Finding small moments of joy for Palestinian children at al-Shifa Hospital

Gaza City – Dozens of children gathered around each other, jostling and comparing their artwork, an incongruous sight in the middle of a sea of makeshift tents set up for displaced Palestinians in the courtyard of al-Shifa Hospital.

Many children had painted the Palestinian flag, while others drew their homes.

Some of them had bright designs painted on their faces by the youth volunteers running the event, who all hoped that a brief respite from the grinding misery of being in Gaza would do the children good.

“We know that this will not solve their trauma, but it’s a small effort to distract them and uplift their moods a little,” Nadim Hamed Jad, one of the organisers, said.

The event was the fourth of its kind since Sunday, organisers told Al Jazeera.

“Everyone in the Gaza Strip, from the elderly to the children, is going through hell due to the Israeli bombing and destruction we see every day,” Jad said.

Jad recognised that painting and drawing on children’s faces is not going to fix everything, but that it might help them let go of their fears briefly.

After 20 days of relentless Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip, more than 7,000 Palestinians have been killed, including 2,913 children, and nearly 2,000 women and girls. More than 17,500 people have been injured, according to the latest data from the authorities in Gaza, who also said there are an estimated 1,500 people stuck under the rubble of their homes, including at least 800 children.

Some 50,000 displaced Palestinians have taken refuge in al-Shifa.

Seven-year-old Suha Shublaq drew her house, not knowing if it was still standing or destroyed.

“I’ve seen so many dead people,” she said. “I want a ceasefire so I can go back to my home in Shaaf neighbourhood in the city.”

Hasan Thaher, 10, is from the northern neighbourhood of Karamah, which was flattened by Israeli bombs in the first week of the offensive.

“We had to leave and come here,” he said, drawing a Palestine flag and colouring it in.

“I want my life back. I used to play on the swings and go to the shop by myself and play with my toys. I miss my cars, my toy guns and my kitchen toys.”

Jana Elwan said she drew a cat because she wanted the younger children to admire her artwork.

“I wish for a ceasefire because they keep bombing our homes,” Suha said. “I miss playing with my friends outside and can’t wait to do that again.”

Jad, the youth activist, said the message from the children is very clear.

“Behind them is a tent full of dead bodies, people killed inside their own homes by an Israeli air attack,” he said.

“But what do the children want? A safe peaceful life and the ability to express ourselves without fear.”

“We all want this war to end. We can talk about humanitarian aid and whatever else later, but right now, everyone wants this destruction and killing to stop,” he added.