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Published on 25 June 2024

In a bid to keep Palestinian culture alive, children sheltering in Rafah, southern Gaza, have created stunning pictures of historical buildings destroyed in the seven-month Israel-Palestine war.

The youngsters – whose smiling faces belie the horrors they are experiencing – pose with striking images of Qasr al-Basha and Omari Mosque, both of which now lie in ruins in Gaza City.

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Children enjoy a brief respite from war when they take part in an art workshop in Rafah but "only an immediate and permanent ceasefire will deliver children from the hell on earth they are living through", says William Bell of Christian Aid. Credit: Christian Aid/CFTA
Children enjoy a brief respite from war when they take part in an art workshop in Rafah but "only an immediate and permanent ceasefire will deliver children from the hell on earth they are living through", says William Bell of Christian Aid, which is funding the activity.

Keeping culture alive

For many taking part in the art sessions funded by Christian Aid and run by Palestinian partner Culture and Free Thought Association, it is the first time they have picked up a pencil or crayon in months.

Not only are the children able to put the devastating war to the back of their minds for a moment and just be children again, but their artwork also consolidates the cultural identity of Gaza and keeps it – and their hopes – alive, according to William Bell, Christian Aid’s Head of Middle East policy and advocacy.

The first look is despair and misery. The second look is hope. The third look is love of life and childhood. Please … we deserve life, we deserve better.

- Buthaina al-Faqawi, Community mobiliser.
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Ibtisama (false name to protect identity), 13, stands holding her vibrant picture of a red-and-yellow Great Omari Mosque under a brilliant blue sky. Credit: Christian Aid/CFTA
Ibtisama (false name to protect identity), 13, stands holding her vibrant picture of a red-and-yellow Great Omari Mosque under a brilliant blue sky. The oldest mosque in the Gaza Strip, based in Daraj, Gaza City, is also known as the "Great Mosque of Gaza" but now lies in ruins.

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In Gaza, as of 20 May, at least 35,000 Palestinians have been killed. Around 85,000 Palestinians have also been injured.

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Effects of the attacks

Community mobiliser Buthaina al-Faqawi, who helps run the sessions in al-Mawasi, northern Rafah, describes the change she witnesses in the children who attend: “The first look is despair and misery,” she says. “The second look is hope. The third look is love of life and childhood. Please … we deserve life, we deserve better.”

As of early April 2024, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had verified damage to 43 cultural properties since October 7, 2023. They include 10 religious sites, 24 buildings of historical and/or artistic interest, two depositories of movable cultural property, three monuments, one museum and three archaeological sites.

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Also known as Pasha’s Palace, 13th-century Qasr Al-Basha previously housed a museum of antiquity and al-Zahraa Secondary School for Girls before being reduced to rubble during this war. Credit: Christian Aid/CFTA
Also known as Pasha’s Palace, 13th-century Qasr Al-Basha previously housed a museum of antiquity and al-Zahraa Secondary School for Girls before being reduced to rubble during this war.

Impact on culture

UNESCO has expressed 'deep concern' about the impact of the ongoing conflict on cultural heritage and has urged all involved parties to strictly adhere to international law.

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