Kites fill Rafah’s skies, a symbol of hope amid Israel’s war on Gaza

In Rafah’s horrifically crowded camps, children find one bright spot of play and smiles, up in the skies above.

Kites in Rafah
Tariq Khalaf had the sticks but not the paper to make a kite, so he made a deal so he could have a kite [Ruwaida Amer/Al Jazeera]

Rafah, Gaza Strip – The colourful kites fluttering in the skies of Rafah belie the reality they soar over: ragged tents packed tightly together, and lines of people trying to find food, water, and firewood. Running in and out of it all are children, brief smiles illuminating their exhausted faces as they look up at their flying miracles.

That such a simple toy can bring them moments of joy is in and of itself a miracle – and proof of the undefeatable spirit of children who manage this in the midst of rubble, death, displacement, hunger, and freezing cold as Israel’s brutal war on Gaza nears five months.

More than 1.3 million people are displaced in Rafah right now, a density that is in the top three worldwide. Only these people are not living in highrises or modern cities: they are packed tightly together in makeshift tents.

‘We were screaming’

Tariq Khalaf, 12, has a kite, and he’s very proud of the fact.

“When the sun rose, I came out of the tent to sit here on the sand,” he says. “I saw some kids flying kites and I asked them how I could get one, too.

“I had sticks, but didn’t have the paper so I found someone who had some paper and asked him. He made one for me and one for his son and now I can come out and play all day with my kite.

Kites in Rafah
Cheerful kites bobbing on the air’s currents belie the loss and sadness they fly over [Ruwaida Amer/Al Jazeera]

“It’s so nice to watch it rise into the sky with the wind, and to run along with it, me and my friends from the tents nearby.”

Pride and happiness are in Tariq’s words, showing how much he missed playing and being outside doing everyday things with friends.

“We can’t play … we used to play football but there’s no space here between the tents. You can’t play and run like I used to in the field next to our house.”

Tariq and his family were displaced from their home in Nassr in Gaza, to al-Shifa Hospital, then to Khan Younis. Finally, they ended up in Rafah.

“We left the house because of the bombing … we were screaming from the sound of the explosions,” he says. “My father was [always] trying to find food through aid or people distributing food to the displaced.

“I would spend my time running around the schoolyard [in Khan Younis] or just sitting in the corner waiting for the night so I could sleep.”

‘My kids have aged’

Salem Baraka has gotten in on the kite game as well, but mostly for his children, he says.

Kites in Rafah
‘We were screaming from the sound of the explosions,’ Tariq said of his family’s displacement [Ruwaida Amer/Al Jazeera]

The 40-year-old from Abasan east of Khan Younis came to Rafah early on in the war, given how used he has become to being displaced whenever Israel launches an assault on Gaza.

“I left my land and my house to save my children from death … I have six children, the youngest is Louay, he’s nine.

“The kids are so scared and at the same time so bored, and it only gets worse as the war progresses. Some have become violent and aggressive and can’t bear to speak to anyone.

“My kids had their own rooms; they used to play with their cousins. Now they sit in front of the tent, suspending their lives.”

When kites became popular, Salem says, Louay asked him to make one for him, but it did not fly, so Salem bought one from somebody else in the encampment.

“Look,” he says, pointing up. “They make the sky look nice instead of the usual smoke from the bombings.”

“My kids have aged during the war, their personalities changed,” the father adds, looking concerned.

Kites in Rafah
Saeed Ashraf bought this kite for himself and his younger brother, Murad [Ruwaida Amer/Al Jazeera]

“The kites keep them busy,” he notes. “I see Louay talking to his kite, screaming when it falls and cheering when it rises in the sky. I was happy he found something to play with instead of sitting in the sand and crying out of boredom.”

‘I worry I’ll get lost among the tents’

Another kite flyer is 13-year-old Saeed Ashraf, who also came to Rafah from Khan Younis.

He bought his kite from one of the children in the camp who are making and selling them to earn some cash and help their families out.

“I bought one for myself and my brother Murad, who’s nine,” Saeed said.

“Now, we leave the tent every day whenever the weather is good for kite-flying. We don’t go far, though, because the place is so full of tents that I’m afraid that we could get lost if we go too far.

“So, Murad and I stay near the tent and fly our kite. It makes us happy, and my dad sits nearby, watching us. I think it makes him happy, too.

“I miss our home in Khan Yunis and I hope the army will leave soon.”

Saeed says that when the war is over, “I’ll take these kites back with me to fly them in our neighbourhood with my brother and our neighbours.”

Source: Al Jazeera