Father Jamil Al-Agha cradles his 5-year-old son killed in airstrikes

Father Jamil Al-Agha cradles his 5-year-old son Muhammad, who was killed during airstrikes on November 19, 2023 in Khan Yunis, Gaza.

(Photo: Ahmad Hasballah/Getty Images)

Slaughter in Gaza Continues on World Children's Day

"Israeli forces have killed more than 5,000 Palestinian children in Gaza. That's around 9 to 10 classrooms of students being obliterated from the Earth every day by the Israeli military's relentless offensive on Gaza."

As of Monday, World Children's Day, Israel's six-week war on the Gaza Strip has killed at least 5,500 Palestinian children and threatens the lives of about a million more who are enduring the Israeli bombardment and raids of homes, schools, and hospitals.

Since Israel declared war after an October 7 Hamas-led attack, United Nations officials, humanitarian groups, cease-fire supporters around the world, and Gaza residents themselves have warned that the besieged enclave is becoming a "graveyard" for children.

Putting the child death toll into context on Monday, Al Jazeera reported, "That is one Palestinian child killed every 10 minutes, or about one out of every 200 children in the Gaza Strip."

"An additional 1,800 children are missing under the rubble, most of them presumed dead," the outlet noted. "A further 9,000 children have been injured, many with life-changing consequences. Many of these children have lived through the trauma of multiple wars."

Brad Parker, an attorney and senior policy adviser at Defense for Children International - Palestine, stressed in a Sunday opinion piece for Al Jazeera that "as in previous Israeli military offensives on Gaza, Israeli attacks the DCIP has investigated have been overwhelmingly indiscriminate and disproportionate. The Israeli army has targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure in densely populated civilian areas with wide-area-effect explosive weapons. In other words, every bomb the Israeli army drops on Gaza potentially constitutes a war crime."

As Common Dreams reported last week, Airwars found a single Israeli bombing in the Jabalia refugee camp on October 31, purportedly intended to "assassinate a senior Hamas commander and destroy his base," killed 126-136 civilians, including 69 children.

Citing United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres' "graveyard" warning from earlier this month, Parker wrote that he "was sounding the alarm because he knows that Palestinian children are living and dying in an unrivaled moment. Israeli forces killed more children in the first month of the war than state and nonstate actors did in other armed conflicts over the past two years combined, according to the U.N. chief's own annual reports."

"Nearly 50% of the 2.3 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip are children. This incredibly youthful population has experienced 16 years of Israeli siege, which amounts to collective punishment," he pointed out. "Guterres knows the death toll is expected to rise dramatically as Israeli authorities have cut off Palestinians in Gaza from food, water, electricity, medical supplies, and fuel, catapulting a captive civilian population into what he described as a 'nightmare' that 'is a crisis of humanity.'"

Highlighting the billions of dollars in U.S. military assistance that the Israeli government gets annually, Parker concluded that "the Biden administration's endorsement of Israel's actions and the genocidal green light it has given must be opposed. World leaders need to heed the U.N. chief's call for an immediate cease-fire and help put an end to the slaughter of Palestinian children."

Marking World Children's Day on social media Monday, Guterres said: "Wars, climate change, economic turmoil. Crisis after crisis, children around the world are being robbed of their lives and their futures. Children need peace, now."

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Catherine Russell, who has also called for a cease-fire in Gaza, similarly said in a statement Monday that "unfortunately, children today are living in a world that is increasingly hostile to their rights. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the experience of children impacted by conflicts."

First declared Universal Children's Day in 1954, November 20 also marks the anniversaries of the U.N. General Assembly adopting the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. Russell said that "at no time since the CRC was adopted 34 years ago have children's rights been in greater jeopardy. And that is why we must act."

Her statement came a day after UNICEF announced that "31 babies clinging to life were rescued from al-Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza and relocated to the south of the strip" in a joint operation conducted "during extremely dangerous conditions," following "the tragic death of several other babies, and total collapse of all medical services at al-Shifa."

Al-Shifa is far from the only hospital that has partly or fully ceased services—and as Parker of DCIP noted: "Among Gaza's population are an estimated 50,000 pregnant people. This means there are 160 deliveries on average taking place daily."

As some parents in Gaza struggle to get care while bringing life into the world, others are mourning the loss of children.

Ramez al-Sury's family was sheltering at the Saint Porphyrius Greek Orthodox Church compound in Gaza when it was hit in an Israeli airstrike on October 19. He told Amnesty International that "my heart died with my children that evening. All my children were killed: Majid, 11, Julie, 12, and Suhail, 14. I have nothing left. I should have died with my children."

"The church was full of peaceful people, only peaceful people," he added. "There is nowhere safe in Gaza during this war. Bombardments everywhere, day and night. Every day, more and more civilians are killed. We pray for peace, but our hearts are broken."

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