Are My Children in the Ground or in the Sky?

10,000 Missing in Gaza, Half of Them Children.

Photo by: Sami Alsultan

Photo by: Sami Alsultan

Within 15 minutes, Youssef Al Bozm’s life was turned upside down after he lost his only son, Hamza, and after his wife lost both her legs and entered a coma following their home being targeted by an Israeli tank while at their home in the Sheikh Ibrahim neighborhood in the Gaza Strip.

It was a Friday when Youssef sat down with his wife and their 11-year-old son, Hamza, at the table to have lunch in their home in the Sheikh Ibrahim neighborhood in the Gaza Strip.

A meal left unfinished.

The shelling got louder around us," Yousef tells us, "an Israeli tank came close to our street. My brother and his family of seven live in the same building. We decided to leave right away.

They carried their bags towards his sister's house on Jalaa Street, a journey that did not end. While his wife and son went out onto the street, he was closing the door to catch up with them, and that's when they were targeted by the tank.

Two shells targeted us, followed by the sound of gunfire. The intense bullets were raining down on us like a downpour," Yousef continues. "I couldn't leave the house until the gunfire stopped after 15 minutes.

When Yousef stepped out onto the street, he found his wife lying in the road, bleeding and having lost her legs. Shrapnel was scattered everywhere, and there were also other casualties. His son was nowhere to be found.

He carried his wife, who had fallen into a coma. Today, he is at Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Yunis, and his son is still missing in Gaza City, less than 2 kilometers away, but he cannot go and search for him.


Hamza, my 11-year-old, had a happy, peaceful life. He's my only son. I plead with the Red Cross for help in finding him. Please bring him back to me.

Where are Yasser and Rawaa?

تصوير: قاسم الآغا

تصوير: قاسم الآغا

Mom, my friend was martyred. Why does God allow young children to be martyred?" These words came from the mouth of 8-year-old Yasser days before the bombardment as he asked his mother Rawaa. She replied, "Plant a flower and say Alhamdulillah (thanks be to God).

Rowaa, a mother of five, is sitting alongside thousands of patients and injured individuals inside the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis. And in each room exists a story of loss, pain, and hope, like that which Rowaa shared with us.

On December 8th, the last memory this injured mother has is preparing breakfast for her children at home in the western district of Khan Yunis. She tells us, 'I don't know what happened. I opened my eyes and found myself in the hospital bed here."

My children, Ahmed, Ibrahim, and Ruba, were there," she says, then asks herself, "But where are Rawaa and Yasser?" It's a question this mother repeats every day, crying bitterly, saying, "I was preparing breakfast for them, and they hadn't eaten it yet.

This mother realizes that the pain from her injuries is nothing compared to the sorrow of being apart from her 14-year-old daughter Rawaa, and her 8-year-old son Yasser.

Although Rawaa doesn't recall what happened to them that day, her husband Musa Al-Agha remembers the incident in detail. He tells us, 'Our home was targeted, and we fled running in no particular direction. I couldn't pinpoint the source of the shells; they were coming at us from every direction.

We struggled to leave the western district, carrying white flags. We were aiding the wounded, including my wife. I didn't know where my daughter Rawaa and my son Yasser were," adds Musa.

Musa continued his efforts by reaching out to the Red Cross to report the loss of his two children, but he hasn't received a response so far.

I urge everyone to help in the search for them. I want to know where my children are, Are they in the Ground or in the Sky? concludes Musa.

موسى الآغا / تصوير قاسم الآغا

موسى الآغا / تصوير قاسم الآغا

After over two months of Israeli airstrikes across different neighborhoods in Gaza, claiming the lives of tens of thousands of Gazans, both young and old, residents are now confronted with various options to safeguard their children in a city that many have deemed devoid of any safe havens.

Some parents have decided to create bracelets with their children's names, worn on their wrists, in the hope of easily identifying them in case of any incident.

Others have written the names of their missing children and family members on the walls of their destroyed homes, hoping to return to search for them or for specialized authorities to take on this task.

But the search process is not that easy.

Gaza: 44,000 buildings have been destroyed or damaged

A United Nations assessment indicates that nearly 40,000 buildings in the Gaza Strip have been either fully or partially destroyed, mostly in Gaza City and northern Gaza, since the conflict began on October 7th.

This immense destruction left thousands missing, most of them, according to Dr. Ashraf al-Qudra, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Health in Gaza, 'under the rubble or in the areas where the Israeli occupation forces are present on the roads.'

Al-Qudra tells us that the number of missing has 'surpassed 10,000 at this moment, and 50% of this number consists of children who are still under the rubble or in the areas, and their fate remains unknown until now.'

The official spokesperson for the Ministry of Health explains that they are searching for the missing through specialized teams, whether it be civil defense squads or ambulance vehicles.

However, 'the capabilities and equipment available to the civil defense are very simple and lightweight, and they need heavy equipment,' says Al-Qudra. 'We call on all international institutions and countries worldwide to support our emergency needs to provide equipment for removing debris from above the heads of the victims, allowing us to deal with them, whether in honoring the deceased or preserving the lives of the injured.

The missing children... also kidnapped

تصوير: سامي السلطان

تصوير: سامي السلطان

Today, there are numerous pages on social media and WhatsApp groups dedicated to tracking news about the missing, especially children. Parents approach newcomers from nearby areas, asking about the fate of those left behind.

Yet, the question from Palestinian mother Zeinat Abdullah al-Samoni is diffrent. Her son was kidnapped and arrested before her eyes as they left their area heading south, much like around 1.7 million displaced residents of Gaza.

We met her in the Deir al-Balah camp for displaced people in southern Gaza, where she lives in one tent with six people, including her grandchildren and her sons' wives.

She tells us, 'The Israelis distributed leaflets urging us to head south for our safety, and that's what I decided to do with my family.'

On the way, her 17-year-old son, Hamam, was arrested by the Israelis.

'My son never leaves my side for a moment; he feels lost without me. He used to look for me right after returning from school, expressing his joy with laughter and hugs. Why have they deprived him of me?'

Tears did not dry from this mother's eyes during the interivew, and she kept repeating, 'My heart is burning with fear for my son.'

Hamam is not the only one arrested by the Israeli forces; they also detained her 24-year-old son, Abdullah, and 30-year-old son, Faraj.

Since that day, this mother has been trying to get answers about her sons. She turned to the media and the Red Cross, but she has not received a response.

She says, 'I heard a few days ago about the release of 10 Israeli prisoners. I went to the police to find out their identities, and they told me their families received them.'

داخل خيمة زينات / تصوير سامي السلطان

داخل خيمة زينات / تصوير سامي السلطان

Despite the challenges this mother faces after displacement, such as water and food shortages, standing in queues for her necessities, and sleeping in this makeshift tent, the loss of her children intensifies the weight of her pain.

We are all scattered, the war separated us from our families and my children. I know nothing about my relatives in Gaza, and I have no news about my kids," she says, wiping tears from her cheeks, gazing at Hamam's face on her phone, hopeful for a reunion soon."

تصوير: سامي السلطان

تصوير: سامي السلطان