His name is Bahaaldin. He’s 13, and he lives in Gaza.
My wife and I have been sponsoring Bahaaldin for almost 6 years now. Or, as time seems to be measured in Gaza, through three wars and counting.
Recently, the bombs began to fall on Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city. Where Bahaaldin lives. A ceasefire that was supposed to last three days didn’t even last 30 minutes. Both sides, of course, blame the other for breaking the truce. The bombardment added dozens more to the list of casualties. Some 1,500 dead and counting. An overwhelming number of them civilians.
I have no idea if Bahaaldin is OK.
Scratch that. I know he’s not OK. Even if he and his family made it through the bombing physically unscathed, he won’t be OK. Not by a long shot.
How could he be?
World Vision has spent the last several years in Gaza trying to help kids cope with the inevitable trauma, mental and emotional, that comes from living in a perpetual war zone. They’ve been trying to halt the cycle of violence. Trying to show kids another way. Trying to show them they don’t have to fight. They don’t have to throw their lives away in a futile quest for retribution.
Earlier this summer, several World Vision kids gathered on a beach in Gaza and sent kites into the air, carrying messages of peace. One of those kids was 5-year-old Saher. He was killed a month later when an Israeli warplane bombed his home.
For now, World Vision has been forced to suspend all but the most basic humanitarian operations in Gaza. It’s not easy rendering aid when even the shelters are being targeted. Another World Vision sponsored child was killed recently when the Israeli military bombed a UN school where families were taking shelter.
Altogether, five World Vision kids have been killed so far.
I have no idea how groups like World Vision go about picking up the pieces after this. What I do know is that every bomb dropped on Gaza—every mortar, every missile—undermines their peace-building efforts. Every bombed-out school or shelter is yet another setback as they try to show kids a way out of this never-ending cycle of violence.
After all, you can only help kids learn to sleep again at night so many times. You can only ask them to endure so much trauma. You can only tell them it’ll be all right so many times before it starts to ring hollow.
This is the third war these kids have lived—and died—through in six years. You try telling them there’s another way out. Every Hamas rocket, every Israeli missile sends the same message: the only way out is to shoot your way out.
I’d like to tell you that there’s something you can do, that you can help by sponsoring a child in Gaza. But if you go to the World Vision US website and look for a Palestinian child to help, you won’t find one. I was only able to sponsor Bahaaldin was because I worked at World Vision at the time.
Because let’s talk reality. We both know what would happen if they were to offer child sponsorship opportunities in Gaza. They would get an earful (and then some) from those who put politics—or, in this case, a toxic combination of politics and eschatology—ahead of compassion for kids.
In the end, that’s what makes peace so difficult to achieve. We see kids being killed, and somehow our first impulse is to start a political or theological argument. If that’s not screwed up, I don’t know what is.
If we can watch kids in Gaza die and our first impulse is anything other than to say, “This has to stop NOW,” then we do not have the mind of Christ. We do not have the answer.
And unless we repent, we’re part of the reason kids like Bahaaldin will be so very far from being OK, even if he and his family survive.