move 1 million citizens, including 500,000 children, from northern Gaza to designated safe zones, mean the most vulnerable – typically women and children – will be unprotected. This situation has undoubtedly left Palestinian fathers feeling helpless, as they are unable to protect their wives and families during unexpected and sudden Israeli airstrikes. Israel’s relentless bombardment of the tiny enclave has left very few places for Gazans to seek shelter and safety.

The impact of Israel’s attacks has been devastating on Gaza’s women and children, but the suffering of Palestinian men, especially fathers, often goes unnoticed. While statistics highlight the number of women and children killed, they rarely include the number of men or report their pain. Israel has been using starvation as a form of collective punishment, considered a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICJ and human rights organizations have urged Israel to end its deliberate starvation of Palestinians and allow humanitarian aid into Gaza. However, Israel has refused to comply with these demands, continuing to block emergency food and medical supplies. Israel's calculated targeting of civilians waiting for emergency aid, such as in the ‘flour massacre,’ killed at least 112 people and injured 760. This is just one of many instances where humanitarian convoys and civilians have been targeted, occurring a few weeks after the ICJ found plausible evidence that Israel is committing genocide. This underscores Israel’s disingenuous claims of prioritizing civilian safety in Gaza. Many families rely on men, including fathers, to retrieve aid. When Israel deliberately targeted civilians and humanitarian aid convoys, many fathers were killed while trying to secure aid or returned to find their homes destroyed. In one heartbreaking video, a father returned to find his home reduced to rubble and his wife and son killed after he had gone to buy biscuits for them. Before carrying his son to be buried, the father placed the packet in his tiny hand and said, "Take them to heaven with you." Images of fathers carrying the lifeless bodies of their children have become increasingly common as Israel continues its war crimes with impunity. Gaza’s decimation has trapped many civilians under rubble. The lack of medical supplies, destruction of hospitals, and continued bombings have hindered search and rescue efforts. The population relies on Gazan men to clear away debris, but Israel has made this impossible, leaving Palestinian fathers to mourn their immense and potentially avoidable losses. Ahmad Al-Najar was just 18 months old when Israel’s assault on Rafah’s refugee camp resulted in a ferocious fire that burned him alive. The heartrending photo of Ahmad’s father carrying his tiny, decapitated body went viral, causing outrage even among Israel’s allies and highlighting the severe impact on civilians. This tragic image has brought attention to the war crimes being committed by Israel, underliningthe urgent need for accountability and a resolution to the ongoing violence. Despite the lack of evidence for the claim that Hamas ‘decapitated 40 babies’, Israeli supporters have used it to justify Israel's actions. In contrast, numerous documented massacres across Rafah provide sufficient evidence of Israel's cruelty and colossal loss experienced by Palestinian fathers.

Censoring the Truth: Israel Deliberately Silences Journalists

Journalist Wael Al-Dahdouh has become a symbol of Palestinian resistance, tenacity, and dignity throughout his reporting on Gaza’s onslaught. Like many others, Dahdouh’s family sought refuge in Nuseirat refugee camp following the Israeli army’s orders to leave northern Gaza. During a live broadcast, Dahdouh received the devastating news that Israel had bombed his family’s temporary home in Nuseirat, killing several family members. Grief-stricken, Dahdouh asserted his duty to continue reporting the ongoing genocide committed by Israel in Gaza and stressed the importance of exposing this to the West. Later, in January, an Israeli drone strike targeted a vehicle containing Dahdouh’s son and fellow journalist, Hamza Al-Dahdouh. Hamza was killed alongside Mustafa Thuraya, a freelance journalist. In London, three pro-Palestinian supporters and artists painted a mural of Dahdouh with the words 'Heroes of Palestine.' Despite Western bias towards Israel and the widespread condemnation of Hamas’s attacks on Israeli civilians, there has been an unprecedented amount of support for Palestine in the UK. Thousands have taken to the streets each week to show solidarity with the Palestinians, including the many journalists risking their lives to highlight the atrocities in Gaza. The high civilian death toll and the gut-wrenching imagery emerging from Gaza, particularly on social media, have forced many to turn against Israel and its allies. As of 2023, Israel is responsible for the highest recorded killing of journalists globally. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least 108 journalists have been killed during the Israel-Gaza war. Most of these journalists were Palestinian (103), with two being Israeli and three Lebanese, making it the deadliest period for journalists since the CPJ began tracking such data in 1992. Even during conflict, governments and their armies are expected to comply with international humanitarian law. The targeting of civilians, especially those clearly marked as journalists and media personnel wearing press vests, is considered a war crime. The Geneva Conventions, the International Criminal Court (ICC), and Customary International Humanitarian Law provide legal protections for journalists in conflict zones. This is yet another war crime committed by Israel, demonstrating its blatant disregard for international humanitarian law, Palestinian lives, and the deliberate targeting of civilians. The OHCHR found that Israel had not taken adequate provisions in protecting civilian lives, rather it revealed the opposite to be true. 

