Children are bearing the brunt of the horrors in Gaza. How can this go on? – ABC News

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The most dangerous place in the world to be a child.

That devastating description is now being applied to Gaza by UNICEF as the true extent of the catastrophe of this war emerges.

That devastation is leading to one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time — where, for example, a nurse has had to perform emergency caesarean operations on six dead pregnant women to try to save their babies.

The horrors of Gaza are almost unspeakable. As difficult as all this is to read and to watch, it’s important the world does not look away.

Rarely, if ever, have so many children been killed, injured or orphaned as quickly as Israel is doing so in Gaza right now.

“The Gaza Strip is the most dangerous place in the world to be a child,” says UNICEF’s James Elder. “And day after day, that brutal reality is reinforced.”

UNICEF has compiled a range of statistics from Gaza. It says that a Palestinian child is killed every 15 minutes. Thousands more are missing under rubble.

One of every 10 children killed in Gaza did not make their first birthday. More than 1,000 children have lost one or both legs. Save the Children estimates that more than 10 children a day are losing one or both legs. Those having limbs amputated are having it done without anaesthetic.

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On the testimony of a range of credible agencies, this is the deadliest conflict for children in modern times.

According to UNICEF, there are now at least 19,000 orphans in Gaza and thousands who have lost one parent.

According to Gaza’s Ministry of Health, at least 28,000 Palestinians have been killed — including 11,500 children.

Gaza has more children than almost anywhere else — 47.3 per cent of its population is under 18. The Health Ministry says there are at least 65,636 injured people in Gaza – of which 18,000 are children.

Israel’s newspaper Haaretz ran the headline: “11,500 Children Have Been Killed in Gaza. Horror of This Scale Has No Explanation.”

Data challenging Israel’s supporters

Save the Children and UNICEF believe that in the early weeks of this war, Israel was killing about 1,000 children a week. This gruesome reality is challenging world leaders — the latest being Israel’s strongest supporter, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Few people have been as supportive of Israel as Blinken or US President Joe Biden. For Biden, a public turning point from unconditional support for Israel came when he concluded that Israel’s bombing was “indiscriminate”.

Blinken is now warning that if the Israeli army pushes into Rafah, the southernmost town in Gaza, there’s a risk of a huge number of more civilian deaths. He warned there were now up to 1.4 million people crowding into Rafah.

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Interestingly, after a day of meeting Israeli officials, Blinken held a news conference without Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

So, while Netanyahu held a news conference in the early evening rejecting Hamas’ ceasefire offer and declaring that Israel would push into Rafah, Blinken later held one expressing his alarm at any Israeli push into Rafah.

Within hours of Blinken’s warning, Israel began bombing Rafah – killing 28 people, including five children. They killed 107 people across Gaza within hours of Blinken’s comments.

In terms of the deteriorating relationship between the US and Israel, there are few more damning verdicts than a US president saying Israel is “indiscriminately” dropping bombs.

Entire neighbourhoods in Gaza have been destroyed. The City University of New York and Oregon State University have examined satellite images that show up to 175,000 of the buildings have been destroyed or damaged. That’s 61 per cent of all buildings.

The UN estimates that 80 per cent of the population — 1.75 million people — are now without anywhere to live.

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Perceptions are changing

At the beginning of the war, the White House and US public were strongly supportive of Israel. Like most people around the world, they were horrified by the barbarity of Hamas’ October 7 attack.

But as the devastation enters its fifth month, that perception has changed, shaped largely by outlets traditionally supportive of Israel.

CNN, for example, recently showed an elderly woman being shot dead as she walked along the street, holding her five-year-old grandson’s hand. Her grandson was waving a white flag.

The Guardian reported Natalie Thurtle, an Australian physician working with Doctors Without Borders, reported the “huge proportion of children being killed or maimed for life”. It was “very confronting for colleagues trying to provide health care when it’s possible to be shot through the window of the hospital”.

And it was The Wall Street Journal, a conservative newspaper strongly supportive of Israel, which revealed that between October 7 and December 15 Israel dropped 29,000 bombs.

Many of those 29,000 were 2,000-pound bombs, which can blow out windows as far as a kilometre away. That means, on average, 79 bombs per square kilometre.

When Vladimir Putin dropped bombs as large as these on civilians in Ukraine the world branded the attacks war crimes.

For the first few weeks of the war, Israel revealed the number of bombs it was dropping. But it appears Israel’s image makers realised that dropping this number of bombs on a small enclave – about half the size of Canberra – did not look good. It stopped releasing the number.

If Israel had maintained its rate of bombing, by now it would have dropped more than 51,000 bombs on Gaza – or about 140 bombs per square kilometre — in one of the most densely populated places on Earth.

