Palestinian children dream of school in Gaza water queues

By Mohammed Salem

GAZA (Reuters) - Thirteen-year-old Palestinian Hadeel Madi has many dreams, she said, and worked hard at school so she could study abroad. But after eight months of war in Gaza it is basic challenges like finding water that occupy her mind.

She is one of many children who trek daily to collection points where water is poured into their plastic buckets, cans and bottles. They take it back over long distances, along dusty roads lined with mountains of rubble from destroyed buildings.

Some of them pull water on makeshift carts, but for most, it has to be carried.

"My back hurts from carrying all this water," Madi said. "We are tired. Life is a lot of big struggles. The destruction around us, we breathe in dust."

Twelve-year-old Maram al-Hajj remembers when water was available, before Hamas militants attacked Israel, killing 1,200 people and dragging over 250 hostages back to Gaza, according to Israeli tallies, and prompting a ferocious Israeli response.

"Before, we were living our lives, but the Israelis have replaced our thoughts with other thoughts. We no longer have thoughts like before, we used to think about going to school and what to study."

Israel's post-Oct. 7 offensive has killed more than 36,000 Gazans, health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave say, and created a humanitarian crisis with shortages of medicine, fuel, food and water.

People have dug wells in bleak areas near the sea where the bombing has pushed them or rely on salty tap water from Gaza's only aquifer, which is contaminated with sewage and seawater.

"Food, drinks or water – nothing is available," said Hajj.

The children are desperate for signs that life will one day return to normal so that they can think about school, rather than survival, but mediators seeking a ceasefire are struggling to clinch a deal.

"God willing, the war will end," Madi said "and we will be able to learn."

(Writing by Michael Georgy; editing by Philippa Fletcher)