By Dr Cesar Chelala
A year after Israel’s attack on Gaza, children there are still trying to recover from the consequences of the brutal assault. The Israeli attack, which started on 8 July 2014, resulted in between 2,142 and 2,310 Gazan deaths. According to the Gaza Health Ministry and to the UN and various human rights groups, 69%-75% of the Palestinian casualties were civilians, many of them children.
The attack on Gaza left 547 children dead and close to 3,000 injured. According to the United Nations, the mental scars have been devastating. Children not only had to undergo direct attacks on them, but saw their siblings and parents gruesomely killed. It is estimated that 370,000 children have been left shell-shocked by the attack on their homes.
“The recent war surpassed the combined number of deaths and injuries from all previous conflicts, and the impact that is having on the children of Gaza and their future looks absolutely bleak. Adolescents here are at huge risk of losing hope and we face the danger of losing a whole generation of kids who decide they have nothing to lose and potentially get involved in militant activities,” said Ms Pernille Ironside, head of UNICEF’s Gaza field office.
After the attacks on Gaza, Israeli human rights groups said that Israeli military leaders broke international law by continuing to bomb civilian homes, even after it became obvious that it would kill thousands of innocent people.
“Israel’s offensive on Gaza has killed more children than fighters,” according to those groups. Mental health professionals talk of a ‘lost generation’ of Gazan children.
“Repeated Israeli military offensives and Israel’s complete disregard for international law have thwarted any meaningful efforts toward implementing comprehensive protections for Palestinian children,” stated Khaled Quzmar, general director of Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP).
According to the DCIP, Israeli forces committed grave violations against children amounting to war crimes. They included direct targeting of children by Israeli drone-fired missiles and attacks against schools. Israel, which has the sad distinction of being the world’s largest exporter of aerial drones, killed 164 Palestinian children in drone strikes during the conflict.
Last January, B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, accused the Israeli government of violating international humanitarian law during last summer’s war against Hamas.
“A hallmark of the fighting in Gaza this summer was the numerous strikes on residential buildings, destroying them while their occupants were still inside,” stated B’Tselem in its report on the situation in Gaza.
Although B’Tselem is critical of Hamas and other terror operatives for firing at Israeli civilians from within civilian-populated areas, it believes Israel is obliged to abide by international norms, “because violations of international humanitarian law by one party do not grant the other party permission to breach them as well”, says B’Tselem.
OCHA (the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) estimated that 520,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip (approximately 30% of its population) might have been displaced, of whom 485,000 needed emergency food and assistance and 273,000 had to take shelter in 90 UN-run schools.
In addition to the attacks on fighters and civilians alike, the Israeli offensive on Gaza has left a nightmarish landscape of ruined buildings and destroyed physical infrastructure. According to UN estimates, more than 7,000 homes were razed, and an additional 89,000 damaged, of which approximately 10,000 were severely affected by the bombings. Rebuilding costs – calculated in $4bn-$6bn over 20 years – have so far failed to get reliable funding.
Gaza will, eventually, be rebuilt. What will be more difficult to rebuild will be the lives of hundreds of thousands of children affected by the inhumanity of an unjust war, a war of a ruthless occupier against an almost defenceless people.
Dr Cesar Chelala is an international public health consultant