Children in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel are the biggest losers in this violent war.
Almost all of the sickening violence in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel is taking place in densely populated urban areas. At 360 square kilometres, the Gaza strip is the same size as Las Vegas. But has three times the population. The 2 million inhabitants of Gaza are squeezed into a coastal area of land which is hemmed in by high walls and fences. This means huge numbers of civilian casualties including children.
In the first few days of fighting 58 children in Gaza and two children in Israel have been killed. The rate of killing is shocking but to focus solely on the number of deaths would be to massively underestimate the impact of this violence on children on both sides of the battle.
Many more children have lost their homes and are now sheltering in camps or bunkers. Even if they are still sleeping in their own beds, these will no longer be the safe places they thought they were. Overhead bombs and missiles destroy the sense of security that is the foundation of a childhood. This is true for Israeli children as well as their counterparts in Gaza.
Young children do not have the life experience to put the last few days of terror into perspective. A frightening experience can dominate the mind of a child to the exclusion of all other thoughts and become an overwhelming fear.
Children have vulnerabilities which adults do not share. When an eight year old girl loses her parents she is vulnerable to a range of abuses and dangers which older adults would be better able to identify. Small children, whose brains are building their neural connections at an intense rate, can be so badly affected by fear that their normal cognitive development is undermined. Children need security to develop.
All these factors combined mean that children have the most to lose from this round of fighting. They are uniquely vulnerable. They also bear no responsibility for the conflict itself. They did not stockpile the weapons, generate the targeting lists, or order the bombs to be launched. They have no connection to this aggression, other than to suffer hugely from it.
It is vital that children get the support they need quickly. In the immediate future they will need help to meet their basic needs for food and shelter. Individuals and governments should provide rapid support for children’s psychological needs and make a sustained commitment to the education and wellbeing of the children whose lives have been torn apart by extreme violence. There are one million children trapped behind the walls which surround Gaza, with nowhere to run to. They need as much compassion and support as the world can mobilise.
We need to start now by providing essential aid, untied to any political agenda, and targeted at children and the carers who support them. Even where countries feel unable to influence the course of the war, there are no barriers to supporting children’s recovery from this conflict, and no excuse for looking the other way. Humanitarian action may not be the only thing needed in Gaza and Israel, but it is essential if we are to save the futures of innocent children who have been caught up in other people’s battles.
Help us reach children in Gaza with essential supplies and urgent psychosocial first aid.