The Loss in Gaza Captured in One Photo

An American surgeon who volunteered in Gaza sent me a photo that sears me with its glimpse of overwhelming grief: A woman mourns her young son.

I’ve known the surgeon, Dr. Sam Attar, a professor at Northwestern University School of Medicine, for a decade. He has worked in war zones around the world, from Ukraine to Iraq to Syria, but Gaza has been particularly harrowing for him, in part because so many children have suffered or died.

He performed amputations and other orthopedic surgeries recently at Kamal Adwan Hospital in northern Gaza. He was preparing to go into the operating room one day when a woman called him over and asked him to photograph her young son, Karam, in his bed in the I.C.U. Sam went over and only then realized that the boy was dead.

“Every time staff wanted to cover him fully with a blanket, she would flip it back and say, ‘No!’” Sam told me. “And she would start talking to him, asking him where he went.”

The nurses and other doctors who were in the I.C.U. that day said that Karam died of complications from malnutrition. The United Nations confirms that Gazan children have starved to death.

The nurses wanted to remove Karam’s body after he died an hour earlier, but his mother wouldn’t allow it. In her grief, she told Sam that Karam was a prince and she wanted Sam to share the boy’s photo. Perhaps she thought this was a way of commemorating her son.

I’ve criticized the way Israel has conducted the war in Gaza and President Biden’s strong support for it, for a child is killed or injured in the war every 10 minutes, according to the United Nations. More than 14,000 children have been killed in the war, according to the Gaza health authorities. But that’s a number; this photo captures a preventable tragedy.

As I argue that it’s time to end this war, I think this photo has a persuasive power greater than my words, so I’ve given my column space over to this image. As we discuss Gaza, let’s keep in mind that the war unfolds through lives like Karam’s.

Here’s the photo, a reminder to us all of what’s at stake.