Beloved writer, poet, academic, activist, and co-founder of ‘We Are Not Numbers,’ Refaat Alareer, was tragically killed after an Israeli airstrike bombed his home. Alareer, a father of six, was providing shelter for his sister and her four children despite being trapped in a targeted area. They were all killed in the same airstrike. Alareer’s writings powerfully depict Palestinian resistance and their immense suffering at the hands of Israel’s far-right, extremist government. Fatherhood and the challenges of parenting during conflict are significant themes in many of Alareer’s poems, short stories, essays, and articles. His death has sparked an outpouring of tributes internationally, with many calling Alareer’s murder a terrible loss and a stain on humanity. His poem ‘If I Must Die’ is seen as a global symbol of hope, peace, and justice, underscoring the urgent need for an immediate and permanent ceasefire. It also challenges the common narrative presented in Israeli and western media, that Gazans are violent militants stealing aid and funds to stimulate their hatred of Jews and plan terror acts. We have seen that Israel’s careless air strikes have targeted individuals such as Alareer, who devoted his life and teachings to highlight the plight of Palestinians and advocate for world peace. 

Echoes of Anguish: Palestinians in the Diaspora

The onslaught of Gazans has deeply impacted Palestinians in the diaspora, who have witnessed the murder of many friends and family members. Ahmed Alnaouq, a journalist, and human rights activist from Gaza, knows this pain all too well. On October 22nd, an Israeli missile targeted his home in Deir al-Balah, a supposed ‘safe-zone’ and killed 21 family members. Ahmed’s story touched the lives of many and was picked up by western news/media outlets. Though reporters expressed deep sadness for Ahmed’s immense loss, it was clear from the start that they used this opportunity to ask him if he condemned Hamas. Nevertheless, Alnaouq has continued to advocate for peace, justice, and a ceasefire, while honouring his family’s memory. Nasri Alnaouq, 75, was loved by all in Deir al-Balah. He was known for his kindness, generosity and warmth. The pain and suffering endured by Ahmed is indescribable. He uses the memories of his family and the dreams robbed of them to advocate for peace and human rights. Nasri, born in the first Nakba was killed during the second.

