Israel-Hamas War Turns Gaza Into a ‘Graveyard’ for Children

“They are given a designation — ‘Unknown Trauma Child’ — until someone recognizes them,” he said. “The crippling thing is that some of them are the sole survivors of their family, so no one ever comes.”

“More and more, it seems like a war against children,” said Dr. Abu-Sittah.

Two weeks ago, the emergency room at Al-Shifa registered “Unknown Trauma Child 1,500,” Dr. Abu-Sittah said.

Then, in recent days, Israeli forces stormed the hospital, where thousands of Gazans had been sheltering, saying that the facility sat above an underground Hamas command center. United Nations officials warned that the raid put Gaza’s most vulnerable in even greater jeopardy.

International experts who have worked with health officials in Gaza during this and other wars say that hospitals and morgues in the enclave gather and report the names, ID numbers and other details of people who have been killed in the territory. While the experts urged caution around public statements about the specific number of people killed in a particular strike — especially in the immediate aftermath of a blast — they said the aggregate death tolls reported by health workers in Gaza have typically proven to be accurate.

The Israeli military says it “regrets any harm caused to civilians (especially children),” adding that it is examining “all its operations” to ensure that it follows its own rules and adheres to international law.

But a growing number of human rights groups and officials contend that Israel has already broken that law.

After condemning the “heinous, brutal and shocking” attacks by Hamas as war crimes, Volker Türk, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said this month, “The collective punishment by Israel of Palestinian civilians amounts also to a war crime, as does the unlawful forcible evacuation of civilians.”

“The massive bombardments by Israel have killed, maimed and injured in particular women and children,” he added. “All of this has an unbearable toll.”

Some international officials warn that children are in danger no matter where they go. “There is nowhere safe for Gaza’s one million children to turn,” said Catherine Russell, the director of UNICEF.

On Oct. 15, Dr. Mohammad Abu Moussa said that he was on a 24-hour shift at Al-Nasr Hospital in Khan Younis — south of the evacuation line drawn by Israel — when he heard a loud explosion nearby. He called his wife at home, but when she answered, he said, all he heard were screams.

Soon, he said, his wife, 12-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son were brought into the emergency room, bloodied, hysterical and covered in dust from rubble. He tried to comfort them, but panicked when he noticed that his youngest son, 7-year-old Yousef, was not with them.

“Where’s Yousef?” he recalled asking.

No one would answer.

When he pressed again about his son, he said a neighbor simply responded, “May God have mercy on his soul.”

Yousef Abu MoussaCredit…via Mohammad Abu Moussa

Dr. Abu Moussa didn’t want to believe it. Video from journalists at the hospital shows him frantically searching for Yousef. Dr. Abu Moussa recounted how he had asked other departments, including the intensive care unit, whether his son had been rushed there instead.

Then, he said, a journalist showed him pictures of their demolished home. Dr. Abu Moussa said he recognized the gray clothing Yousef had been wearing when he kissed him goodbye before leaving the house.

With dread, Dr. Abu Moussa walked from the emergency room to the hospital morgue. That’s where he said he finally found Yousef, a jokester with a cheeky smile who stuck out his tongue in photographs. Now, his lifeless body was lying on a gurney.

The shock was too much to bear. Dr. Abu Moussa recalled looking away before a colleague embraced him.

Multiple relatives said that airstrikes had hit their home without warning, and that Dr. Abu Moussa’s family had been pulled from the rubble. The Israeli military said it could not address questions about a strike on the family.

“Yousef was a very loved child,” said his mother, Rawan, a fitness instructor. “He was always smiling. He loved to laugh and make people laugh.”

At home, the boy had wanted to eat every meal next to his father, or in his lap, sometimes even sharing the same spoon.

“He would emulate me in everything I did,” Dr. Abu Moussa said, adding that his son had wanted to become a doctor as well.

Yousef was not the only one killed. Dr. Abu Moussa’s brother, Jasir Abu Moussa, lost both of his sons and his wife, family members said.

Dr. Abu Moussa’s nephew Hmaid, 18, had recently graduated from high school with high marks, the family said. He got his love of cars from his father and, from his mother, a love of poetry and art. He had hopes of studying mechanical engineering in Europe, relatives said, and had begun studying German even as he was studying for his high school exams.

His younger brother, Abdulrahman, 8, was even smarter, the family said. He was killed, too.

“He was a handful,” Jasir Abu Moussa said of his younger son. “But he was also very smart, and delightful.”

Death colors the living, as well.

Many children are showing clear signs of trauma, including night terrors, said Nida Zaeem, a mental health field officer with the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza.