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One-year-old Ahmad Al-Najjar was beheaded by Israel—with a US bomb

Ahmad became a symbol of the unspeakable horror of genocide in Gaza after Israel bombed his family tent in north Rafah

Middle EastWar ZonesHuman Rights

Palestinians observe the destruction caused by the attacks of Israeli army on tents of displaced Palestinians living near the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) warehouses in Rafah, Gaza, May 27, 2024. Photo by Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency.

Ahmad Al-Najjar was a happy one-year old child from Gaza. He loved trampolines, balls, and cats. Born as the youngest of four siblings, his father liked to call him “bobba” or “baby.”

On the night of May 26, Ahmad became the symbol of the unspeakable horror of genocide in Gaza after Israel bombed his family tent in north Rafah, killing him along with his mother, Faten, his sister Houda, and his brother Arkan. Though he was bombed beyond recognition, Ahmad was the most recognizable victim of the now notorious ‘tents massacre,’ which burned alive, beheaded, and killed at least 45 Palestinians, most of them women and children, and wounded hundreds others.

The tents massacre was one of the most heinous assaults on Palestinian civilians in recent memory. Media reports show that Israel blitzed the tent camp where displaced Palestinians were sheltering in tents with seven massive US bombs weighing 2,000 pounds each. The bombarded refugee tents had been designated by Israel as a “safe area” for civilians. Rafah was described by UNICEF officials as “a city of children, who have nowhere safe to go.” It was believed to be Gaza’s last refuge, and the limit of the Biden administration’s “red line” in the besieged coastal strip. This grim reality, however, did not prevent the United States from shipping thousands of bombs and weapons to Israel, despite Israel’s repeated threats to invade Rafah. As Israeli forces were pounding refugee camps, former presidential candidate Nikki Haley was in Israel signing “finish them” on the very US bombs that were used to slaughter children in Gaza.

Widely circulated footage from the massacre showed a night of unspeakable horror: bodies burned to ashes, charred and blackened beyond recognition; beheaded children, decapitated and ripped apart by US bombs; parents clutching their dead and burned children, screaming in horror; rescuers pulling charred remains from burning tents; wounded victims transferred to the hospital with horrific and gruesome injuries.

But the most horrifying footage from that night showed a man holding up the body of a small child who had been beheaded. It belonged to baby Ahmad, who was wearing black pants and an orange shirt that night. His left leg was also severed in the blast. The family never found Ahmad’s head, and they buried him without it. He was put in the same body bag with his sister, Houda. His mother and brother Arkan were buried separately.

His surviving brothers, Muhammad and Yamin, both saw the ravaged body of their little brother that night. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Ahmad’s father, Abdel Hafez, and his two brothers, the only survivors of the family, described the unspeakable horror they had to endure that night.

“I did not believe he was beheaded in the bombing until I saw it with my own eyes at the Tal As-Sultan clinic,” Abdel said. “His head was separated from his body. It was horrific, very horrific, seeing a beheaded body, my baby. He was buried without a head. I have been in a state of utter collapse, until this moment.”

The brothers look visibly traumatized. They can hardly invoke the sight of their little brother without trembling and bursting into tears. The family was staying at one of UNRWA’s shelters when Israeli forces pounded the camp. They had been displaced several times before they finally reached Rafah, where they settled in the Tal As-Sultan neighborhood after being forced to flee Khan Yunis. Battling his tears, brother Mohammad, aged 13, related: “We were playing ball, before sunset. I came back to the shelters. They (Israelis) bombed the shelters, and I heard screams. Then I saw my brother Ahmad at the shelter’s door. His head was severed. His left leg was severed. He was wearing black pants and an orange shirt. I could not bear it, seeing my brother beheaded.”

Speaking through tears, Ahmad’s other brother, Yamin, aged eight, related his first sight of Ahmad following the Israeli airstrike: “His body was soaked in blood, and his head severed. I wept. I love them so much.”

Standing by the graves of his family, and sharing photos of his slain children in their better and happier days, Ahmad’s father shared his fondest and last memory of his son: his nicknames, “bobba” and “baby,” and his baby word for “give me potato,” which is “baba tata” and the way he pronounced shekel, the Israeli currency. “The last thing he asked for was a shekel, using his baby word for it: ‘tetel’ … When I see his things, the trampoline and ball, and the things he played with, I feel sad and I miss him. I miss them all. I pray for them. I pray that God will have mercy on them, and grant them heaven.”

Ahmad is one of more than 15,000 Gazan children murdered by Israel since October, a toll that would have been unimaginable without the seemingly bottomless supply of US bombs. A new report by Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor shows that Israel dropped over 70,000 tons of US bombs on Gaza in 200 days, which surpasses that of the Second World War and the bombings in Dresden, Hamburg, and London combined. It’s also twenty times more ordinance than the US dropped on Iraq in six years of war.

Israel launched its genocidal war on Gaza by inventing its most outrageous lie, that Hamas fighters beheaded 40 Israeli babies on October 7. Despite being widely debunked, the lie has been repeatedly invoked by Israeli leaders to justify their genocide in Gaza. It has also served as a way to justify US complicity in Israel’s war crimes in Gaza, with top US officials, including Joe Biden, along with the mainstream media, echoing it recklessly.

Meanwhile, it is the children of Gaza who are forced to live the most unspeakable horrors while being denied the same outrage that Israel’s invented horrors have generated among US and Western politicians. To cite Ahmad’s father: “They accuse us of beheading babies. But whose head was decapitated? My son, my one-and-a-half year old baby! They severed it completely.”

Seraj Assi is a Palestinian writer living in Washington, DC, and the author, most recently, of My Life As An Alien (Tartarus Press).

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