Although Alnaouq has suffered a tremendous and unimaginable loss, he persists that there are many in Gaza who have experienced worse, and their stories deserve to be told. Hala Abulebdeh, a graduate of Glasgow university and pharmacist, shared her untold story with Alnaouq on Palestine Deep Dive. In the episode, Abulebdeh and Alnaouq discuss the harsh reality of living in Gaza during Israeli occupation before Hamas was officially elected as leader and the subsequent blockade. Sounds of helicopters flying and doors slamming, even outside Gaza, induce nightmarish memories of many decades of war experienced by Alnaouq and Abulebdeh. The Israeli occupation in Gaza left Palestinians without any freedom, particularlymovement. Abulebdeh was subject to intense, gruelling hours of waiting to cross multiple checkpoints throughout the tiny enclave. Once, Abulebdeh was stuck for 10 hours before returning home. At the time, she was studying at Al Azhar University less than 25 kilometres away from her home in Khan Younis. Israeli soldiers often used unnecessary violence on Gazans, shooting at crowds to assert their dominance and drive out Palestinian presence. Alnaouq recalls his sister returning home shaken and horrified after a soldier fired a bullet at a university student sharing a taxi, killing him,and leaving her bag soaked in blood. Similarly, Abulebdeh was forced to walk towards the checkpoint as Israeli soldiers started shooting at civilians. Terrified, many fell to the ground while she 'fought to survive,' managing to leap into a taxi. Trapped with 15 others, whilst fasting during Ramadan, Israeli soldiers pointed their gun towards her. This was a daily occurrence for Abulebdeh, but the fear and suffering were worth completing her degree. Hala possesses a resilience and determination passed down from her family, a unique strength that defines Palestinians and remains unrivalled by others. Abulebdeh received a text saying, "Pray for us. They are here," showcasing the stark reality of Israel’s vicious collective punishment. This left many unable to communicate with their families, further silencing Palestinians’ already stifled voices and highlighting the reign of terror on Gaza. I echo Alnaouq’s sentiments that Hala’s story is 'one of the most heartbreaking stories ever told.' Alnaouq also received a devastating call from a sister and niece, who told him of their starvation and fear. Alnaouq and Abulebdeh come from a family of academics in Arabic Literature, Mathematics, Engineering, Psychology, Therapy, and Teaching. However, the Israeli occupation and blockade on Gaza forced their parents out of their jobs and left other family members unemployed, despite their high academic achievements. This nullifies Israel’s argument that there was a ceasefire on October 6th, broken by Hamas the next day. Israel’s siege has created the world’s 'largest open-air prison,' destroying dreams and depriving Palestinians of basic human rights. Although Hamas governs Gaza, Israel maintains control of the Strip’s land, sea, and air access. Pain and grief are experienced by everyone, but Palestinian suffering and trauma is unlike any ever seen. Israel targeted Abulebdeh’s family, killing all of them. Months after dealing with the immense loss, Hala still has no idea what happened. Rescue teams and neighbours are unable to search for the bodies or identify them as it is far too dangerous. There are no words to describe the horror and trauma inflicted on Hala and her family that has left her in a constant state of limbo and isolation. 

Breaking Spirits: Israel’s Weaponisation of Sexual Violence

Israel quickly and extensively propagated the claim that Hamas committed mass sexual assault during the October 7th attacks, intensifying the narrative to garner international condemnation and support for its subsequent military actions against Gaza’s civilians. To further justify their campaign, Israel and its supporters initiated hashtags like #HamasIsISIS and #MeTooUnlessYourAJew, fuelling increased Islamophobia and hatred towards Palestinians internationally. In the aftermath of October 7th, many have expressed strong anti-Palestinian sentiments and believe that Israel's actions against Gaza are insufficiently punitive. This narrative has been amplified by various media outlets and social media campaigns, further escalating tensions, and promoting the idea that ‘there are no innocents in Gaza.’ Multiple accounts have documented that Israel is committing sexual violence against Palestinian men and boys, as reported by various human rights organizations, and corroborated by testimonies from survivors and witnesses. An OHCHR report confirms that ‘sexual and gender-based violence constitutes part of Israeli Security Forces’ operating procedures’, amounting to crimes against humanity. These include public stripping and nudity, torture, rape, and beatings. Harrowing accounts assert that Israeli soldiers have forced Palestinians to ‘sit on hot, electric metal rods,’ leading to the death of one Palestinian man, and humiliated Palestinian women by ‘collecting intimate underwear’ while looting their homes. Dr. Ramzy Baroud suggests that Israel uses degradation simply because they can, to enforce their authority over Palestinians, evoking feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. By specifically targeting men, many of whom are fathers, Israel is breaking Palestinian society and any collective spirit of resistance, challenging traditional ideas of masculinity while psychologically tormenting Palestinians through exerting their power, dominance, and supremacy. It is hypocritical for Israel to use Hamas's acts of sexual assault to justify the decimation of Gaza and the high civilian death toll, especially when there is overwhelming evidence of Israeli soldiers committing similar acts of sexual violence against Palestinian men and boys. Israel presents itself as an advocate of human rights and equality, boasting of having the ‘most moral army in the world,’ yet these distressing and disturbing reports prove the opposite. Israel must be held accountable for inciting violence against Palestinians and committing blatant crimes against humanity.

