Children’s Cry for peace will not go in vain 

Gaza Palestine Children

Children are the biggest gift of nature. It gives eternal pleasure to watch them grow because they are the hope, future and continuation of life. As a doctor it is a matter of great satisfaction to relieve the pain of a child caused by physical injury, disease or stress of any kind. It is difficult to comprehend how some people get pleasure in harming the children, even killing. Every day reports of children being killed by the Israel defence forces in Gaza is the biggest war crime of the on-going century. Nearly 120 children are being killed every day, that is one child every 12 minutes.    

It is heart rending to watch the dead bodies of children in Gaza; mothers crying in deep pain, fathers upset over the loss of hope, brothers and sisters sitting dumb beside the dead body. With the Israeli aggression still going on, there is no guarantee when the death dance of the Israeli defence forces will stop. The nightmare people of Gaza are passing through is beyond imagination.  It would be wrong to call it a war. It is a clear cut aggression and  genocide of the innocent people including children. Hamas, that committed the barbaric act on 7th October 2023 is nowhere in the picture.  


War always causes collateral damage. Children in these situation are worst sufferers for no fault of theirs. Now when the hospitals are being targeted with impunity, number of dead children, infants and foetuses in mother’s wombs will increase manifold including. According to the UN Rights Chief Volker Turk, “in such situations the outbreaks of disease, hunger are ‘inevitable’ in Gaza. Speaking at the UN in Geneva, he highlighted the extreme scarcity of food, fuel and medical supplies in Gaza and warned of the consequences of a complete collapse of water, sewage and healthcare services. Massive outbreaks of infectious disease, and hunger, seem inevitable,” he said.    

The long-term physical, mental and social health consequences of the war on children will be severe and long-lasting. In the absence of proper food supplies leading to malnutrition, vulnerability to infectious and chronic diseases increases manifold. The mental health and developmental disorders occur from bereavement, on-going trauma and insecurity, fear, loss and deprivation and an uncertain future. (1)   

Muthanna Samara, Sara Hammuda, Panos Vostanis, Basel El-Khodary and Nader Al-Dewik in an article published in the British Medical Journal published on 19 November 2020 point out that “Living in war situation for long periods the children develop “toxic stress”. This leads to anxiety, loneliness and insecurity which increases in the absence of family support and separation from the parents and friends. Their inability to attend school adds to the anxiety. The uncertainty of whether they will survive the next day always haunts children’s mind.  They become over sensitive to any unfamiliar sound. This was observed by the team of doctors that visited violence affected area in Manipur, a north eastern state in India, to assess the health needs of the people living in relief camps.  This constant state of anxiety can lead to bed wetting, difficulty in falling asleep, nightmares, and strained relationships with their loved ones. Living in such situations for long they develop withdrawal and aggressive behaviour even towards their nears and dears. They may develop revengeful attitude on small matters. They may start fighting with, and shouting at their friends or bullying other children. As a result of fear many children can lose normal speech and start stuttering. Some can even experience partial amnesia. Some of them may resort to drugs. Even suicidal behaviour is observed.      

In the long run, because of staying in refugee camps and losing the opportunity of education, their whole life trajectory changes. The girls have to face sex abuse and even rejection by the family and the society. Many children get debilitated because of land mines and other forms of injury. These get worse in the absence of medical facilities.  The children may lose moral values because survival for them is the basic need for which they can even resort to crime. Children may lose their community and its culture during war. 

All the above is being constantly observed in the aggression by Israel by Gaza.   

Irony of the situation is that while the citizens are feeling the pain and reacting most of the governments have become either party to Israeli aggression or just paying lip service. European leaders are vocal to label what Hamas did was a war crime, but they are silent over the disproportionate violence perpetrated by Israel. Al Jazeera presenter, Osman Ayfarah, questioned Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, about the EU’s position on describing Israel’s and Hamas’ actions as war crimes. ‘I am not a lawyer,’ Mr Borrell answered when asked whether the EU would describe Israel’s actions since 7th October as war crimes, and that the International Criminal Court will conduct an investigation into the matter. However, he said the EU considers Hamas’ attack on 7th  October to be war crimes because it was ‘the clear killing of civilians without any reason.’  Whereas the UN Secretary General’s approach and his bold stand for ceasefire is appreciable,  the UN as a body however has failed to contain the aggression.  

That the invading forces take no mercy even on the children shows serious aberration in human behaviour. This was witnessed when the Nazis killed the Jewish children.   When the Nazis were killing Jews in millions, the world ignored for a long time saying they did not have  any knowledge of the concentration camps. The western countries did not believe in the existence of concentration camps even after the Red Army discovered them. But now that excuse does not hold good any more. Thanks to the technological innovations, everything is clearly visible.   

It is worth remembering the poem “The Cry of the Children” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning written in the context of children’s agony during forced labour in hazardous work.   

“True,” say the children, “it may happen    

      That we die before our time !    

Little Alice died last year her grave is shapen    

      Like a snowball, in the rime.    

We looked into the pit prepared to take her —    

   Was no room for any work in the close clay :    

From the sleep wherein she lieth none will wake her,    

   Crying, ‘Get up, little Alice ! it is day.’    

If you listen by that grave, in sun and shower,    

   With your ear down, little Alice never cries ;    

Could we see her face, be sure we should not know her,    

   For the smile has time for growing in her eyes ,—    

And merry go her moments, lulled and stilled in    

      The shroud, by the kirk-chime !    

It is good when it happens,” say the children,    

      “That we die before our time !”    

References: 

https://www.savethechildren.org/us/what-we-do/protection/mental-health/ways-conflict-impacts-childrens-mental-health

Dr Arun Mitra is a Practicing ENT Surgeon in Ludhiana, Punjab. He is also the President of Indian Doctors for Peace and Development (IDPD) www.idpd.org

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