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How will Gaza's children carry their scars into adulthood?

The children who survive Operation Protective Edge will emerge to find their previous lives almost unrecognizable, as the families, schools, hospitals and mosques that framed their world are systematically destroyed.

By Olivia Watson

Israel’s ground invasion of the Gaza Strip has seen the child death toll climb so rapidly – at the rate of one child killed every hour – that the exact circumstances of each killing are now barely mentioned in reports. But lists of fatalities, 329 and rising, obscure the reality that awaits Palestinian children in Gaza. Those who survive will emerge to find their previous lives almost unrecognizable, as the families, schools, hospitals and mosques that framed their world are systematically destroyed.

Three-year-old Firas Farhat lives with his brother, father and mother in a makeshift tent on a sidewalk outside Shifa Hospital. Their home in Gaza's Shejaiya neighborhood was destroyed by Israeli shelling. (photo: Samer Badawi)

Three-year-old Firas Farhat lives with his brother, father and mother in a makeshift tent on a sidewalk outside Shifa Hospital. Their home in Gaza’s Shejaiya neighborhood was destroyed by Israeli shelling. (photo: Samer Badawi)

Ahmad Tawfiq Ahmad Abu Jami’, an 8-year-old boy from Khan Younis, lived through five previous Israeli military offensives in the Gaza Strip. In 2006, two Israeli military operations claimed the lives of 143 children; in 2008 and 2009, two more assaults killed 385; in 2012, yet another led to 33 more deaths. A total of 561 children killed in six years, according to evidence collected by Defence for Children International Palestine. After surviving five attacks, Ahmad did not survive the most recent one: He died in an airstrike that killed 25 members of his family, 18 of whom were children.

Had he survived, he would have become one of thousands more suffering from the effects of the bombardment. More than 326,000 children, according to the latest UN figures, need immediate, specialized psycho-social support after experiencing the deaths of family members, injury or homelessness. This figure includes children fleeing indiscriminate attacks on residential buildings, driven to UN refugee shelters where intense overcrowding exposes them to potential abuse, exploitation and violence. More than 260,000 people – or 15 percent of the total population of Gaza – are taking shelter in UNRWA schools.

There is no safe space now for children in Gaza. Those who escape death the first time around find in their refuges more death and destruction. Hospitals and schools, theoretically protected from military attack under international law, are targeted indiscriminately by the Israeli military, in attacks described by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as tantamount to war crimes.

A Palestinian man watches on as a child breathes through a medical ventilator. (photo: Activestills.org)

A Palestinian man watches on as a child breathes through a medical ventilator. (photo: Activestills.org)

In Beit Hanoun, an UNRWA school was directly targeted by the Israeli military, killing 15 people, most of whom were women and children. Reports included a mother and her one-year-old among the dead. When the school was hit, the children and their families who had fled there were preparing to evacuate again, with UN staff trying to coordinate a window with the Israeli army for the removal of civilians. The request was never granted.

Children recovering from initial attacks are then subjected to multiple ordeals, such as two-year-old Ibrahim al-Sheikh Omar, who died when shrapnel from an airstrike hit him as he lay recovering from a previous injury in the intensive care unit at Muhammad al-Durra Hospital.

Those who do survive these attacks will continue to pay the price for many years. Amputees like Mohammad Baroud, 12, who lost both his feet in an explosion that killed 11 of his neighbors, will require lifelong medical care and support. The damage wrought on Gaza’s infrastructure is so profound that children needing treatment will be forced to wait while hospitals are repaired and re-equipped with medical supplies.

For the children who manage to escape physical injury, the psychological effects of this latest operation will be hidden, but severe and resounding. Many have lost one or both parents, or other family members. Some have lost their entire extended families. All have experienced violence, fear and instability at close quarters.

A Palestinian girl cries after an Israeli attack on Beit Hanoun elementary schools mourn in Kamal Edwan Hospital, Jabalyia, Gaza Strip, July 24. The school was being used as a shelter by 800 people. The attack killed at least 17 and injured more than 200 of the displaced civilians. Israeli attacks have killed 788 Palestinians and injured around 5,000 in the current offensive, most of them civilians. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills)

A Palestinian girl cries in Kamal Edwan Hospital, after an Israeli attack on Beit Hanoun elementary school, Jabalyia, Gaza Strip, July 24. The school was being used as a shelter by 800 people. The attack killed at least 17 and injured more than 200 of the displaced civilians. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills)

As children reel from the onslaught on Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Hamas of “using telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause,” putting the responsibility for every child death squarely on Palestinian shoulders. Meanwhile, the Israeli authorities block public discussion of the deaths of Gaza’s children.