Occupied and Oppressed: Israel’s Unyielding Aggression in the West Bank

Incidents of abuse and violence are not limited to Gaza; Palestinians in the West Bank have faced cruelty since Israel occupied the area, including East Jerusalem, during the Six-Day War in 1967. Ever since, Israeli settlers have forcibly taken homes from Palestinians, a practice encouraged by the Israeli government through the continued development of illegal settlements across the West Bank. Since October 7th, Israeli settler and military violence towards Palestinians has significantly increased, resulting in at least 323 deaths and more than 9,000 people being forcibly displaced. An OHCHR report accuses the Israeli government of ‘permitting, fostering, and instigating a campaign of settler violence against Palestinian communities in the West Bank.’ In his latest book, "What Does Israel Fear from Palestine," Raja Shehadeh details how ‘children lose respect for their fathers when Israeli soldiers spit on their faces and beat them at home or on the streets.’ This dynamic is another way Israel reinforces its dominance over Palestinians by humiliating and paralyzing fathers in front of their children, proving their powerlessness. The ongoing conflict and the resulting socio-economic constraints undermine the traditional roles of Palestinian fathers, stripping them of their ability to provide and protect. This can be deeply demoralizing and have long-lasting psychological effects on both parents and children. Many human rights organizations have reported on Israel holding Palestinians, including children, in arbitrary detention. These detentions often occur without charges or trials, and Palestinian prisoners are subjected to torture, sexual violence, and beatings. The OHCHR has heavily criticized Israel for its ‘inhuman or cruel treatment and outrages of personal dignity’ of Palestinians.

Fathers of Gaza: Pillars of Strength Amidst Chaos

The role of fathers in Palestinian families is crucial and multifaceted. Traditionally, Palestinian fathers are seen as providers of financial stability, security, and moral guidance for their children. They impart wisdom, morals, and values, playing a significant role in shaping family and societal dynamics. In recent decades, Gaza has faced immense challenges due to the Israeli blockade, which has severely impacted the economy and livelihoods of its residents. Many fathers, previously holding respectable jobs, have been forced into less secure occupations such as taxi driving, baking, or fishing due to limited economic opportunities. This shift highlights the broader impact of the blockade on Gaza's socioeconomic landscape, exacerbating issues like unemployment, food scarcity, and strains on healthcare. Media portrayals often perpetuate negative stereotypes of Palestinians, particularly those from Gaza, focusing on extremism and militancy. Such depictions overlook the resilience and complexity of Palestinian families and their dedication to providing for their children despite adversities. Palestinian fathers are frequently highly educated, and their ability to maintain familial bonds and nurture their children's development remains a steadfast priority, even in challenging circumstances. The Israeli blockade has not only constrained economic activities but has also affected access to essential services like education and healthcare. The targeting of educational institutions and other vital infrastructure has further hampered opportunities for Palestinians, making it increasingly difficult for families to secure a stable future for their children. Despite these hardships, Palestinian fathers continue to exhibit resilience and determination in safeguarding their families and preserving cultural values. Their commitment to overcoming obstacles and providing for their children's well-being highlights their enduring role as pillars of strength within Palestinian society, navigating through adversity with unwavering resolve.

In conclusion, the bombardment and violence in Gaza have inflicted widespread trauma and suffering, including malnutrition and the destruction of homes. This has transformed Gaza from a once-beautiful region into a scene of devastation. The plight of Palestinians has sparked activism worldwide, calling for peace and justice amid disproportionate violence and humanitarian crises. Many fathers risk their lives seeking necessities, only to see their homes targeted by Israel, and hopes shattered. Despite these challenges, Palestinian fathers impart values of kindness, compassion, strength, resilience, and peace to their children, countering negative stereotypes perpetuated by Israeli and Western media and leaders.