So far, more than 1,800 Palestinians and 66 Israelis have been killed in the latest outbreak of violence over Gaza. Civilians have died on both sides of the war, although a much greater proportion have been killed in Gaza. Over 65,000 people in Gaza are homeless after their houses were damaged or destroyed.
In the last week, bombs have hit two UN schools and a playground in Gaza, killing children and provoking international outrage. Numerous ceasefires have been called, including a seven-hour “humanitarian window” on Monday to allow ordinary Palestinians to stock up on food, medicines and first-aid equipment.
In Gaza: “I feel like I am in a nightmare”
The conflict has escalated dramatically over the last few weeks, and today, the sound of shellfire can clearly be heard from the Children's Village in the city of Rafah. Rafah lies in the south of the Gaza strip, and is the location of a UN-run school which was bombed on Sunday, killing 10 people. The city was excluded from the ceasefire, with an Israeli official saying that troops would respond if attacked.
Though no one at the Children's Village has been harmed, SOS mothers are alert to the possibility of attack and normality is on hold. Samy Ajjour, from the SOS team in Rafah, says: “No bombs have landed directly on our Children's Village. However, they have been within earshot. We can see and feel the shelling.” With Rafah and the surrounding area under continuous bombardment, many staff are unable to reach work because it is unsafe for them to leave their homes.
One SOS mother recounts the stress and confusion her children are going through as war rages around them: “My children are four and seven years old. They ask me 'Why are so many people killed? Why have so many houses been destroyed?' I cannot help with anything. I cannot even answer.” These are trying times not just for children, but for parents as well: “I feel I am in a nightmare. I do not know how words can explain the pain.”
One member of the SOS team lost his sister and her eight children. “I have lost my house, my memories, my relatives and my friends in Khozaa city,” he says. “I don't know what tomorrow will bring to me and my family. After all of this, I phoned my mother – the only person in my family to have survived – to say to her 'Happy Eid.'”
In Israel: Children too afraid to leave their mothers' sides
Our Village is home to Muslims and Christians as well as Jewish children. As in Palestine, none of the children have suffered physical harm but staff, mothers and children alike are deeply shaken by the sounds of war around them. Many children are too afraid to leave their SOS mothers, and some do not dare use the bathroom alone in case the alarm is sounded.
Palestinian missiles have struck the cities as well as Bedouin camps around Neradim, where our Children's Village in the conflict zone is based. The Village has robust shelters where families can take refuge, and effective sirens which provide plenty of warning in the event of an attack. All the children are trained in how to respond to the alarm.
Some of children have poor relatives in other southern cities, some of whom live in fragile housing with no access to proper bomb shelters. These children are deeply worried about their families' safety. The younger children do not understand why people are sending bombs to try to hurt their countrymen. Sadly, many of our older children remember this kind of violence from earlier outbreaks, but this doesn't make the latest round any less frightening.
Children pay the heaviest price
Children have been disproportionately affected by the violence in Gaza, with the UN announcing last week that a child was dying every hour. Every child has the right to a happy, secure childhood without the threat or fear of violence. On both sides of this conflict, children are robbed of this right. We will continue to take every measure to protect the children in our care in both Gaza and Israel.
Richard Pichler, the chief executive of SOS Children's Village International, has a message for both sides at this time of conflict: “In any conflict that harms civilians, children are most vulnerable and pay the heaviest price. They suffer terrible injuries and psychological trauma, lose their parents, or are killed themselves. At stake is the wellbeing of children on both sides of the conflict. We remind all parties of their fundamental obligation under international human rights law to protect the safety of children, who are being robbed of their childhood.”
Throughout this conflict, supporters like you are providing love and care to some of the most vulnerable children both in Palestine and Israel. You can help ensure a stable upbringing for children long into the future by sponsoring in the Middle East: