Children are paying the heaviest price in Israel’s war on Gaza

(Photo: Twitter/X)
A humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in Gaza, with unimaginable and unnecessary suffering. Israel's war on Gaza has killed more children in the past five months than the total number of minors killed in four years of conflict around the world, the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA said recently.اضافة اعلان

"Staggering. The number of children reported killed in just over four months in Gaza is higher than the number of children killed in 4 years of wars around the world combined," Phillippe Lazzarini said on X.

His post referenced UN numbers showing that 12,193 children had been killed in conflicts worldwide between 2019 and 2022.

It compared that to reports from the health ministry in the Gaza Strip indicating that more than 12,300 children have been killed in the Palestinian territory between last October and the end of February.

"This war is a war on children. It is a war on their childhood and their future," Lazzarini said.

Israel has waged a deadly military offensive on the Gaza Strip since an October 7 cross-border attack led by Hamas in which some 1,200 people were killed. Over 31,341 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have since been killed in Gaza, and over 73,134 others injured amid mass destruction and shortages of necessities.

The brutal Israeli war has pushed 85 percent of Gaza’s population into internal displacement amid a crippling blockade of most food, clean water, and medicine. In comparison, 60 percent of the enclave's infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, according to the UN.

The children of Gaza have been subjected to indiscriminate attacks by Israel amid a genocide that has been ongoing for more than five consecutive months now, worst affected by hostilities, hunger, displacement, and disease, as well as the lack of essential services and vital aid.  Many of these children have been forced to flee under fire, which has worsened their already precarious psychological situations.

“Prior to the current war, four out of every five children used to report that they experienced depression, sadness, or fear, and earlier studies revealed an even higher number of mental health issues.”

Over 1.840 million Gazans have been internally displaced, leaving many families with children living in severely overcrowded facilities that are neither intended nor suitable for shelter. The majority of the displaced - more than 1.3 million people (including over 610,000 children) are trapped in an area of just 62 sq km with nowhere else to go. 

Children in the Gaza Strip are at a startling risk of starvation and death, particularly in Gaza City and the Strip’s northern areas, where families are struggling to find enough food and water, with children already dying of malnutrition and disease—a result of multiple crises as lack of safe drinking water,  stopping of sewage pumps, lack of health care and lack of personal hygiene in the highly overcrowded shelter centers.

Besides, since the start of the war, hundreds of additional children remained trapped under the rubble of the destroyed buildings with little chance of survival, which is likely to make the total number of children deaths exceed.

However, the ongoing Israeli attacks have left over 18,000 Palestinian children injured, with many in critical condition. Dozens have suffered amputations, and hundreds more have suffered severe burns to various parts of their bodies.

On the other hand, around 25,000 children in the Gaza Strip have lost one or both parents, and approximately 640,000 have had their homes destroyed or damaged, leaving them without a place to live.

In addition, the future of hundreds of thousands of children is still unknown, as 217 schools in the Gaza Strip have been damaged or destroyed during the Israeli attacks, severely affecting the education process in the Strip.

“For the children who survive the bombs and ground operations, many will die from famine, dehydration, and disease”

Moreover, children under the age of 18, who make up 47 percent of the 2.3 million people living in the Gaza Strip, have long had mental health issues. 

Prior to the current war, four out of every five children used to report that they experienced depression, sadness, or fear, and earlier studies revealed an even higher number of mental health issues. Violence, displacement, starvation, and disease, on top of nearly 17 years of a blockade, have caused them relentless mental harm. Children as young as 12 have also been among those arbitrarily detained, causing additional emotional distress, a compromised sense of safety, and a deterioration in children’s physical health.

The war is still going on, children are being killed at a devastating rate, and whole families are being wiped out.

For the children who survive the bombs and ground operations, many will die from famine, dehydration, and disease if humanitarian aid continues to be blocked most of the time by the Israeli authorities who repeatedly block and severely restrict the amount of humanitarian aid - while many will also suffer from longer-term severe mental health impacts.

Children are terrified and unsafe; their worlds have been destroyed, time is running out, and their future is unknown.  There is now rubble and fear where homes, schools, and playgrounds once existed. Children look into the eyes of adults every day, searching for answers, but have no answers.

It is a lifetime of occupation for all Palestinian children in Gaza, the West Bank, and Eat Jerusalem, who endured a lifetime of violence and brutal occupation that has shrunk their worlds and robbed them of their childhoods long before the escalation on October 7.

The 57-year occupation of the Palestinian territory, including the last 17 years of the blockade of Gaza, has left children and communities more vulnerable to the impacts of escalations in violence while eroding their means to cope. Children’s lives and futures are at risk, as today's situation has never been more desperate.

All this is happening while Israel stands accused of genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as an interim ruling in January ordered Tel Aviv to stop genocidal acts and take measures to guarantee that humanitarian assistance is provided to civilians in Gaza.

“There is now rubble and fear where homes, schools, and playgrounds once existed. Children look into the eyes of adults every day, searching for answers, but have no answers.”

The international community must take immediate action to stop Israel’s attempts to turn the Gaza Strip into a real-life cemetery for children, to protect them instead, and to end its blatant double-standard policy that allows for Israeli impunity.

Israel must be held accountable for its clear violations of international humanitarian law, which are evidenced by its killing and targeting of Palestinian children and negation of their special needs for vaccines, food, clothing, and shelter—needs that are clearly recognized in the Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Protocols.

Najla M. Shahwan is a Palestinian author, researcher, and freelance journalist. She has published thirteen books and a children's story collection and has received two prizes from the Palestinian Union of Writers.

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