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"If there is a Hell on Earth, it is the Lives of Children in Gaza"

April 12, 2024

Sriranpong Katrina

“If there is a hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza,” said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations in his opening remarks in May 2021 at the general assembly.  Unfortunately, the situation for children in Gaza has deteriorated even further with human rights groups describing Gaza as the deadliest place on earth to be a child.  Gaza has become a graveyard for thousands of children since the conflict between Israel and Gaza began in October 2023.    


Jason Lee, Save the Children’s Director for the occupied Palestinian territory, recently stated that, “Children in Gaza were already living with unimaginable distress following 16 years of blockade and successive escalations in violence. This war and the physical and mental scars it is leaving on children is further eroding their resilience.” He argues it is unacceptable that any child should have to endure the hardship that those in Gaza have suffered.  Children are forced to walk along the streets riddled with dead bodies in order to search for food and sleep on the streets in the open air without basic food or clean water.  Israel’s blockage of food and medicine is causing detrimental physical and mental harm, which could last a lifetime.  Save the Children states that at least 17 children have died of malnutrition in north Gaza, but the real figure is estimated to be much higher.  Even before October 2023, children in Gaza lived under extreme conditions of cyclical escalations of violence resulting in poor mental health. 


Children Targeted by Israeli Snipers in Gaza


In a recent article published by the Guardian, Dr. Fozia Alvi, a Canadian doctor who worked in the intensive care unit in southern Gaza, observed two young children that had sniper shots to the brain.  They were only seven or eight years old.  These were not the only children the Canadian doctor treated who were targeted by Israeli soldiers.  She describes treating children with direct sniper shots to the head and the chest. They were small children.  Other doctors provided similar accounts of the treatment of children and the elderly with single bullet wounds to the head or chest.  These were obviously not combatants.  The doctors suspected they were directly targeted by Israeli troops based on the wounds suffered.


In mid-February, a group of United Nations experts stated that, “We are shocked by reports of the deliberate targeting and extrajudicial killing of Palestinian women and children in places where they sought refuge, or while fleeing. Some of them were reportedly holding white pieces of cloth when they were killed by the Israeli army or affiliated forces.” 


Unfortunately, Israeli and international human rights groups have long documented Israel’s history of shooting unarmed Palestinians, including children, in Gaza and the West Bank using snipers or drones.  More recently, Haaretz reported that Israel routinely fires on civilians in areas that the military has designated as “combat zones” and there is no notice or clear boundary when the zone begins nor ends. 


Dr. Vanita Gupta, a doctor from New York City Hospital, volunteered in Gaza in January and described treating three children and their families who were severely wounded.  The families were returning to their homes as the Israeli army had withdrawn.  Unfortunately, the snipers stayed behind in the area and targeted the family and their children when they tried to return to their homes. Three of the children had bullet wounds to the head and died at the hospital. 


In Gaza City, a three year old toddler was also shot outside his home when he tried to buy fruit with his cousin, a 20 year old medical school student, who was also killed.  The shooting was witnessed by the father, who said they were targeted by an Israeli sniper.  The shooting was caught on video and shows the pair lying together as one tried to lift his head, but was shot again and died.  There are countless eyewitness accounts of the targeting of civilians, including children.


Dr. Osaid Alser argued that it was often possible to distinguish sniper shots.  “When it’s a sniper, usually it’s a bigger bullet, which causes significantly more damage and has more shock-wave energy as compared to a smaller rifle or a pistol. If it’s a sniper, it may cause amputation of the limb because it will cause damage to the vascular structure – nerves, bone, soft tissue, everything,” he said.


Defense for Children International Palestine said that over the years there had been a “clear pattern of Israeli forces targeting Palestinian children with deadly force in situations where the children posed no threat to soldiers”.  One of the most disturbing cases is that of an Israeli captain shooting a 13 year old Palestinian girl in 2004 simply because she crossed into a security zone.  She did not pose a threat and his own soldiers even said she was a “little girl” who was “scared to death.”  The Israeli captain emptied an entire magazine of his automatic rifle into the 13 year old child.  The captain was cleared of any wrongdoing by the military court despite internal notes indicating otherwise.  This type of impunity and lack of accountability demonstrates the system will always protect Israeli soldiers. 


Decades of Legal Impunity


Under international humanitarian law, which applies during times of war, all parties are required to protect civilian objects and civilians, which includes people who are no longer taking part in hostilities.  International humanitarian law is non-reciprocal, which means that the violation of the law by one side does not justify the opposing side from violating their own obligations. 


