Although Gaza's last war ended in 2014, millions of people are living under a blockade and tensions between communities in the occupied Palestinian territory still run high. Young children are especially at risk - living in fear, in the shadow of ever-present violence. Here nine-year-old Suzjoud describes being attacked on her way to collect water near her home, and how ActionAid's first aid training became a lifeline for her family.
Suzjoud lives in a rural area of the occupied Palestinian territory with her family, where Israelis and Palestinians live very close to each other. Ongoing tension in the area means that violent clashes frequently take place, and children on both sides are not safe from brutality.
Suzjoud was just seven years old when she was attacked. She had walked a short distance from home to collect water for the family’s cattle, when she saw a group of men starting to come towards her.
The men’s faces were covered, and they were advancing quickly in her direction. It gave Suzjoud “fear everywhere”.
She started to walk around them, but as she tried to dodge the group, the men picked up large rocks, and began pelting them in her direction. Suzjoud froze when the first rock hit her; so scared that she couldn’t move.
The rock split her head open, and blood ran through her hair.
When the next hail of stones came crashing onto her head, Suzjoud realised she had to get back to the safety of her home. Yelling for help, she started running as fast as she could, whilst the men chased after her, laughing at her pain as the rocks continued to hit her legs, back and head.
As she approached her uncle’s house, the group disappeared, but Suzjoud was covered in blood – her uncle described her as “dripping with red”.
Suzjoud’s mother, Miriam, recounts the moment she heard of her daughter’s attack.
Suddenly our neighbour came running to us and told us our daughter had been attacked. I was scared, I had all these terrible feelings. But there was nothing we could do.”
The local hospital was over an hour away by car from the family’s home, and no one in their area was able to give Suzjoud immediate first aid. By the time the family got to the hospital, Suzjoud’s head wound was so bad that the doctors had to use ten stiches to close the wound.
Suzjoud remembers this clearly. “I had blood in my hair and my body was hurting. They washed me and closed the hole in my head.”
The first aid training keeping girls in school
Two years on, and Suzjoud is still scared to walk even short distances from her home. But her mother, Miriam, does not want this to spoil her daughter’s chance of an education:
“I thought: I have a young, smart girl who has really good grades at school, and I want her to go to school regardless of the threat. She has to get proper schooling so she can become something in the future.”
Following Suzjoud’s attack, Miriam joined the local ActionAid women’s group, who meet regularly to discuss the needs of their community, and advocate for positive change.
One of the first things the group agreed on was the need for basic first aid skills, so they are prepared to respond if a child is injured again.
“We agreed we needed first aid training, as there is no medical clinic nearby.”
As well as first aid, the women have received training on leadership and claiming their human rights. Their next focus is on making the journey to school safer for children in the area.
“We are trying to advocate for getting some kind of transportation, a bus or something, to take our children to school, because we don’t want anything like this to happen to our children or anyone else.”
How you can help to keep girls safe this Christmas
Unfortunately, violence remains an ongoing threat in the area where Suzjoud lives. When we spoke to Miriam she told us that just a day earlier there were a group of men on the hill near their home, shooting into the air.
Our child sponsorship programme helps to ensure that girls like Suzjoud have access to an education, and in the long-term, supports whole communities to overcome the violence and discrimination faced by girls, to build a future where they can thrive.
“Suzjoud is very good at school. She wants to become a teacher when she grows up. For me, I don’t really mind as long as she makes it. I am hoping that all my children become something in the future.”
Please sponsor a child as part of our Christmas Appeal, and help support children at risk in the world’s toughest places.
Photos: Alice Oldenburg/ActionAid