source : theconversation.com
All too often, it is the most vulnerable who suffer most from war.
This remains true, with children responsible for many of the deaths and casualties in the war between Israel and Hamas.
Just this week, there were two bomb attacks on the Jabalia refugee camp, a densely populated area in the Gaza Strip where many families with children live.
International organizations in particular are concerned. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund has said Gaza is turning into a “graveyard of children”.
The disproportionate effect on young people is not only leading to devastating scenes now. It will have long-term consequences.
A big toll on a young population
The average age of people in Gaza is only 18 years. About 65% of the population is younger than 24 years old.
According to the UN, more than 41% of the 8,805 people killed in Gaza so far as of October 31, 2023 have been children.
Many people are missing, trapped under the rubble of destroyed houses. More than half of the missing people are children.
More than 30% of those injured in Gaza are children, possibly reflecting the low survival rates of children trapped in the conflict.
These statistics reflect previous research showing the disproportionate impact on children in armed conflict.
But violence against children was not limited to Gaza.
Graphic accounts point to the killing of numerous Israeli children in the Hamas attacks on October 7.
Dozens of young people died during a music festival.
It is believed that at least 33 of the estimated 240 Israeli hostages taken by Hamas are children, including babies and infants.
At least 122 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli military operations in the West Bank since October 7, including 39 children. It is unclear how many of these casualties are directly attributable to the conflict.
It is an extremely grim inventory, but essential for understanding the nature of the conflict.
Read more: In the war between Israel and Hamas, children are the ultimate pawns – and ultimate victims
The difficult situation became even worse
Unfortunately, the suffering of children in Gaza is not new.
For decades, children in Gaza have been among the most vulnerable groups in the world, with very high rates of childhood mental health problems, stunted growth, lead poisoning, malnutrition and post-traumatic stress disorder.
An Israeli study has found high rates of psychopathology among those exposed to trauma from military attacks.
Other research comparing the well-being of Israeli and Palestinian children found that the latter fared significantly worse.
These conditions have deteriorated since Hamas took power in Gaza in 2006.
Protecting children trapped in adult wars
There are claims from both sides of violations of international humanitarian law and violations of the laws of war.
Regardless of these allegations, there has been a fundamental violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by all parties.
The treaty consists of 54 articles that aim to protect and safeguard the well-being of children, including during armed conflict.
There are specific demands from states to protect the lives of children from violence, abuse and neglect at both civil and political levels.
Other laws also exist to protect children.
International humanitarian law is unambiguous when it comes to the legal responsibility of combatants to protect children in all situations of armed conflict.
The Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols apply to children in the same way as they apply to civilians during war.
But there is extra protection for people under the age of 18, with children considered an “object of special respect”.
This also applies to children who actively participate in the conflict.
Israel and Palestine have signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Geneva Convention.
That said, an International Criminal Court investigation into the ongoing conflict in the region was reopened in 2021.
The UN is also investigating allegations of war crimes on all sides as of October 7, 2023.
It is part of a year-long investigation originally opened in 2021 to investigate “all alleged violations of international humanitarian law and all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law” in Palestine, the West Bank and Israel.
Read more: War between Israel and Hamas: will the killing of peace activists spell the end of the peace movement?
Hope for the future has faded
Despite all the legal protections, it is clear that children are suffering.
The legal provision for special respect for children in war is not sufficiently taken into account. It requires all parties to think carefully about the world they will leave behind.
But when we look to the region’s future, the prospects seem bleak.
Children have great potential to build peace.
The evidence that Palestinian children develop security, hope and resilience is promising.
Peace work by Israeli and Palestinian children provides insight into what is mentioned Neve Shalom/Wahat Al-Salam (the Hebrew and Arabic words for oasis of peace).
But the surviving children of this conflict will likely emerge traumatized. They will have spent their childhood surrounded by the extreme rhetoric of war, hatred and retaliation.
It is therefore difficult to see how our future leaders could overcome the difficulties of fighting for peace and unity in the region.
Generations of adults on all sides have failed these children. They need protection for their own good and for the future of the places they call home.
Read more: Australian MPs take a tough line in the Israel-Hamas conflict
source : theconversation.com