Monday should have been Hussein Madi’s 14th birthday. Instead, his family sat mourning him in a tent in Gaza.
The boy was shot dead three days earlier by Israeli troops, his relatives say, the youngest of 30 Palestinians killed in an ongoing protest at the border with Israel.
His mother Eman cried as she greeted friends, relatives and neighbors outside the family’s home.
“He asked me to buy him a T-Shirt and trousers, and take him for lunch, just me and him,” Eman said. “Since the protests began he always came back to me at the end of the day.”
Israel’s government has accused militants such as Gaza’s dominant Hamas group of fanning “The Great March of Return” protests along the fence separating Israel and Gaza, and using them as cover to launch attacks.
Protesters have denied the accusations, saying the demonstrations are meant to press for the right to return to the homes their families fled during violence surrounding the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
For Gaza psychologist Mahmoud Seyam, the protests are more a natural expression of built-up youthful frustration than any political ruse.
“A teenager feels frustrated because of the living conditions and loss of faith in the future, and he joins with a group of youths who share the same thinking,” he said.
“They see no peace, they see a collapsed economy and they see that the generation before them got no jobs, and all that affects them.”
Parents, inured to hardships in the enclave, often put on a stoical front when faced with a loss. But that does not last long. “Such a defensive mechanism is temporary and is not real. A few days afterwards the real feelings will be in control,” Seyam said.
At nightfall on Monday, Hussein’s uncle set out some candles on a tyre lying on the sandy floor of the family’s mourning tent. Dozens joined him in singing Happy Birthday.