Just over one year since its last devastating assault the state of Israel launched another violent, military incursion into the besieged Gaza strip. In its wake is another legacy of bombed buildings, fractured infrastructure and lost lives. At the time of writing the death toll stands at 44 Palestinian dead including 16 children and 4 women, with 311 wounded. This is the fifth Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip since the blockade of Gaza began fifteen years ago. Each time around a quarter of the dead have been children and most of the others, ordinary, innocent Palestinian civilians.
We went to the hospital. There was blood. My leg was injured, my mother was injured, my siblings were injured, the residents were injured, children were injured. Everyone was injured… The entire neighbourhood was destroyed.Sarah, 12, Gaza City
The child death toll is unsurprising. Almost half of the 2.3 million Palestinians in the coastal Gaza strip are children, living cheek by jowl with their families, in tight-knit communities –including refugee camps – in one of the most densely populated areas in the world. The lives of Palestinian families in Gaza are unimaginable to most of the international community. UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, described Gaza as a “hell on earth”. In a move designed to manage and control Gaza, rather than to liberate it, Israel withdrew their settlements and occupation forces from the strip in 2005. But Israel cannot withdraw from its legal responsibilities. Under international law Gaza remains part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel – as the occupying power – is responsible under the Geneva Convention for ensuring the welfare of the Palestinian civilian population. Far from ensuring their welfare, the blockade of Gaza causes immense damage to the rights, freedoms and wellbeing of the Palestinian people. Both the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross have deemed the blockade to be a form of collective punishment and in breach of international, humanitarian law.
The impact of the siege on our children and young people has been significant. They are deprived of movement and life, and there is a lack of job opportunities for young people, a lack of possibilities and elements of a decent life, and children are deprived of places of entertainment and play.Mayson, mother, 38, North Gaza
The devastating impact of the blockade, and the constant threat of sudden, unpredictable violence raining down from above, has been documented in countless reports by NGOs and human rights organisations. Earlier this year, before the recent violence, Save the Children (2022) reported on the wellbeing of Palestinian children and their caregivers finding that it had declined dramatically to alarming levels since a previous report in 2018. Children and young people:
…spoke of living in a perpetual state of fear, worry, sadness and grief, waiting for the next round of violence to erupt, and feeling unable to sleep or concentrate. Many shared vivid memories of the bombings they had experienced, recalling how their homes and schools were destroyed, and their loved ones killed.Save the Children (2022)
Caregivers also reported high levels of emotional distress with 96% saying the feel unhappy and constantly anxious. None of this is surprising, given the blockade, the shellings, the constant threats to basic water and electricity supply, the Israeli drones surveiling the skies and the fear that, at any moment, an Israeli Defence Force operative might call your mobile to give you 58 seconds to evacuate your home before it is blown to pieces. What is surprising is the extraordinary resilience of the Palestinian people who – despite the enormous impact of a fifteen year siege by land, sea and air – continue to try to make a living, go fishing, make appointments at the hairdresser, attend school, practice their religion and care for their families.
Several of the children interviewed by the Save the Children researchers described their hopes for the future:
We know that other children around the world lead quiet and calm lives. While other children dream of having video games, we dream that one day this fighting will end. We hope that one day we can open our books again, write in our notebooks and study, that we can go outside and play with friends.
The first thing we wish is that the war would end. All children should be able to live in peace. We hope that all the destroyed buildings will be cleared away and something better and more beautiful will come in their place. We hope that our homes, schools and hospitals will be rebuilt.
Above all, we want to live like children in other countries who can play in playgrounds instead of hiding from bombs. We want Gaza to be a safe and beautiful place where we can live in peace. We still have hope. But we want this war to be the last war.Salma (11), Niveen (9), Zain (12), Samer (13), Khaled (10) and Amal (10)
Justice for Palestine deplores the renewed bombing of Gaza by Israeli forces and their callous indifference to the impact on an already distressed, civilian population. It is equivalent to bombing an open prison, except that open prisons aren’t full of families and half of the inmates are not normally children. The hopes and dreams of the children of Gaza deserve to be heard by the international community. The hideous cycle of violence perpetuated by the blockade, the occupation and the heartless, apartheid politics of Israeli leaders must end. It is not good enough for global leaders to mouth, yet again, that stock phrase: “Israel has a right to defend itself”.
Without international action, Israel will continue killing Palestinians, and their children, with impunity, using Palestinian lives as pawns in the internal political games of an Apartheid state. Michael Lynk, the former UN rapporteur to Palestine, recently made it clear that the solution lies in the international community holding Israel to account, and that “the path to peace is through justice and human rights”.
We call on the government of Aotearoa New Zealand, and the international community, to act quickly and decisively to hold Israel to account. We call on the New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon Nania Mahuta, to make a public statement that the government of Aotearoa New Zealand will:
- Condemn Israel’s killing of innocent Palestinians, including children
- Support the current International Criminal Court investigation into war crimes in Palestine;
- Apply all measures necessary to press Israel to lift the siege of Gaza;
- Insist on a return to meaningful talks to stop Israel’s perpetual, asymmetric violence, end the occupation of Palestinian territory, and find a peaceful, just and rights-based solution that meets the needs of all of the peoples’ between the river and the sea.
Furthermore, as a first step to standing up for a principled, rights-based solution, we urge the government of Aotearoa – with the support of all political parties – to join the vast majority of UN countries, including Iceland and Sweden, and recognise the state of Palestine.
We call on all members of Justice for Palestine, and all supporters of Palestinian human rights, to respond to the hopes of the children and young people of Gaza to make this war the last war by taking the following actions:
- Write to your MP about the need to take action on Palestine. Feel free to cite some of the information above.
- Join Justice for Palestine on Thursday for a short vigil to remember the 16 children killed by the recent Israeli airstrikes in Gaza. We will assemble at 5.30 PM on Thursday 11th August at the junction of Lambton Quay and Brandon Street near the Israeli Embassy. The vigil will end at 6.00 PM with a reading of the names of the children. Bring flags, placards, whānau and friends.
- Join and support Justice for Palestine’s efforts to stand in solidarity with Palestinians
Suggested slogans for placards: #StoptheWaronChildren #FreeGaza #EndtheOccupation
Reference and source of quotes from Gazan children
Save the Children (2022). Trapped: The impact of 15 years of blockade on the mental health of Gaza’s children. Retrieved from: https://resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/document/trapped-the-impact-of-15-years-of-blockade-on-the-mental-health-of-gazas-children/