With seemingly no end in sight for the Israeli government’s Operation Protective Edge, children’s humanitarian organisation UNICEF has estimated that one in every three civilian casualties of the two week long offensive, have been children under the age of 18. Latest statistics put the current death toll in the Gaza Strip at well over 800 people, two thirds of which are civilians.
According to UNICEF’s Chief of Field Office in Gaza, Pernille Ironside, the figure in terms of child fatalities currently stood at 181, with a further 1200 injuries. Of those children, 70% were below the age of 12.
The conflict has also taken a major toll on the emotional state of Gaza’s youth, with many living in fear of the unpredictability of the air strikes by the Israeli forces. Ironside said that this, coupled with the lack of any safe places to seek shelter, was leaving a deep impact on the psyche of the children.
“Anyone who is over six years old has already gone through this now for the third time. This is again triggering further emotions and reactions from their last experience,” she explained.
Ironside said it was essential that all Gazans received some form of emotional support, particularly since the majority of the population were living in fear and anguish as a result of the assaults. This included medical personnel currently serving in the region, as well as parents and caregivers.
“Children pick up so easily on the signs and reactions of adults. They look to adults for determining what their own emotions ought to be,” she said.
With the Gaza Strip considered the most densely populated area on the planet, Ironside suggested it was virtually impossible that people would not be harmed as a result of the constant bombardment.
These strikes have caused an alarming amount of families to be displaced, with more than 140 000 people currently residing in UN schools, which have been opened up as temporary shelters. What was most alarming according to Ironside however, was the fact that those shelters were now becoming direct targets for the Israeli air strikes.
“Not even an hour ago one of the U.N shelters in the North was directly hit, with around 200 people in it. We are still trying to determine the fate of those people,” she noted.
Having worked in some of the worst conflict zones around the world, Pernille described the current situation as “something of a totally different character”.
“Quite frankly it makes me question whether there is any humanity left for the people of Gaza,” she concluded. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)