Written by: Rana Hadeeb, a Palestinian lawyer

This year's Palestinian Children's Day arrives at a challenging time, particularly for children in Gaza, who have increasingly become targets for the occupying forces, its aircraft, and bombs. The escalation of violations by the occupying forces has led to serious infringements on the basic rights of Palestinian children, including the right to life, education, freedom, safety, and peace, rights that children around the world enjoy.

As international efforts intensify to implement basic rights for children, including access to healthcare, food, clean environment, and water, it is evident that the right to life cannot be upheld without ensuring these rights for children. In the Gaza Strip, children endure worsening humanitarian conditions and suffer from ongoing violations by the Israeli occupying forces, posing serious threats to their lives, health, and well-being. Despite these challenges, the international community's response has been notably silent, reaching a peak since the beginning of October 2024. Children in the Gaza Strip endure severe and systematic violations that impact every aspect of their lives, protected under international laws. These children have experienced multiple wars, with the latest ongoing since the beginning of October, resulting in the deaths of over 14,861 children and injuries to thousands more. Many children remain missing following bombings that targeted them while they slept in their homes or displacement centers. This constitutes one of the largest atrocities against children in modern history, yet it unfolds amid a deafening global silence.

Children in the Gaza Strip are grappling with a range of diseases exacerbated by malnutrition and anemia, which surged after October 7th. The situation has led to a dire famine, resulting in the tragic death of 34 children at Kamal Adwan Hospital, with an increased risk of infectious diseases. Over the past weeks, around 220,000 children under five have been affected by shortages of food and medicine. The violations against children extend beyond direct attacks that cause death, injury, or disabilities. Indirect violations target parents, homes, schools, and other aspects of childhood, profoundly impacting their lives and future.

During the ongoing aggression in the Gaza Strip, over 17,000 children are facing the heartbreaking reality of living without one or both parents. Additionally, approximately 1,000 children have tragically lost one or both of their legs since the aggression began, equating to at least 10 children losing their legs every day. Before October 7th, UNICEF estimated that an estimated 500,000 children needed mental health services. However, in the aftermath of the recent attacks, the need for this support has escalated dramatically, with over a million children in Gaza now requiring mental health assistance.

The continuous assaults on the Palestinian population, particularly children, have lasting and devastating effects on mental health, particularly for those who have been left with disabilities or disorders as a result of the aggression. Furthermore, the destruction of homes, schools, and infrastructure means that most children will struggle to access adequate housing, educational opportunities, and medical care. The health system, already under strain, has been further compromised due to the deliberate targeting and destruction it has endured during the aggression. The constant sounds of bombs, explosions, and gunfire, occurring without warning, instill a pervasive sense of fear, dread, and anxiety in children. These noises are often associated with the loss of homes or loved ones, leading to a state of perpetual fear and heightened stress levels.

Exposure to horrifying scenes, such as blood and body parts, has long-term negative effects on children, manifesting in anxiety, fear, bed-wetting, sleep disturbances, nightmares, strained relationships, aggression, and self-harm. Growing up in the midst of armed conflict deprives children of the normalcy of play and outdoor activities, forcing them to remain indoors or in displacement camps due to continuous bombings. This confinement exacerbates their feelings of aggression and limits their outlets for fun and social interaction.

The occupying authorities persist in their discriminatory treatment of Palestinian children, denying them access to necessary medical care and restricting their freedom of movement and travel, including access to hospitals in the West Bank and within the Green Line. This behavior represents a clear violation of their obligations under international humanitarian law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention concerning the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, as well as a departure from the principles of international human rights law, notably the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The facts presented highlight the serious violations against Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip. On this occasion, we express deep regret over the international community's persistent evasion of its legal obligations under international conventions on children's rights. Palestinian Children's Day serves as an opportunity to stand in solidarity with them on their national day. Therefore, we demand the following:

·   The international community must take urgent and effective action to halt Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip and cease human rights violations of Palestinian children's rights. Israel must be compelled to adhere to international humanitarian law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention, and international human rights law, especially the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

·   The international community, along with the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, UNICEF, and relevant institutions, must urgently ensure the protection of Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip. Additionally, efforts should be made to include the Israeli occupying forces on the blacklist of countries that violate children's rights.

·   The Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court should swiftly open a preliminary investigation into Israeli crimes against Palestinian children. This action is crucial for deterring the occupying forces and preventing further harm to children.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's views and not necessarily the Association's or donor's opinion.