For a generation of young Palestinians, rhetoric of this kind will create a mindset that can only serve to move the region further away from a lasting peace. Those in Gaza who are children now will take their scars into adulthood, potentially shaping the trajectory of the conflict in years to come.

For now, international efforts are rightly focused on an immediate end to the violence. Those who understand the impact of Operation Protective Edge on the lives of Palestinian children, however, will strive for more: for an end to Israel’s ongoing blockade of the Gaza Strip; for a reappraisal of the impunity offered to the Israeli government that allows these massacres to take place. Only then will Gaza’s children be able to pick up the pieces, for the sixth time.

Olivia Watson is an advocacy officer with Defence for Children International-Palestine, an independent child-rights organization dedicated to defending and promoting the rights of children living in the occupied Palestinian Territory. DCI-Palestine provides free legal assistance to children, collects evidence and conducts advocacy targeting various duty bearers. Follow DCI-Palestine on Twitter and Facebook.

Related:
How a sixth grader from Sderot draws the war
Blaming Palestinians for their own deaths
Dispatch from Gaza: In Al-Shifa, doctors can’t keep up with the wounded

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  • COMMENTS

    1. S. Joseph

      @steven Plaut-you are a sick bastard to note the above murders of innocent Palestinian children as “justified” in any way, and to think that those who oppose it are “whiners”… Israel is commiting war crimes, period.
      Everyone should be outraged by those senseless genocidal actions, even if it is by one’s own government. These kids are not Hamas, nor a threat…why target them? Amnesty international debunks the myth they are being used as human shields. These actions are abhorent and the blood of those little angels is on the hands of everyone who supports Israel, including the corrupt US poltical warmongering complex

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn8

        The blood of the children is on entirely on the hands of the Hamas terrorists that treat them as decorations for their missile launchers. That is what should outrage “everyone”, not the natural response of the Israeli government to the launching of rockets at its cities.

        Reply to Comment
        • Lisa K

          Can I drop a missile on Steven Plaut and Kolumn8 and blame Hamas?
          Please.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Danny

      I imagine many of these kids will become Hamas fighters in 10-15 years. I imagine that many of them harbor an intense hatred of Israel (justifiably so), and a desire for revenge (again, justifiable).

      One can say that today’s incarnation of Hamas is the result of Israeli actions dating back to the first intifada. One can only guess what the unimaginable horror that these kids went through will drive them to do in the coming years.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn8

        I imagine that they harbored an intense hatred of Israel and a desire for revenge long before this war started. There has never been a shortage of Palestinians that wish to kill Jews. Your implicit threats are basically meaningless.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Whiplash

      Whether Gaza’s children heal their scars will depend on whether their parents and society take steps to radically change their culture of martyrdom and death. The first step is to demilitarize both Gaza and the West Bank. The second step is to end its educational indoctrination of hate against Israelis. The third step is for the Palestinians to adopt cooperation and normalization with Israelis. The fourth step is to rid themselves of totalitarian leaders and forbid political parties from owing newspapers and other media. The Palestinians must adopt democracy not only in name but in deed. The fifth step is the provision of a Marshall plan for the reconstruction of Gaza infrastructure based on the needs of the Palestinian people.

      If these steps are done, Gaza will be a better place for its children. If they wish to pursue the path of victimization and martyrdom until the end of time, the scars will never heal.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bob

        How about Israel withdraw to its 1967 borders and removes the illegal colonies it is building in the West Bank? Then the Palestinians might feel that they are being met half-way.

