The lost children of Gaza
WCNSF is the acronym for Wounded Child No Surviving Family. This was coined by the health professionals in Gaza to refer to the increasing number of children who are wounded and have no caregivers, having lost their families to the genocide being carried out by the Israeli occupation forces since October 7. What kind of a world do we live in, where such acronyms are required to refer to children? What kind of a world do we live in, where children are forced to bear the wounds of a war—that was not of their choosing—on their bodies, and the scars of the loss of their loved ones on their souls, forever?
Gaza has no more children left. And I am not referring to the more than 4,500 children who have been butchered mercilessly by the Israeli apartheid regime in the name of its "right to self-defence"—or the thousands who lay trapped under the rubble of what once used to be their homes, or the thousands who remain missing—but to all the children of Gaza who have been brutally robbed off their childhood and thrust into a life of deprivation and grief.
Not that life was a bed of roses for these children before the ongoing genocide was unleashed on them. In more than the 16 years of painful blockade imposed by Israel, the children of Gaza have suffered dehumanisation, debasement, and deprivation at the hands of the occupation forces, resulting in irreparable mental trauma, childhood depression, and major psychological complications.
To quote a 2022 Save the Children report, "When we asked children and young people in 2022 what their daily lives in Gaza are like they spoke of living in a perpetual state of fear, worry, sadness and grief, waiting for the next round of violence to erupt, and feeling unable to sleep or concentrate. Many shared vivid memories of the bombings they had experienced, recalling how their homes and schools were destroyed, and their loved ones killed. They also spoke of how the blockade affects every aspect of their lives and shapes their hopes and aspirations for the future. When we asked children and young people about their 'unwanted' feelings, they spoke of fear, nervousness, anxiety, stress and anger, and listed family problems, violence, death, nightmares, poverty, war and the occupation, including the blockade, as the things they liked least in their lives."
According to the same report, four out of five Gazan children suffered psychological distress and lived with fear, depression, and grief. Now, things have become even worse for these little souls, who have been forced to endure carpet bombing of their homeland and loss of home and belongings—as of November 14, more than 1.5 million people in Gaza were estimated to have been internally displaced—, and have suffered the loss of their loved ones.
"I feel like it would be better if I died with my mom. It is better I'd rather not see this suffering and pain that I am witnessing. I mean, everyone I valued and loved is gone!" a girl from Gaza grieved as hot tears trickled down her face, her voice unsteady as she tried not to break down.
Israel has outdone itself in the ferocity and insanity of its recent attack on Gaza, along with other occupied Palestinian territories, including the West Bank. It did not even spare the premature babies gasping for oxygen in the hospitals. Since the siege of al-Shifa hospital, the largest, oldest—built in 1946—and most medically advanced healthcare facility in Gaza, Israel has destroyed the station which provided oxygen to the incubators. The 39 infants later had to be taken out and shifted to another part of the hospital that still had electricity. Of them, 31 are alive.
The Israeli apathy towards Gaza's children does not come as a surprise, since its ultra right-wing government—especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—very openly calls the Palestinians "children of darkness," misinterpreting religious scriptures, and has slammed both French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for calling on Israel to stop the killing of babies, children, and women in Gaza.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one child is killed in Gaza every 10 minutes, and at least two injured. Since about half of Gaza's population of about 2.2 million are children, they are easily killed by Israel's carpet bombing—which does not discriminate between resistance fighters and civilians—which has become a regular fixture of Gazan children's lives. Since entire families are being torn apart by Israeli air strikes, many parents have adopted the practice of writing the names of their children on their bodies as markers, so that they can be identified should they be bombed.
Save the Children says that the Gaza War is by far the deadliest conflict for children in recent times, with the daily death toll of children in Gaza being much higher than in Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Iraq. According to the international non-profit, the number of children killed in Gaza in the ongoing war has crossed the number of children killed in conflict zones every year since 2019.
Perhaps for many of these orphaned, permanently disabled children, death would have been less painful than carrying such immense trauma for the rest of their lives. In the midst of the war, the Ministry of Education in Gaza has been forced to suspend the 2023-24 school year for 625,000 students. But in a land where children are being deprived of their basic rights to life, food, medical care, and security, their loss of education should not come as a surprise. Many of these children have already been displaced or will have been dead by the time the schools reopen.
While US President Joe Biden keeps referring to the fictitious case of 40 beheaded Israeli babies, he has done practically nothing to protect the children of Gaza who are being butchered by Israeli occupation forces every day in the name of "self-defence."
There is a generation of children growing up in Gaza without family, without love, without limbs, without food, without education, without basic human rights, in unspeakable depravity, scarred by the trauma of war—and all because humanity has failed them, the world has failed them. In Gaza, there are no rights for any child.
The world should not be a silent spectator and passively watch Israel unleash the Grim Reaper on innocent children and wipe out the future of Palestine, of Gaza. Israeli's allies should now be forced by the other powers that be to stop the genocide in Gaza. Bangladesh, South Africa, Bolivia, Comoros, and Djibouti have referred Israel to the International Criminal Court for a probe into the war crimes Israel is committing in Gaza. While this might not have practical impact in stopping the war on Gaza, if the international community keeps mounting pressure on Israel and its allies, this might at least force the apartheid state to cede to a ceasefire.
This year, as we observe World Children's Day with the theme "For every child, every right," we should keep the lost children of Gaza in our thoughts; children who have very little chance of surviving this war, and even if they do, only have a very bleak future to face—a wasteland of lost dreams, of desperation, of grief. With every dying child in Gaza, the world is losing a tiny star that could one day have shone light on it.
Tasneem Tayeb is a columnist for The Daily Star. Her X handle is @tasneem_tayeb
Views expressed in this article are the author's own.
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