Appalling toll on children will leave lasting scars

People hold fake children's coffins

People hold imitation children’s coffins in protest at US policy on Gaza outside the White House in February. 

Allison Bailey NurPhoto via ZUMA Press

As Israel’s invasion of Gaza enters its sixth month, the impact on children has been devastating. It will only get worse in the coming months.

UN agencies report that an estimated 17,000 children have been orphaned or separated from relatives, and 1 in 6 children under the age of 2 are acutely malnourished.

The health ministry in Gaza reported that 23 children died from malnutrition and dehydration in recent weeks.

Out of more than 31,000 killed in Gaza, over 13,000 are children.

President Joe Biden’s proposed temporary port and the ongoing air drops are insufficient in the face of this unfolding humanitarian catastrophe.

The UN has warned that nearly 580,000 Palestinians – a quarter of Gaza’s population – are “one step away from famine.”

These statistics and scenes are all too familiar to me. As a Palestinian refugee, I lived with my family for a large part of my life in Lebanon. I experienced civil war and the Israeli invasion in 1982, the siege of Beirut, the subsequent occupation of Lebanon, as well as the 2006 invasion.

The experience of displacement and facing death daily is still stuck in my mind today. I have memories of jumping over scattered body parts after an Israeli air strike hit a building next to the house where we took refuge.

There are many such horrible recollections. The psychological trauma rooted in the ravages of war are scars that last a lifetime.

American aid, American weapons

Israel continues to block humanitarian aid from reaching Palestinians in Gaza and has attacked Palestinians attempting to receive aid. The last day of February witnessed Israeli forces massacring over 100 unarmed Palestinians queuing for flour and humanitarian assistance. Three days later, Israel killed nine Palestinian civilians in line for flour in two separate attacks.

Having already vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions for a ceasefire, the Biden administration also blocked a statement that condemned the “Flour Bag Massacre” as it did not “have all the facts yet on the ground.”

Even though Washington has supplied the Israeli military with massive quantities of munitions and political cover, it has consistently claimed that it is unable to influence Israeli policy.

Instead, the Biden administration initiated air drops of “ready meals” into Rafah. The air drops are not even close to sufficient considering the dire needs of the population. And on 8 March the falling crates killed five people, including two children, when a parachute or parachutes failed to open. Biden’s proposed temporary port will take weeks to complete as disease and malnourishment grow.

Meanwhile, Israel has continued its campaign and is employing American weapons. As the first aid drops were delivered, an Israeli drone strike targeted Palestinians huddling in tents outside Rafah’s Emirati hospital. At least 11 civilians, including children and two health workers, were killed and at least 50 people were injured.

For five months, the Biden administration has defended Israel’s actions and offered only muted criticism. Washington has remained steadfast in its support despite the overwhelming evidence of war crimes, including the determination by the International Court of Justice of a plausible genocide.

Spokespersons for the White House, State Department, and National Security Council as well as President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have repeatedly dismissed or diminished reports by the United Nations, journalists, and humanitarian organizations of the humanitarian catastrophe that has been live streamed to a horrified global audience.

Even after the “Flour Bag Massacre,” NSC spokesman John Kirby insisted that Israel “has tried to help with the delivery of humanitarian assistance.” Yet a handful of Israeli protesters have been successful in blocking aid trucks from entering Gaza. The carnival-like atmosphere of these Israeli protesters at the border crossing has occurred in full view of international media as well as the Israeli military.

Israel has also prevented basic necessities from entering Gaza and contributed to the pain and suffering of Palestinian children. CNN has reported that maternity kits, sleeping bags and sanitary pads have been barred from entering Gaza. Anesthetics, oxygen cylinders and crutches are also on the list of rejected items.

Never forgive

The shocking scenes of children undergoing surgical procedures and amputations without anesthesia have now become routine as has the acronym WCNSF, for wounded child with no surviving family.

UN Secretary General António Guterres’ 6 November warning that Gaza was becoming “a graveyard for children” has been realized.

Hind Rajab, a 6-year-old girl who called begging for help after Israeli soldiers targeted the car in which she and her family were traveling, was killed after a long wait, along with the paramedics who went to save her.

Infants like 45-day-old Mahmoud Fattouh, who died due to severe dehydration and malnutrition, or Ahmad, a child who was rescued after nine days under the rubble, a skeleton, or Taleen, 10, who recognized her mother’s body by the hair.

There are countless stories of mothers who held their children in their arms when they took their last breath. And this is only a partial telling. There are thousands of others whose stories we don’t know. With thousands still buried under the rubble, the stories of many of the dead children may never be told.

Yet the Biden administration repeatedly insists it needs more evidence before it can condemn or criticize Israel’s actions, standards it has not applied to the Palestinians, or UN agencies or the ICJ.

Children in Gaza have suffered the loss of their closest family members, in many cases their parents, siblings, grandparents and other relatives. Their homes and schools have been destroyed, their neighbors killed or displaced, their books and toys have been lost, their pets have been killed, their favorite park has been razed.

Under constant bombardment, the children are still grappling with the greatest challenges of siege, destruction, displacement and starvation. These challenges will only increase in the weeks and months after the fighting ends.

And the children will never forgive the silence and complicity of those who supported this horror.

I know, I was once them.

Dalal Yassine is a non-resident fellow with the Jerusalem Fund/Palestine Center in Washington, DC. The views in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center.


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