Beneath the rubble

August 7, 2014

Rafah, Gaza

By Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

I was at a house with my colleagues monitoring the situation in Rafah, when I heard two huge explosions. The shout went up: “A hit by Israeli F16!”

Police sources determined the location of the incident and reported that the airstrike had targeted a house belonging to the al-Ghol family. I rushed to the scene immediately.

Once I realised that the house had an asbestos roof, I knew there would be serious casualties. At the scene I saw ambulances arriving and leaving as people crowded around. First they removed the body of an old man and then people started to shout: “Children under the rubble!”

I rushed to the closest position to photograph these kids. The boy in this picture was later identified as Mahmoud al-Ghol. He is 10 years old.


Nine of Mahmoud’s relatives, including his uncle’s family, were killed in the strike and another seven were wounded. He has twin brothers who were born a few weeks ago during the war and one of them was killed, while the other was slightly injured.

Mahmoud’s father and three of the boy’s siblings died in the strike. His mother and two of his brothers miraculously survived. The child wearing the red t-shirt who can be seen lying under the rubble next to Mahmoud was his wounded brother (the red of his shirt is just visible above Mahmoud’s face).


Seeing them beneath the debris was the worst experience of my life. Tears were running from my eyes while I was taking the pictures. Looking at the boy was like looking at my own son.  

A colleague of mine knows Mahmoud’s relatives and after the strike he helped me to trace him.

When I saw Mahmoud in hospital, I suspected that he was the same boy I had photographed, though now his face was no longer covered in dust and blood. I had to double check with the medics and his relatives in the hospital, and they confirmed that it was him.   


Other wounded children from different families were also lying in the same hospital room to receive treatment. The veiled woman next to Mahmoud in one of my pictures is his aunt.


Mahmoud’s uncle said his nephew was suffering from memory problems during his first two days in the hospital. While I was in the room, the boy complained of some pain and he will now need treatment for some time as he can barely talk or eat. He also cannot walk or move his body alone.

I noticed that Mahmoud’s relatives showed mixed feelings – sorrow and happiness. They felt sorrow for his family and some sort of happiness for the survivors. 

For my part, since the start of this war, I have had nightmares several times. The night after this incident, I dreamt that people were removing bodies of children from under rubble. When I think of what happened, I can’t stop myself from imagining my own sons under the debris.

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