By Safa Othmani
To be a child in Gaza is to live on borrowed time.
Images of a dead Palestinian fetus in a Gaza hospital last month, after the mother was killed by an Israeli airstrike, showed the world the horrors of childbirth and birth in the besieged enclave .
Between the massacres and mutilations, the strikes on overcrowded houses, schools, bakeries, hospitals and shelters for displaced people, as well as the denial of access to food, medicine, drinking water and humanitarian aid, which are crimes under international law, the children of Gaza continue to suffer from incessant attacks by Israel.
According to the latest updates from the Palestinian Health Ministry, Israeli forces have killed at least 6,100 Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip in 48 days of intense fighting since October 7.
In addition, 1,500 children are missing under the rubble of destroyed buildings, most of them presumed dead. These figures are five times higher than the number of children killed by US coalition forces in Iraq between 2003 and 2011, when the figure was 1,201 children.
In Gaza, 130 Palestinian children are killed every day, more than the number of children killed in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya combined. Since October 7, Israeli forces have killed twice as many Palestinian children in Gaza as the total number of Palestinian children killed in the West Bank and Gaza since 1967.
While in other parts of the world, births herald new life and a time of joy, in Gaza they are overshadowed by death and horror.
The United Nations estimates that 5,500 pregnant women are expected to give birth in December in Gaza, where most health facilities are no longer able to function.
The destruction, associated with insufficient drinking water and sanitation systems, creates multiple health risks, particularly for women who do not have access to kits hygiene or anesthetics if they need medical attention or a cesarean section.
During the latest Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, child care facilities were subject to indiscriminate attacks.
Israeli missiles and fighter jets struck Al-Rantisi Pediatric Hospital several times, hitting the pediatric cancer ward and the specialized children’s center, causing deaths and injuries, including among children and medical staff.
The same Israeli attacks destroyed the hospital’s solar panels and water tanks. Dozens of children were treated at Al-Rantisi Children’s Hospital and at least 1,000 displaced Palestinians found shelter there.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has increasingly sounded the alarm over rising cases of chickenpox, diarrhea and upper respiratory infections among children in overcrowded shelters in the Gaza Strip.
The lack of safe places has created a deep sense of fear and horror among children. They also began to exhibit symptoms of severe trauma including post-traumatic stress disorder, seizures, anxiety, aggressive behavior and nocturnal enuresis (involuntary bedwetting).
In Gaza, children live under constant bombardment. Tens of thousands of them are crammed into shelters in UN schools after being forced to flee their homes without access to food or clean water.
The situation is so serious that in some shelters, 400 displaced Palestinians share the same toilet.
But the problem is much more complex than a simple question of numbers.
In studying the impact of the conflict on Palestinian children, who make up about half of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents, we should pay attention to the voices of these children themselves.
Nowhere else in the world do children see themselves as leaders in the fight against occupation and decolonization as much as in Gaza.
While children’s sense of identity is generally nourished by a simple moment of play, in Gaza it is nourished rather by an inherent commitment to a struggle considered sacred. Thus, by throwing a stone at an Israeli soldier, playing an outdoor shooting game or painting a picture representing the Palestinian flag flying over the Al-Aqsa mosque, the children of Gaza are creating a space of their own as as “knight in shining armor” of their nation.
Here are some of the phrases spoken by children in Gaza that have gone viral on social media since October 7:
- “As my parents were killed during the war, I have to look after my sister. »
- “Our homeland is not for sale. »
- “Does Israel think that by killing my father we will leave our home? Never. »
- “The occupation killed my whole family and I must take revenge. »
- “I was born in a refugee camp and I knew that our land had been taken from us and that we would get it back sooner or later. »
- “I grew up with my grandmother’s voice telling me to never give up or give in. »
These words are yet another sign that Gaza’s children’s course of understanding is characterized by a set of self-descriptions that have their roots in resistance, whatever the ultimate consequences.
Perhaps unconsciously, the children of Gaza portray themselves as superheroes engaged in an existential battle against a colonial power that took away not only their land, but also their right to play, to have a happy childhood, an education peaceful, a safe home, a warm family, non-violent treatment and absolute protection from war and fighting.
They thus show a complex understanding of the struggle against occupation, which is not only about resisting the military occupation of land, but also about fighting for identity, one’s own identity and a sense of belonging, linked to a history of resistance which has lasted for more than 75 years.
It is a way of thinking and living deeply rooted in self-awareness, deeply rooted in homeland, resistance and a mindset that took it upon itself to continue the struggle until the last breath of air.
The latest bombing campaign revealed the ability of Gaza’s children to think and analyze situations related to the occupation of Palestine in a complex and anticipated way, well ahead of their age.
From within the mounds of rubble into which their homes were transformed and from the flames of the missiles that burned the bodies of their families, the children of Gaza emerge as superheroes who not only challenge self-proclaimed identity of Israel as the sole partner for peace in the Middle East, but also stand by their very existence at the forefront of the struggle for the decolonization of an entire nation.
December 1, 2023 – Middle East Monitor – Translation: Chronicle of Palestine