        Reply to Comment
    4. NIZ

      Whiplash, I have another suggestion. Israelis must change the culture of paranoia, victimhood and might makes right culture that permeates Israeli culture, especially the superstitious idea that some fictitious God gave you some land, and that it’s okay to settle other peoples’ lands pissing on all international law. The first step should be to boycott Israel’s economic establishment. An international embargo on military equipment should directly be enforced. The second step is to end its educational indoctrination of hate against arabs, muslims and palestinians. The third step is for Israelis to adopt cooperation and normalization with palestinians, such as acknowledging nakba and all atrocities committed by Israel, and pay compensation. The fourth step is to rid themselves of the fascist zionist leaders and the settler movement. Political parties should be banned until the Israelis mature for democracy. The israelis must adopt democracy not only in name but in deed (as in equality underlaw, respect of human rights regardless of race and religion). The fifth step would be the provision of a marshal plan of redistribution of wealth and a 20 year economic and political plan to integrate the palestinians in all political and economic spheres of life. The checkpoints could be eradicated and co-existence parks could be implemented. If these steps are done, Israel could be a better place and we could allow it to stay in our midst. If Israelis wish to pursue the path of fascism, absolute power, militarization, colonialism and domination until the end of time, the scars will never heal, and so help us God, we will inflict scars upon you until you hear our roaring voice. How about that?

      Reply to Comment
      • Avdim

        “As Palestinians, our demands are not un-reasonable. They are only fair.”

        In the real world, there is no fair or unfair, there’s only reasonable and unreasonable. RoR for example is unreasonable.

        Do you want us Jews to look for fair?

        “Spare me the whole blabber about ‘Oh, Israel is so cool’. We don’t care.”

        You should care, there are quite a few lessons you could learn from us and I’m sure there are a few lessons we could learn from you.

        “If we can’t find peace, you won’t have it too.”

        You’re not searching for peace. For a century of conflict, all you’ve looked for are ways to destroy us. You should feel lucky you have us and not some Assad as an enemy.

        We’re fully aware that there won’t be a real peace while your mass stupidity continues. That’s why we’re interested in security.

        “The logical conclusion of your ideas is the continuation of our subjugation indefinitely.”

        That’s nonsense. Just accept Israel as a Jewish state is here to stay and you wish to live peacefully alongside. That’s it.

        “This is unacceptable, because we will fight back and will continue to do so. ”

        Of course you will. This has worked so well so far, there’s no reason to stop.

        “Israelis have to feel that hanging out to the territories and continuation of settlement policy is too costly.”

        Of course. Jews have no right to live in Judea. Do you want us to make you feel your policy is too costly? How many lessons do you need?

        “Only then would you fuck off and go hide in their little jewish ghetto. ”

        This sentence has no meaning

        “It’s precisely people like you, who point out to the need for extended militarization of Palestinian society. ”

        What what what? Dude, PEACE, we want PEACE. Not RoR, not ethnic cleansing of Jews, not more crap – PEACE. Do you know what it means?

        “Next time you want to go to Ramallah or east jerusalem with your gun, we have to make sure you get a bullet in your head.”

        I don’t have a gun, can I come?

        “I believe we should send you Abbas and all the PA traitors and start the resistance movement again, military and non-military.”

        Again? When did your glorious movement stop?

        “Any soldier who crosses the 1967 borders should be sniped or maimed beyond recognition.”

        What’s so sacred about the 67 borders? It’s just another name for the 49 armistice line.

        “This will send the message clear. Then we can sit and negotiate”

        We won’t sit and negotiate, but will most probably starve. You see, you need us much more than we need you.

        “every dog will have his day”

        That’s true for your glorious shuhada-zubi brigades as well.

        As Bengoriun said “if you will it, it’s not a dream”

        What’s wrong with you people, can’t you even google something before you post?That a quote attributed to Herzl. Not that it makes a difference, they were both Zionists.

        Do you even understand this quote? The man was speaking about building a good country than will set an example to everyone. You should try that sometime.

        “…Trust me Pedro, if we can’t get peace, we will make sure you won’t get it too. ”

        You already said that.

        “But it seems that you would like to continue your barbaric jewish quest for control,”

        I’m sure you would find lots of peace with this antisemitic attitude.

        “so I advice you, get your armor ready… we’re gonna make you rethink your ‘jewish condition’ altogether.”

        I don’t know what is this jewish condition your refer to. But I maybe you should have a good look at Gaza and then at Israel. Who should get his armor ready, brother? Ours is ready, we’re just a bit tired of wearing it.

        When will you stop with this childish nonsense? Get your priorities straight and realize that peace and concessions are the way to go…

        Reply to Comment
    5. Pedro X

      Niz, did not someone tell you that Fantasy Island was cancelled. The Jews are in Israel by right, as Winston Churchill in 1922 said and as the League of Nations provided. The international community gave Jews .6% of the land of the Ottoman Empire to re-establish their home in their historic lands.

      RE boycottsL Arabs instituted a boycott without success as far back as December 1945 before there was even an Israel.

