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Gaza is a Children’s Cemetery

Gaza is a Children’s Cemetery
New York      Dr. César Chelala
Months of war, and the unrelenting attacks by the Israel Defense Forces (IDFs) against the Hamas’ fighters, have resulted in more than 15,000 children’s deaths, tens of thousands of children injured, hundreds of thousands of children displaced, and scores of children in Gaza suffering from post-traumatic-stress disorder. In February 2024, UNICEF reported that one million children in Gaza, or nearly every child in Gaza, was identified as in need of mental health and psychosocial support. How much longer can this situation continue without an effective response from the international community, mainly those governments directly involved in the situation, which pay lip service to children’s urgent needs? 
Rafah has become a city of wandering children. Many of them have lost their parents and members of their family. Suddenly orphaned, they seek shelter in tents or in makeshift and unstable housing. Surviving relatives and caregivers are overwhelmed by sustained mental strain which affects their ability to care for their children. Even children and their families who manage to survive are attacked in places where they should be safest – their homes, shelters, schools, hospitals and even places of worship.  
In addition to the lack of places of refuge, basic provisions remain scarce. Many water, sanitation and hygiene facilities have been damaged or destroyed and both children and adults don’t have access to safe water, toilets or washing facilities. As a result, they are unable to maintain hygiene levels necessary to prevent diarrheal and respiratory diseases, leading killers of young children in emergencies.  
Reported cases of diarrhea in children under 5 have soared, as have cases of scabies, lice, chicken pox, skin rashes and respiratory infections. The few remaining functioning health facilities must focus on responding to emergencies and are unable to adequately treat disease outbreaks. Ahmed al-Farah, the head of pediatrics at Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis, stated that due to the lack of water during the war, he was witnessing “the most serious epidemic of gastroenteritis” among children that he had ever seen.  
Malnutrition among children is also widespread and has reached devastating levels in the Gaza Strip, making children more vulnerable to serious infections, and starvation. Also of concern to aid agencies are the nutrition deficiencies of pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, given their special needs.  
UNICEF reports that every day aid agencies face three major challenges to reach those who need it most: safety, logistics and restrictions on commercial goods. Food and supply convoys are coming under fire; trucks carrying food must undergo several inspection procedures in a process that is slow and unpredictable. Communication blackouts hinder coordination efforts to distribute aid. In addition, the infrastructure for storing food has been damaged, and essential supplies aren’t getting in to replenish markets and distribution points.   
Children are also suffering from the destruction of schools. In April, aid organizations have reported that all schools in Gaza had been closed for 625,000 students for six months. The Palestinian Ministry of Education reported also that as of April 2, 2024, more than 5,479 students and 261 teachers had been killed in the Gaza Strip since October 7, 2023.  
According to estimates by the oPt (Occupied Palestinian Territory) Education Cluster, which works in close partnership with the Ministry of Education, 87.7 percent of all school buildings in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed, although International Humanitarian Law (IHL) grants schools general protection against attacks. The inability to act on this law has resulted in grave violations against children in conflict. Save the Children found that these attacks against schools leave children with no escape from the reality of war, no stable routine, no opportunity to learn or play, which are essential protective factors children need to mitigate lasting psychological harm. In February 2024, the director of Doctors Without Borders said, “Psychological injuries have led children as young as five to tell us that they would prefer to die.”
No party is totally innocent in the Gaza war. On June 7, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres informed Israel that, for the first time, it is being added to the so-called “List of Shame” of countries that kill and injure children during wars and other armed conflicts. Israel thus joined other countries and militant groups such as Hamas, Afghanistan, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Iraq, Islamic State, Myanmar, Russia, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. Despite the horrors facing the children of Gaza, it is not too late for warring factions to protect those children who remain.
Dr. César Chelala is an international public health consultant, and an award-wining writer on human rights issues.


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