By Asad Mirza
The World Children’s Day, on 20th November this year, was observed during the Israel’s war on Gaza, in which an estimated 5,500 children have been killed. International humanitarian agencies are concerned about the unfolding tragedy but it looks as if the international community is sleeping and not bothered about taking any concrete action in this regard.
Reportedly the 50 days-old war in Gaza has claimed the lives of 5,500 children, since 7th October, according to a Palestinian official. Additionally, this war has brought another acronym in wide usage i.e. WCNSF – Wounded Child No Surviving Family. An acronym, which in short describes the unfolding tragedy and reality of children of Gaza.
An additional 1,800 children are missing under the rubble, most of them presumed dead. A further 9,000 children have been injured, many with life-changing consequences. Many of these children have lived through the trauma of multiple wars.
James Denselow, the Head of Conflict and Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy for Save the Children UK, told Vatican News that children are paying the highest price in the on-going Israel-Hamas war, and those who survive will carry the scars of violence for years to come.
He describes that impact on a population of over a million children in Gaza – one of the most densely populated parts of the world – like a pyramid: “At the top of the pyramid, the greatest tragedy is reserved for those who’ve lost their lives.”
And not to forget that below them, Denselow said, there is the entire child population that has been affected by war and will carry the scars and the mental impacts of this conflict with them as they go forward.
The Save the Children expert also highlighted the fact that even prior to this conflict, it was estimated that four out of five children in Gaza were already showing signs of depression.
In more than the 16 years of painful blockade imposed by Israel, the children of Gaza have suffered dehumanisation, debasement, and deprivation at the hands of the occupation forces, resulting in irreparable mental trauma, childhood depression, and major psychological complications.
Reportedly, Israel has outdone itself in the ferocity and insanity of its recent attack on Gaza, along with other occupied Palestinian territories, including the West Bank.
It did not even spare the premature babies gasping for oxygen in the hospitals. Since the siege of Al-Shifa hospital, the largest and the oldest – built in 1946 – and most medically advanced healthcare facility in Gaza, Israel has destroyed the station, which provided oxygen to the incubators.
Strangely, the Israeli apathy towards Gaza’s children does not come as a surprise, since its ultra right-wing government – especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – very openly calls the Palestinians “children of darkness,” misinterpreting religious scriptures, and has slammed both French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for calling on Israel to stop the killing of babies, children, and women in Gaza.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one child is killed in Gaza every 10 minutes, and at least two injured. Since about half of Gaza’s population of about 2.2 million are children, they are easily killed by Israel’s carpet bombing – which does not discriminate between resistance fighters and civilians, and which has become a regular fixture of Gazan children’s lives.
Perhaps for many of these orphaned, permanently disabled children, death would have been less painful than carrying such immense trauma for the rest of their lives. In the midst of the war, the Ministry of Education in Gaza has been forced to suspend the 2023-24 school year for 625,000 students.
But in a land where children are being deprived of their basic rights to life, food, medical care, and security, their loss of education should not come as a surprise. Many of these children have already been displaced or will have been dead by the time the schools reopen.
While US President Joe Biden keeps referring to the fictitious case of 40 beheaded Israeli babies, he has done practically nothing to protect the children of Gaza who are being butchered by Israeli occupation forces every day in the name of “self-defence.”
On the occasion of World Children’s Day, Iran’s top human rights official attacked governments and international organisations for failing to protect children in Gaza, “If they consider the children in Gaza to be part of the world’s children, it would be good for them to recognize the right of these oppressed children to a childhood, to continue to live and to grow,” wrote Kazem Gharibabadi in a post in Farsi on the X platform on Monday.
In the face of mounting violations against children, international rights advocates recently called on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to immediately add Israeli forces, the Al-Qassam Brigade and Islamic Jihad to his “list of shame,” rather than wait until his regular annual report next year. Earlier, on 6th November Guterres said “Gaza is becoming a graveyard for children.”
Meanwhile, Catherine Russell, executive director of UNICEF, got an earful during her visit to Gaza last week. Reportedly, the local UN staff lambasted the agency’s leadership during a tense private meeting.
In fact, we can surmise that there is a generation of children growing up in Gaza without family, without love, without limbs, without food, without education, without basic human rights, living in unspeakable depravity, scarred by the trauma of war.
In this background, the world should not be a silent spectator and passively watch Israel unleash the atrocities on innocent children and wipe out the future of Palestine, of Gaza. We should get up and urge the international humanitarian organisations – lead by the UN, and the international comity to take a real stand to get this genocide stopped immediately in Palestine.
(Asad Mirza is a Delhi-based senior political and international affairs commentator.)