Gaza war survivor commemorates victims in paintings

GAZA, May 26 (Reuters) - A Palestinian woman artist who lost 22 of her extended family in an Israeli air strike in last year's war, has used art to release sorrow and despair at her loss, drawing paintings to commemorate the victims' first anniversary.

Among those Zainab Al-Qolaq lost when a series of Israeli airstrikes destroyed buildings and roads in Gaza City on May 16, 2021, were her mother and three siblings.

Palestinian health officials said Israeli strikes killed 42 Gaza civilians, including 10 children in Qolaq's neighbourhood that day.

The Israeli military said the civilian casualties were unintentional. It said its jets attacked a tunnel system used by militants, which collapsed, bringing the homes down. Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, called it "premeditated killing".

Qolaq drew nine paintings to document moments she recalled from that day. One shows 22 dead people, minors and adults, wrapped in white cloth, another with several others, some are headless, and a third shows rescue workers at the rubble of her house.

"Each of those paintings expresses a tragic moment, a certain time I had lived because of the occupier," she told Reuters at a gallery, named "I am 22 and I lost 22 people", hosted by the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor in Gaza.

"The language of art spreads faster, it is the language of all people regardless of our languages and nationalities. My message is that I want the occupier to be punished," said Qolaq, surrounded by paintings drawn in grey and black colours.

The 2021 conflict subsided after 10 days following a ceasefire brokered by Arab and international mediators, but recent tension in the West Bank and at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem revived concerns of renewed fighting across the border.

Palestinian officials said at least 254 people were killed in Israeli military strikes over those 10 days. Israel said 13 people were killed by Gaza rockets and a guided-missile attack.

Qolaq was pulled out of the rubble of her house, where she was trapped for 12 hours. When she woke up, she said she was too afraid to ask who was left alive.

"They think they may have lifted the rubble off me but they couldn't remove it from inside me," she said.

"They may have lifted three flours or more off me but who would be able to take away my memories of the tragedies the occupations planted inside us?" she asked.

Writing by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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Thomson Reuters

A senior correspondent with nearly 25 years’ experience covering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict including several wars and the signing of the first historic peace accord between the two sides.