Gaza’s Most Vulnerable Victims

Image of a child in a cityscape that has been under siege.

Image by Mohammed Ibrahim.

I received a communiqué from a Jewish friend, concerned about the turn of events in Gaza. The beginning paragraph says,

“Genocide is not self-defense. I hope that you will raise your voice to your elected representatives. And maybe you will demonstrate publicly. It is so important that we give voice, also, to the Palestinians in this catastrophe. We are all fearful. Anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic nuts who are always hiding under the carpets are unleashed at these times. But we must speak and listen to each other. It’s our only hope.”

As the numbers of dead increase daily in Gaza, so are the voices against the brutal reprisal of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) against civilians in Gaza. And Gazans continue suffering the consequences of the unrelenting attacks of the IDF, despite widespread calls for a stop to the massacre. How many more people have to die for those responsible to come to their senses?

World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson Christian Lindmeier warned of the great number of civilian deaths directly and indirectly linked to Israeli bombardment. “It’s an imminent public health catastrophe that looms with the mass displacements, the overcrowding, and the damage to water and sanitation infrastructure.”

An even more dire picture was painted by James Elder, UNICEF spokesperson. At a press briefing on October 31, 2023, at the Palais des nations in Geneva, Elder said, “Our gravest fears about the reported numbers of children killed becoming dozens, then hundreds, and ultimately thousands were realized in just a fortnight. The numbers are appalling; reportedly more than 3,450 children killed; staggeringly this rises significantly every day. Gaza has become a graveyard for thousands of children. It’s a living hell for everyone else.”

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) the attacks during last month by the Israeli military have killed 4,104 children, an average of more than 100 children killed every day.

“The more than one million children in Gaza also have a water crisis. Gaza’s water production capacity is a mere five percent of its usual daily output. Child deaths –particularly infants—to dehydration are a growing threat…And then there is the trauma. When the fighting stops, the cost to children and their communities will be borne out for generations to come. Before this latest escalation, more than 800,000 children in Gaza –three quarters of its entire child population—were identified as needing mental health and psychosocial support. That’s before this latest nightmare. And if there is no ceasefire, no water, no medicine, and no release of abducted children? Then we hurtle towards even greater horrors afflicting innocent children.”

It is estimated that around 690,000 internally displaced people –most of them children—are taking refuge in 149 shelters run by the UN Agency for Palestine Refugees, the relief organization, which describes the situation in the Gaza Strip as “desperate.” According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 16 out of 35 hospitals in Gaza are out of service.

Although President Joe Biden is advocating a “humanitarian pause” a spokesman for Israel’s government has said that its military has completed the “encirclement of Gaza City, and that a cease fire is not on the table at all.” This is happening as Donatella Rovera, a Senior Crisis Response Adviser for Amnesty International, said that investigations into four incidents on October 10, 11, 16 and 17 in Gaza have shown that Israel used the highly toxic white phosphorus as a weapon in civilian areas.

While the monster of war increases its demolition work and bombs continue to fall relentlessly on children, thousands of them are hungry and suffering from what can be called Sustained Traumatic Stress Disorder. As I ponder the incalculable suffering of children, I read the following lines in the poem “Report from the Besieged City,” by the late Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert, in a translation by John Carpenter and Bogdona Carpenter. The speaker in the poem is designated a chronicler “Because he is too old to bear arms.”

I avoid any commentary I keep a tight hold on my emotions I write

about the facts

only they it seems are appreciated in foreign markets

yet with a certain pride I would like to inform the world

that thanks to the war we have raised a new species of children

our children don’t like fairy tales they play at killing

awake and asleep they dream of soup of bread and bones

just like dogs and cats

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”