By Mehul Chopra
The Gaza Strip, a small, densely populated piece of land on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, is home to over 2 million Palestinians, of which half of whom are children. Gaza has been the focal point of a prolonged and sustained conflict that has created a dire situation for its residents, making their daily lives a struggle for survival amidst chaos and destruction. The severity of the situation has been further exacerbated by the recent outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7th, 2023. With Gaza possessing a sizeable young population, it is the children of Gaza who bear the heaviest burden, with their lives disrupted in terms of access to education, healthcare, and nutrition due to the destruction of infrastructure and blockades imposed by the Israeli government. There is much political and historical context about the conflicts in the region. However, none of these can justify the humanitarian abuses faced by the children of Gaza. This article aims to shift the focus away from political discussions about the region and shed light on the plight of Gaza’s youngest and most vulnerable residents who have become victims of a war they had no fault in starting.
Destruction of Infrastructure
Israeli airstrikes and bombing campaigns have long plagued Gaza and have been responsible for immeasurable damage over decades. However, this impact was accelerated to new magnitudes during the recent outbreak of war. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that 279 educational facilities had been damaged as of November 15th, 2023. This figure represents more than 51% of the total educational facilities in the region. Due to this widespread destruction, none of Gaza's 625,000 students were able to access education, highlighting the profound impact on the educational system and the future of children in the region. Furthermore, the damage extends to healthcare facilities that have also been targeted in bombing campaigns by Israeli forces. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that 137 healthcare facilities were attacked by November 12th, 2023, and the figure continues to rise. Hospitals have faced irreparable damage, and many have had to close down. For example, the Indonesian hospital was struck multiple times, the International Eye Care Centre was destroyed completely, and clearly marked ambulances were also targeted in the bombings. Not only have children died directly as a result of these bombings, but the closures of these sites have facilitated more deaths as people are unable to get access to necessary medical attention in their times of need. The Gaza health ministry reports that the conflict has killed over 2000 children aged 12 and under, with over 615 of them being younger than 3 years old (at the time of writing), a truly shocking and heartbreaking statistic. The suffering of Gaza’s children must be alleviated, and calls for a ceasefire become more and more pertinent as the death toll continues to rise with time.
Blockades imposed by the Israeli government have likewise had a multifaceted impact on the livelihood of the children of Gaza. The restriction of essential medical supplies and equipment has led to an avoidable surge in child mortality. WHO reports that 40% of essential drugs are consistently at zero stock in Gaza’s hospitals, and those requiring specialized care outside of care were often denied permission to leave Gaza to be treated. The blockade has reduced the number of available ventilators and incubators for newborn children who require this life-saving support. As a result, 120 newborn children have died (at the time of writing). Furthermore, cutting off electrical supplies has profoundly impacted the quality of healthcare services available. Hospitals in Gaza are forced to operate on 6-8 hours of electricity a day, and many children slip through the cracks in having access to the high-quality medical attention they so desperately need in times of crisis. Blockades have also impacted the access to nutrition for children by limiting food availability and quality. UNICEF reports that over 60% of households in Gaza are impacted by food insecurity, and over 10% of children under 5 are suffering from chronic malnutrition (at the time of writing). The impact extends to educational needs as the blockade inhibits access to educational materials such as updated textbooks, technology, and other resources that could greatly improve the quality of education. The blockades, in coalition with the destruction of infrastructure, have created a cycle of health crises and educational setbacks that have long-term implications for the future of children in Gaza.
In conclusion, the dire situation in Gaza underscores an urgent need for a humanitarian pause. The widespread destruction of infrastructure, the profound impact on healthcare and education, and the deepening humanitarian crisis that particularly affects the youth, call for immediate action. The international community, including governments, international organizations, and human rights advocates, must exert diplomatic pressure on the Israeli government to facilitate a ceasefire and ensure the provision of essential services. This includes the lifting of blockades to allow the unimpeded flow of medical supplies, educational materials, and food. A humanitarian pause is not only a moral imperative but also a necessary step towards stabilizing the region, providing relief to the children of Gaza, and laying the groundwork for a lasting peace that will benefit future generations of Palestinians living in the region.