Palestinian children in a camp in the Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis, home to orphans, widows and displaced divorced women, April 25, 2024.

Five-year-old Adam Afana, a war-wounded child evacuated to Beirut, embodies a crisis that is likely to haunt Gaza for years to come. The exponential increase of orphans in the territory has created a profound rift in the family and social fabric of the Palestinian enclave. Mohamed, his father, succumbed to his wounds a few days after the Israeli bombardment that wiped out the Afana family. His seriously wounded mother, Chérine, is in Egypt.

There are no confirmed statistics of orphans in Gaza at this stage, but Palestinian civil society estimates put the number of young Gazans who have lost one or both parents at between 15,000 and 25,000. In February, UNICEF estimated that at least 17,000 children were unaccompanied or separated from their parents – whether dead, hospitalized or detained. In April, another UN agency, UN Women, put the number of motherless children at 19,000.

Adam’s left arm was injured and treated at the American Hospital in Beirut thanks to the foundation set up by British-Palestinian surgeon Ghassan Abu-Sittah. To accompany Adam to Lebanon, it was necessary to find a surviving uncle: Eid Afana, who was in Egypt, not Gaza, when the family was killed.

In front of journalists, Adam recounted with an emotional voice, how the Afana family, residents of the Jabaliya camp in the north of the Gaza Strip, survived a first strike on October 10, before a second, on October 29, killed some of them. Adam’s sister was killed instantly, as were his maternal grandmother, an aunt and cousins. The boy’s father died in the emergency room. Risking amputation, having been treated with makeshift means in Gaza hospitals, Adam joined his uncle Eid in Egypt in December, before reaching Beirut in May.

More than 1,500 amputees

The ongoing Israeli offensive in Gaza has been particularly cruel to minors, who make up 47% of the population of the enclave. At least 14,000 of them have been killed since October 2023, according to the local Hamas-administered Ministry of Health, out of a total of nearly 38,000 dead. More than 1,500 have had at least one limb amputated, according to Viviane Khalaf of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. Added to these figures are the two or even three tens of thousands of orphans and lone children.

These projections are out of all proportion to what the enclave has seen during previous offensives. The conflicts between Hamas and Israel of 2008-2009 (three weeks) and 2014 (50 days) produced some 4,000 war orphans, recalled Tareq Emtairah, director of the Palestinian development organization Taawon, which has supported the education of these minors. At least 20 of them were killed by the current bombardments, and many more are missing.

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