      Israel has built a vibrant economy, democratic institutions, and a quality of life that exceeds their neighbors by a factor of 20 to 1. Tiny Israel is a world leader in hi tech, medicine and water technology. Israel expanded trade while many European countries went into recession.

      Israel has no need to apologize for defending themselves against the genocidal aims of the Arab world in 1947-49 and since then.

      If the Palestinians want to continue with their culture of death and using their citizens as human shields, they will never have a state. Israelis will continue to have a state and a good life, even if they have to be paranoid about their neighbors.

      Reply to Comment
    6. bar

      An entire article about Gazan children and not a word about Hamas, its rocket attacks, its tunnels, its human shields, etc.?

      Perhaps Olivia’s bio should read “propaganda officer” instead of “advocacy officer?”

      Reply to Comment
    7. Goldmarx

      Takes one to know one, eh Bar?

      Reply to Comment
      • bar

        Um, this is her job. She is paid for this. I’m just a guy commenting on this site.

        Reply to Comment
    8. NIZ

      Pedro X. As Palestinians, our demands are not un-reasonable. They are only fair. Spare me the whole blabber about ‘Oh, Israel is so cool’. We don’t care. If we can’t find peace, you won’t have it too. It’s people like you who are searching for total security, i.e. you want to be able to achieve total security without a political solution, that will bring Israel down. The logical conclusion of your ideas is the continuation of our subjugation indefinitely. This is unacceptable, because we will fight back and will continue to do so. Israelis have to feel that hanging out to the territories and continuation of settlement policy is too costly. Only then would you fuck off and go hide in their little jewish ghetto. It’s precisely people like you, who point out to the need for extended militarization of Palestinian society. Next time you want to go to Ramallah or east jerusalem with your gun, we have to make sure you get a bullet in your head. Then, you won’t venture, because lets face it, Israelis, understand the language of force pretty well. We have nothing to talk about, precisely because you are not ready to hear us, your arrogance stands in the way. I believe we should send you Abbas and all the PA traitors and start the resistance movement again, military and non-military. Any soldier who crosses the 1967 borders should be sniped or maimed beyond recognition. This will send the message clear. Then we can sit and negotiate. As for, you are too cool for BDS and strong and clever, “every dog will have his day”. As Bengoriun said “if you will it, it’s not a dream”…Trust me Pedro, if we can’t get peace, we will make sure you won’t get it too. But it seems that you would like to continue your barbaric jewish quest for control, so I advice you, get your armor ready… we’re gonna make you rethink your ‘jewish condition’ altogether.

      Reply to Comment
      • CigarButNoNice

        “As Palestinians, our demands are not un-reasonable.”

        You are not Palestinians. You are Arab colonists hiding your ambition to rob the Jews of their rightfully-held nation-state on their indigenous territory of the Land of Israel by falsely casting yourselves as “indigenous Palestinians” even though no mainstream publication in the West had ever mentioned a non-Jewish “Palestinian nation” prior to the 1960s.

        Settler-colonial aggression against the indigenous people cannot stand. For the sake of justice, all Arab colonists illegally occupying the indigenous territory of the Jewish nation—the Land of Israel—will have to evacuate their stolen holdings if there is to be peace. The Arab nation has more than enough land, well beyond its indigenous mandate of the Arabian Peninsula; by no means will it be deprived of anything when the Arab colonists squatting on the Land of Israel are moved to any of 20+ nation-states of their choosing. But coveting indigenous Jewish territory is rank injustice.

        No to Arab imperialism! No to Arab colonialism! Justice for the indigenous people of the Land of Israel, the Jews!

        Reply to Comment
    9. Pedro X

      Reasonable demands? This is what Egypt said about some of Hamas’ demands.

      “On Tuesday, Egypt told Hamas that the establishment of an airport, construction of a seaport, and the opening of the Rafah Crossing between the Strip and Egypt would not even be discussed.”

      What Hamas wants is an open border and sea to import bigger and better weapons to attack and kill Israelis.

      Guess what? Israel will not agree. Palestinians have a choice lay down their weapons, demilitarize and then receive help to rebuild their infrastructure and a non-violent society. The choice is theirs, unending hostilities and death, or demilitarization, peace and prosperity.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Kolumn8

      This is a BS line of argument that has long ago become irrelevant. The next generation couldn’t get any worse than the generation that the Palestinian produced that strove to die as long as it took some Jewish civilians with it. It couldn’t get worse than a 75% approval rate among Palestinians during the second intifada for murdering Israeli women and children on buses and in restaurants. That generation was raised on the hopes of peace and yet they strove to massacre Jews.

