Hundreds of thousands of Gazan students went back to school on Saturday, many of them to discover that their friends have been killed.
Three chairs were left empty in the Jabaliya UNRWA school's eighth grade classroom. Issam, Ahed and Bashar were killed during Operation Cast Lead.
Muhammad Kutkut, 14, told Ynet what it was like going back to school after the three-week offensive, "I saw the chair behind me that Bashar used to sit on was empty. I was very sad and I cried."
Muhammad described the difficult sight at the entrance to the Ibn Rush school, saying the walls were damaged from the bombings, parts of the building had collapsed, and broken glass was everywhere. "But we can learn, the broken pieces and the shrapnel won't interrupt the classes."
The teachers dedicated the first school day to consoling the students and cheering them up them, but Muhammad found little comfort. He and Bashar had been best friends for the past three years.
"I also hurt over Issam and Ahed, but Bashar and I were the closest friends. We studied together, played together at recess, and went to each other's houses after school, even though we didn't live very close to each other.
"We were friends. We did everything together. Everything that pupils and best friends do together in class, and outside it. Today I felt alone, sad, I cried a lot."
Muhammad back at school next to Ahed's empty seat (Photo: AFP)
Hearing that so many children were killed in the war, Kutkut worried for his friends, but he never imagined he would lose three classmates, including his best fried.
"My classmate Muhammad told me on the (online) messenger that three students from our class were killed, Issam, Ahed and Bashar. I learned this two days after they were killed. I was in so much pain. I felt very bad; I didn't know what to do."
Dealing with the loss was even harder for the children upon their return to school. "I keep having these thoughts; I keep looking around the classroom and seeing only empty desks.
"Some of the students brought pictures. It wasn't easy; I don't know how we're going to learn. I can only say I hope God punishes whoever killed them."
Muhammad was interrupted by his uncle Basem, who said, "This war has killed children. It was against civilians, not against Hamas. They killed civilians - children. We want the whole world to know, this was not a war against Hamas, they were fighting against Hamas and Hamas wasn't hit.
"The ones that were hit were Muhammad's friends. He and his friends are in a state where they don't feel like eating, drinking, studying, they don't feel like doing anything.
"These children stayed alive, but their joy was killed. The children are depressed. This is something the whole world should know, this is the truth of this war."