Learning to be a Star
GAZA, 17 November 2004 - On a searing hot Tuesday morning in the central Gaza Strip, Raghda, a 10-year-old girl woke up early as usual to pray with her mother.
“The school children were scared, they didn’t go to school for three days after my sister’s incident”.
She was very anxious to go to her school as the day before she achieved her dream of being chosen by her peers to join the school team responsible for student discipline and school cleaning. Team members are usually distinguished by wearing a star made of colored paper or colored cloth on the top left side of the chest.
The night before Raghda washed the star and kept it in bed to wear it the next day morning. In the morning she asked her mother to comb her hair and affix the star on her.
Ordinarily, Raghda goes to school with her friend but that day, she chose her sister, 11-year-old Baghdad, as a travel companion. As soon as they departed Raghda’s friend appeared. Baghdad asked if she should hide but Raghda insisted all three girls walk to school together.
While navigating their way to school, they heard heavy shooting from the direction of the settlement adjacent to the house and the school.
The general situation was tense that day as 14 Hamas activists were killed in a training camp in east of Shejaiyah in Gaza by shelling. On hearing the news, Raghda said: “I expect something bad might happen in the school today”.
It was during her first morning class while she was writing an English quiz about clock time use that Raghda’s world was instantly shattered. Before finishing the last two sentences of the quiz, a bullet pierced Raghda’s head, entering the front and exiting from the back. School officials later discovered the exact time was 7:30am as that was the time Raghda indicated on the clock in the test.
Raghda cried and her colleagues said later they thought she was pushed by a desk mate sitting beside her. The teacher approached Raghda and saw blood on her copybook. The children yelled and the teachers shouted for help.
According to Qais, Raghda’s brother, other teachers entered the classroom and found Raghda still conscious - sitting and clutching her pen as if she wanted to continue with the exercise. They worked to try to stop the bleeding from the back of her head.
Raghda lost consciousness and was moved to the nearest hospital, Nasser Hospital, the main hospital in Khan Younis by an ambulance coincidently passing by the school.
The school principle told the father that Raghda was shot on the upper part of her body. The family ran to the hospital and tried to see their injured daughter, but she was already in the Intensive Care Room. The father tried to talk to the doctors who were very busy trying to rescue Raghda’s life by stopping the bleeding. Then the doctors decided to transfer Raghda to the Shifa Hospital the Central Hospital but since the notoriously unreliable Abu Houli check point was closed, they decided to transfer her to Gaza European Hospital east of Khan Younis.
Surgeons fought for three hours to treat her but she slipped into a come and stayed there 16 days until she passed away on 22nd of September. The day happened to be Qais - her brother’s birthday.
Baghdad later said: “The school children were scared, they didn’t go to school for three days after my sister’s incident”. The school principal devoted the first few days of classes for activities to release the stress and to try to bring a sense of normalcy to their lives.
UNICEF has been working hard to keep children safe and out of the conflict. Its activities range from establishing Children’s Municipality Councils and Safe Play Areas to deploying emergency psychosocial counselors to deal with cases of distress. The organization has also been advocating with authorities on both sides to protect children from the conflict.