Over 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since October 2023, including more than 13,000 children.  This does not include the over 12,000 people who are missing and are presumed dead.  The killing of so many civilians and humanitarian aid workers since October 2023 demonstrates that Israel is violating the principle of proportionality and distinction under international humanitarian law.  The principle of proportionality requires that the harm caused to civilians due to a military attack shall not be excessive when compared to the military advantage expected to be gained.  Israel has engaged in disproportionate attacks, which is considered a violation of international humanitarian law and is potentially committing a war crime.  International humanitarian law also requires parties to abide by the principle of distinction to ensure their targets are military and not civilian.  Of course, attacks on humanitarian aid workers, doctors, journalists, children, and civilian objects are considered war crimes.  When discussing the situation in Gaza, Amnesty International has stated that indiscriminate attacks or direct attacks on civilians or civilian objects must be investigated as war crimes.  Forensic Architecture, a research agency based at the University of London investigating human rights violations around the world, revealed that hospitals in Gaza were being systematically targeted by Israel.  Israel argues that hospitals are being used by Hamas, but has failed to provide sufficient public evidence. 


Israel has deliberately been using starvation as a weapon of war, which affects innocent Palestinians trapped in Gaza such as children and their families.  Palestinians in the north of Gaza are facing catastrophic levels of hunger.  People have resorted to eating grass, animal feed, and pet food in order to survive.  There is an increasing number of children suffering from malnutrition.  The blockade imposed by Israel has caused a large backlog of trucks eagerly waiting to enter Gaza.  Israel has routinely blocked the entry of vital medical equipment such as ventilators and life-saving medicine as well as crutches, food, and anesthesia.  Recently, they have also blocked animal feed as they are aware Gazans are eating it to survive.  According to UNICEF, Israel has blocked the entry of sleeping bags simply because they were the wrong colour.  UNICEF stated that this type of “toying” with basic and essential goods demonstrates their intent in engaging in collective punishment of the whole population, which is a war crime.  Doctors Without Borders and other humanitarian groups have repeatedly called for Israeli authorities to lift the inhumane siege and allow humanitarian assistance to enter Gaza in an unhindered way.  Allowing aid via land crossings is the most efficient method to distribute humanitarian aid to children and their families. 


Recently, seven aid workers with World Central Kitchen were killed in successive drone strikes on their three vehicles carrying aid to the north of Gaza.  The three vehicles were clearly marked and their movement was coordinated with the approval of Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).  The Telegraph published an article detailing how the most senior Israeli commander involved in the air strike wanted to block humanitarian supplies into Gaza. The investigation showed the officer signed a letter to Israel’s War Cabinet demanding that the territory be deprived of aid.  The letter, dated January 20, implored them to “do everything in your power” not to allow “humanitarian supplies” inside Gaza City.  Mr. Mansfield, head of Nexus Chambers and one of Britain’s leading lawyers, argues the document is plainly relevant to the particular state of mind of the officer.  In other words, the target of the airstrikes were not Hamas, but aid workers in an attempt to deter humanitarian supplies into Gaza City. 


Israel has acted with impunity in committing violations of international humanitarian law and violated the principle of proportionality, distinction, and precaution under the laws of war.  Civilians must always be protected.  The use of starvation as collective punishment for the atrocities which occurred on October 7, 2023 is simply revenge against a whole population and constitutes a war crime. 


Doctors, journalists, humanitarian aid workers, and unarmed civilians have been targeted and killed.  Over 200 humanitarian aid workers have been killed in Gaza.  President Biden and other Western allies of Israel have not changed their policy of support for Israel despite the overwhelming evidence of human rights violations by international human rights groups.  For decades, Israel has seen no consequence to their continued violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. 


Organizations to Assist Children in Gaza


Thirty years ago, the world failed to stop the Rwandan genocide.  Despite world leaders having the power to do so, there was not enough political will to stop the genocide.  The situation is similar today.  However, the digital landscape has changed.  We are again presented with the opportunity to stop a genocide, which is being shown live on social media.  The war on Gaza is more than eliminating Hamas, but rather to satisfy Israel’s hunger for Palestinian land and resources.  Amnesty International has described “alarming signs of genocide in Gaza.”  Please consider donating to the following organizations working to alleviate the suffering of children and their families in Gaza. 





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