Twenty-two-year-old Mohammed Hajjo from Deir Al Balah took his wife’s hand as they walked together, in the company of family and friends, to the grave of their baby girl Iman. Occupying Israeli forces killed Iman two years ago, when she was four months old.
The couple and their relatives placed a single rose on the tiny grave and read the Fatiha, the opening verse of the Qur’an, before falling into a mournful silence. The humble ceremony was held in remembrance of the second anniversary of the innocent infant’s death, who, says her father, was killed in cold blood by Israeli soldiers.
Iman was killed in her mother’s lap by a tank shell shot by Israeli troops at her grandfather’s house in Khan Younis. Her mother and grandmother were seriously injured, the impact of which is still discernable today.
“I still feel the fear,” says Mohammed sadly. “Not because Iman has gone from me, but rather I fear for all Palestinian children, especially since I had another baby named Ayman six months ago.”
“Since we’ve had Ayman,” the father continues, “I’m afraid that he will be killed like his sister Iman. Every house here is subject to shelling and destruction, and the soldiers shoot at everything.”
Mohammed clearly recalls when his daughter was killed. “Iman was in her mother’s arms when the shell hit. Shrapnel wounded her back, and within seconds, she was drowning in a pool of blood. She died immediately. My wife and her mother were also seriously wounded.”
“That day I was very angry, especially as we were just beginning to get used to having Iman in the house,” he continues. “We were so glad to be taking those first steps towards creating our own happy family.”
Mohammed is silent for a few moments. “After Iman died, our life became very difficult. My wife was injured and it was a long time before we had Ayman. Even since he has been born, we are still incredibly sad over losing Iman. She is gone, and with her has gone our dream of a happy life, far from the barrels of Israeli guns.”
Mohammed, who works for a Palestinian security agency, was injured by an Israeli bullet while on duty in the West Bank when Iman was killed. This, however, did not stop him from attending her funeral and bidding her a final farewell.
He says that Iman’s death ignited the emotions of Palestinians and Arabs around the world who watched the news of her death.
Iman’s death, like that of Mohammed Durra, shocked the world at the time. She was the youngest child to be killed since the beginning of the Intifada in September 2000.
“When Iman died, we kept her bottle and baby milk formula, her clothes and pictures and all her little belongings in a closet so that our first joy would always remain with us,” he says emotionally.
“I never wanted my daughter to become a martyr and turn into a symbol of martyred and tortured childhood. With all my heart, I would have wanted her to stay by my side.”
“I wanted her to remain the innocent child who plays with me and clings to my clothes,” he says of Iman, glancing at her portrait hanging on the wall.
Mohammed has participated in a number of festivals in the United Arab Emirates and Morocco to commemorate Palestinian martyrs. He saw many pictures of Iman at these events, where he talked about his wish to have his daughter by his side.
“A youth organization was opened in Morocco in the name of Iman Hajjo,” he tells. “I was at the opening ceremony, which only increased my sadness and love for my daughter, who was a victim of a crazed killer sitting in a tank occupying our cities and villages.”
At the time, Israeli authorities said it regretted the killing of a child in an attempt to portray the incident as an accident that could happen in any war.
“What good is regret?” Mohammed asks. “Will it bring back my daughter or will it stop the bloodshed of scores of Palestinian children killed in cold blood?”
Mohammed says he hopes peace will prevail in his homeland and that people will not have to fear for their children, and carry on their lives without worry or concern.
“I dream that the people in my country might live far from house demolitions and the loss of lives. I wish that we could live a normal life with dignity,” he says.