      We are done pretending that the hatred of Jews is a result of the actions of Jews. We will defend ourselves and inflict damage to those that attack us, the way any of you would act, and the anti-Semites can continue writing BS articles on anti-Israeli websites.

      If the Palestinians wish to have better lives for themselves and their children all they have to do is embrace peace, reject their goal of destroying Israel, and to stop attacking us. Until that happens there will be many more dead Palestinians and it will be entirely the fault of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other organizations that launch attacks on Israel while insisting on a goal of destroying Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Goldmarx

      “The next generation couldn’t get any worse than the generation that the Palestinian produced that strove to die as long as it took some Jewish civilians with it.”

      The overwhelming majority of Israelis killed by Hamas during Protective Edge were soldiers, not civilians. Any reports indicating Hamas is disappointed about that?

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn8

        Any reports indicate that Hamas or Fatah consider those that blew up Israeli women and children on buses and in restaurants as anything less than heroes to be emulated?

        Hamas kills who they can. Teenagers in the WB. Whoever they can kill with their rockets from Gaza. Yea, I would guess they are quite disappointed that they built a massive rocket arsenal and it has caused only a small number of Israeli civilian deaths.

        Reply to Comment
    12. Goldmarx

      “Yea, I would guess they are quite disappointed that they built a massive rocket arsenal and it has caused only a small number of Israeli civilian deaths.”

      You guess?? So you are OK justifying your position based on guesswork?

      “Any reports indicate that Hamas or Fatah consider those that blew up Israeli women and children on buses and in restaurants as anything less than heroes to be emulated?”

      Actually, Abbas from Fatah regularly condemns such attacks.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn8

        “You guess?? So you are OK justifying your position based on guesswork?”

        I am justifying my position on common sense. Hamas built an arsenal of thousands of rockets that it launched at Israeli cities in order to cause the maximum number of casualties and only caused a small number. That is an investment that did not pay off, so yes, they would be disappointed.

        “Actually, Abbas from Fatah regularly condemns such attacks.”

        Actually, no, he doesn’t. He has yet to condemn a suicide bombing, treats those that carried them out as heroes including granting them military funerals with full honors, and pays salaries to those that were caught on their way to carry them out.

        Reply to Comment
    13. What part of “humanitarian crisis” don’t people understand? Children killed, maimed, shattered psychologically and socially- and all the excuses and reasons in world given to rationalize it? The comments here could really make a person sick.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn8

        Then be sick. Be sick of the fact that Hamas sacrifices its people on the altar of its agenda to murder all Israelis. Be sick that Hamas uses schools to hide rockets, playgrounds to shoot them at Israeli children and hospitals to hide its leaders. Be sick that Hamas calls on Palestinian children to say in the middle of a war zone when they are being asked to evacuate. Be sick that Hamas uses houses to store munitions, digs tunnels under entire neighborhoods and into Israeli villages for the purposes of carrying out terrorist attacks. Be sick that Hamas puts rocket launchers next to schools. Be sick that Hamas’s currency is the blood of Palestinian children.

        These are not rationalizations. These are pointing out that the guilty party in this is Hamas and you and people like you are gullible fools who give Hamas the power to continue using children to pursue its sick goals. They shoot rockets from their schools at our children and then when we fire back to try to stop them from firing they run out with the bodies of their children to gather the world’s sympathy. If any reporter in Gaza reports any other angle they are threatened with violence because that is all that Hamas wants you to see. It is sickening indeed.

        Reply to Comment
        • JohnW

          @Kolumn

          Quite a few of them are not gullible fools. Quite a few of them know exactly what they are doing and what they want out of it.

          They want our demise. They are part of the enemy camp. Let’s not kid ourselves.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn8

            John, yes, that is true. Many of them are so full of hatred for us that they will justify acts against us, regardless of how despicable the actors or the act. We are not real people to them. We are a nameless, faceless mass of evil. We are just symbols to be targeted for removal. A murdered Jew, is not a murdered human being, he is just a blow by the “oppressed” against the “oppressors”. The “oppressed”, even if they are bloodthirsty Islamist terrorists, are above all criticism, even if their “oppression” is a result of their thirst for our blood.

            Reply to Comment
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