The Schoolyard

In One Image The Schoolyard By Samar Abu Elouf with Eric Nagourney

Little good comes from the skies. Not in Gaza City. Not these days, anyway.

As the roar of airstrikes fills the air, a young boy tries to pinpoint the threat, as if one can outrun a rocket.

The children had been playing at a school run by the U.N. The boy was carrying his sister.

Their families had come there earlier that day seeking safety after Hamas attacked Israel.

In the latest Israeli-Palestinian flare-up, bitter adversaries share one thing in common: Civilians are paying the highest price.

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The Schoolyard

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Photographs by Samar Abu Elouf

Text by Eric Nagourney

Samar Abu Elouf is a freelance photographer based in Gaza City, Gaza Strip. She has been working for The Times since the Israel-Gaza war in 2021.

Oct. 15, 2023, 5:04 a.m. ET

Hours after Hamas gunmen crossed the border into Israel, slaughtering and kidnapping soldiers and random civilians alike, Palestinians in Gaza knew what was coming next.

Over the years of conflict between Israel and Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, Palestinians have learned to expect airstrikes raining down on their densely populated territory. Even ineffectual attacks by Hamas on its neighbor can draw a heavy response from the Israeli military.

And what Hamas did on Oct. 7 was anything but ineffectual. The surprise attack was the largest incursion onto Israeli territory in half a century and left at least 1,300 people dead, many of them children. “We are at war,” declared Israel’s prime minister.

In Gaza, it was immediately clear that Palestinians should prepare for retaliation on a scale perhaps beyond anything they had seen before. By week’s end, more than 2,000 people had been killed as Israel hit what it says are Hamas targets seeded among homes and businesses.

People in Gaza often race to U.N.-run schools for shelter when the fighting heats up, and when I arrived at one in the central Gaza City neighborhood of Al-Nasr that day, many had already arrived.

For a while, the children passed the time playing in the courtyard. Some brought out toys from the classrooms; one girl had found a paper crown there and placed it upon her head. The older boy in the photo was carrying his sister around as the others played because she had hurt her leg.

It was a moment of relative joy, but these were children of Gaza. If you ask them, some can tell you what kind of plane is flying overhead, or what kind of bomb just exploded. And so when the all-too-familiar sounds of war encroached, their Saturday afternoon of play was over, and they knew what to do.

They got to cover.

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