The Gaza report from the United Nations Commission of Inquiry issued this week in Geneva will generate intense debate but one point can’t be disputed: the war had a devastating impact on children.
The death toll alone is jarring. In Gaza, Israeli military operations killed 551 children and injured 3,436. More than 1,500 children were orphaned. In Israel, a child was among the six civilians killed by Palestinian rocket and mortar fire, and dozens more were wounded or suffered trauma.
The overwhelming majority of children killed, wounded, and left homeless were in Gaza but the impact of the fighting on all young people cannot be ignored. As the report states, “Palestinian and Israeli children were savagely affected by the events”.
In Gaza, the trauma is exacerbated by the creeping pace of reconstruction. Israeli attacks damaged or destroyed 18,000 homes and half of all education facilities (261 out of 520 schools, kindergartens, and university buildings, according to the UN), including the only school for children with disabilities. Almost one year since the fighting ended, very few of the seriously damaged homes and schools have been rebuilt due to import restrictions and low donor funds.
To help children recover over the long-term requires several steps.
First, the pace of reconstructing homes, schools, and other civilian infrastructure in Gaza should be accelerated, so children can have some sense of normalcy. Israel’s blockade, enforced also by Egypt, should be eased to facilitate rebuilding efforts in a way that still meets Israel’s security needs.
Second is for international donors to step up. Governments pledged $2.7 billion for reconstruction after the fighting, but only about 25 percent has been delivered. Increased funding for psycho-social support for children in Gaza is sorely needed. As report after report has confirmed, children are suffering from extreme anxiety and depression after three major conflicts there in the past six years.
Finally, those responsible for laws of war violations against children need to be held to account. Looking at last year’s fighting and previous conflicts, the UN commission rightly found that “impunity prevails across the board”.
The legal burden rests with Israel and the Palestinian authorities to investigate and prosecute soldiers, commanders, and senior officials who violated the laws of war, including through policies that led to unnecessary deaths of children and other civilians. But if Israeli and Palestinian authorities continue to reject credible domestic investigations, as they have for many years, the International Criminal Court now has a mandate to step in.
Continued failure to help traumatized children, ensure their education, and end impunity will harm generations to come and increase the chances of having to read yet another grim Gaza report.