Source: Save The Children
Destruction and rubble after airstrikes in Gaza, May 2021. Photos courtesy of United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Gaza’s children have been here before, but that doesn’t make it any easier. When bombs fall indiscriminately from the sky, they still cower in fear. They hide under their beds, some wet themselves, many are afraid to go to sleep. Parents try but fail to console their children, lying to their family and themselves, putting on a brave face to give them a sense of security and reassuring them that everything will be all right. These are things that any parent would try to do. But the death and destruction around them tells a different story.
For the past week, the children of Gaza and Israel have faced a daily threat of injury or death as the most recent wave of violence between the Israeli army and Palestinian armed groups continues to escalate. In the early hours of Saturday morning, eight children under the age of 14 and their mothers were killed when an Israeli airstrike hit a house at a refugee camp in northern Gaza. Only a five-month-old boy survived. On Sunday, six-year-old Suzy Eshkuntana was pulled from the rubble of her Gaza City home after an Israeli strike killed her mother and all four of her siblings.
The death toll is far greater on the Palestinian side, although no child should have to go through this type of emotional and physical distress. It can have long-lasting impacts on their mental and physical well-being, not to mention the disruption it causes to their education and family life. Our 2018 research found that 95 per cent of children in Gaza reported feelings of depression, hyperactivity, aggression and a preference for being alone. US President Joe Biden has called for a ceasefire but international efforts to stop the fighting and protect these children have not gone far enough. Continued violence on both sides must stop.
One of our colleagues in Gaza, Mazen Naim, was forced to flee his home with his family in the past few days because of the endless bombardments. His children have been crying for days and are in a state of constant terror. Nowhere is safe, and thousands of families have been displaced. No one knows where the next bomb will fall.
Khaled*, a 10-year-old living in Gaza, told us that he is terrified every time he hears an airstrike. Every time he makes it to the front door to go out, there’s another strike and he runs back inside as fast as he can. It’s affecting his sleep, too. Every time he puts his head on the pillow, there’s another airstrike and he wakes up in a panic.
Children and young people in Gaza have a constant anxiety about being separated from their parents, with 63 per cent never feeling safe away from them. No child is immune to the horror and devastation of conflict. Though they may not understand what’s happening, they see and hear everything. Watching buildings crumble before them, not knowing if they will ever see their friends or family again, forced to take shelter in an emergency bunker whilst sirens blare all around: these experiences leave an indelible mark on every child. No child should have to go through this.
Save the Children is deeply concerned at the escalating violence and we fear that the numbers of injured and killed children will continue to rise with each passing day of this crisis. Children should never be targets and must be protected in accordance with international law.
We demand an immediate stop to targeting and killing of Israeli and Palestinian civilians, including children.
Following the 2014 severe escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Save the Children scaled up its operations in the Gaza strip, reaching nearly 50,000 people, of whom the vast majority were children.
We provided thousands of families with a steady income through cash-for-work interventions, critical as they tried to rebuild their lives. We improved access to basic services such as light and water when power cuts affected thousands of households, as well as rehabilitating water pipe networks, sewage systems and wells that had been damaged in attacks. We also provided critical mental health support for children to cope with their traumas, having seen how widespread and hidden mental health issues often are, as well as early education programmes for children at risk of dropping out of school.
Though our support is a lifeline for thousands of families, we hope for a day when it isn’t needed.
How many more families need to lose loved ones before the international community acts? Where can children run to when airstrikes rain down on their homes? Families in Gaza, and our staff, are telling us that they are at breaking point – they are living in hell with nowhere to seek refuge and seemingly no end in sight.
This cycle of violence has gone on too long. Unless all of us take immediate action, we are robbing the future of an entire generation of children. This cannot be the legacy that we leave for Palestinian and Israeli children.
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