Israel insists it has tried to protect civilians by dropping leaflets from jets or sending text messages. But if Israel has tried to avoid civilian deaths then it has seriously failed.

Israel argues the reason it has killed so many civilians is because Hamas embeds itself in civilian targets. There’s no doubt that Hamas does try to use civilians as shields.

After all, the taking of 240 hostages on October 7 is the ultimate form of human shields. And the taking of civilian hostages, including babies and children, surely also fits the definition of a war crime.

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Israel has shown it can do surgical strikes

Israeli leaders are rarely asked an obvious question: As a country that can carry out targeted killings of enemies more clinically than almost any other, why have there been such large civilian casualties?

Israel showed in 2010 in Dubai how good it is at targeted operations. A team from Mossad, famously filmed on CCTV walking through a hotel carrying tennis rackets, smothered to death Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in his room.

In January, Israel flew a drone over Beirut and assassinated deputy Hamas chief Saleh al-Arouri. Israel’s spokesperson Mark Regev said later: “Whoever did it, it must be clear: that this was not an attack on the Lebanese state. Whoever did this did a surgical strike against the Hamas leadership.”

Which raises an obvious question: Why could Israel not have carried out “surgical strikes” against Hamas’s leadership in Gaza?

Nobody can dispute Israel’s right to respond to the October 7 atrocities. Australia would also have responded had 1,200 people been tortured and murdered and 240 kidnapped.

But it’s the dramatic lack of proportionality of the response that Israel will be asked to answer for in years to come.

UNICEF says that after almost four months, 100 per cent of the children in Gaza need mental health support. About 1.1 million children are unable to access humanitarian aid.

The Wall Street Journal wrote: “The destruction of homes, schools and other buildings resembles some of the most devastating campaigns in modern history. The war in the Gaza Strip is generating destruction comparable in scale to the most devastating urban warfare in the modern record.”

UNICEF’S James Elder said there was now one toilet for every 700 people. In some places, people are defecating in the open.

“Diarrhoea cases in children are above 100,000. Acute respiratory illness cases in civilians are above 150,000. Both numbers will be gross under-counts of the woeful reality,” Elder said.

“The Gaza Strip has the worst level of malnutrition in the world. With malnutrition soaring among Gaza’s children, diarrhoeal diseases are becoming deadly.”

Aid workers say that 135,000 children under two are now at risk of severe malnutrition.

Elder also recounted the story of a 13-year-old called Dina. She was injured and one leg was amputated. She lost both of her parents and two brothers.

“But Dina hadn’t lost hope,” Elder said. “She told us about her dreams of being a lawyer. She said, ‘I feel injustice; when I grow up, I will become a lawyer so that I can enjoy my rights and the rights of all children.'”

The day after Dina made those comments she was killed by an Israeli bomb.

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‘Born into hell’

In the US, this is a war playing out in the mass media, with outlets like The Wall Street Journal and CNN highlighting the civilian death toll.

Blinken, in his first visit to Israel after October 7, spoke about how, as a Jew, he felt a particular connection to the trauma felt by Israelis.

But last week, on his fifth visit, his tone had changed dramatically. Blinken has been making it clear for several months his discomfort about the number of civilian deaths and how slowly Israel had allowed humanitarian aid.

On this latest trip he delivered a scathing critique of Israel’s conduct of the war. A particular moment from the Blinken-Netanyahu meeting was briefed to the media.

Israeli media said Blinken told Netanyahu: “I will think about the thousands of children who were killed in Gaza for the rest of my life.” Blinken reportedly added: “Entire families that are not connected to Hamas have been harmed.”

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Save the Children’s Jason Lee said: “It’s beyond belief that the world is allowing this to continue. The impact of seeing children in that much pain and not having the equipment, medicines to treat them or alleviate pain is too much, even for experienced professionals. Even in a war zone, the sights and sounds of a young child mutilated by a bomb cannot be reconciled, let alone understood, within the bounds of humanity.”

UNICEF’s James Elder said: “In my 20 years with UNICEF, travelling the world from one humanitarian crisis to the next, from famines to floods and war zones to refugee camps, I’ve simply never seen such devastation and despair as is happening in Gaza.” 

French President Emmanuel Macron has also heightened his criticism of Israel: “We cannot let the idea take root that an efficient fight against terrorism implies to flatten Gaza or attack civilian populations indiscriminately.”

UNICEF’s Tess Ingram reflected a similar sentiment – she said almost 20,000 babies had been born into war — or “born into hell.”

She said: “Humanity cannot allow this warped version of normal to persist any longer.”

Posted 11 Feb 202411 Feb 2024Sun 11 Feb 2024 at 7:32pm, updated 12 Feb 202412 Feb 2024Mon 12 Feb 2024 at 7:27am

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