Terrible things happen in war.  

At the height of the recent deadly conflict in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, a father in Gaza found himself doing something most of us would find unimaginable. This is what he posted on social media: “The strangest thing I did today was exchange some of my children with my brother’s children. I took two of his and gave him two of mine. So, if my house was bombed, some of us would remain. And if he was bombed, some of his offspring would remain.”   

What if this was you?  

Gaza destruction

A Palestinian woman hold her son as she walks past her house that was destroyed in Israeli air strikes during Israeli-Palestinian fighting, in Gaza, on 1st June. PICTURE: Reuters/Mohammed Salem/File photo.

Around Australia, families are scrambling to cope with the complications of a COVID lockdown – a situation with which we’re are all too familiar. It’s a challenge. But what if your chief concern this week was about making sure that at least some of your family would survive bombs?

When the two sides emerged from the first 11 days of violence in the occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel back in May, both claimed victory. But then airstrikes were renewed. Every time violence erupts, it tears children’s lives apart. They’re the losers. Again.

"Every time violence erupts, it tears children’s lives apart. They’re the losers. Again."

When these attacks are taking place, nowhere is safe for these children, not their schools, not their homes, not their places of worship, nor the streets. 

Gaza is a small coastal city about a fifth the size of Adelaide but with almost double the population. One million children are trapped behind these walls. There is no way in or out. For 14 years now, children have endured the conditions of a crippling blockade.

World leaders hailed the ceasefire. But already the cost is too high. In the May outbreak, more than 60 children paid with their lives. More than 72,000 people are now displaced. Israeli airstrikes damaged fifty educational facilities, six hospitals and 11 primary health facilities. On the Israeli side, at least 12 people, including two children, were killed.

The fighting has stopped for now, but war still wages in children’s minds. The conflict is on pause, but children are left wondering anxiously if tomorrow will be better. All children, be they Palestinian or Israeli, have the right to live in safety.

The fear on their mum’s and dad’s faces, the terrifying sounds of missiles and fighter jets as they huddle together to sleep, together with the shocking knowledge that everyone might be buried under a pile of rubble like the house across the street, won’t soon be forgotten – if ever. 

Overhead airstrikes destroy a child’s sense of security, which is fundamental for healthy childhood development. A child who has lived in the region for 14 years has now experienced four armed conflicts.  

That child would have witnessed the loss of loved ones and the destruction of homes, which perpetuates and worsens this humanitarian crisis. It is emotionally damaging an entire generation.

This kind of violence floods a child’s brain with overwhelming fear. Prolonged and repeated exposure to high levels of stress can cause cognitive impairment, disrupt the development of major organs, and lead to stress-related diseases.

As one survivor puts it, “fear pervades all places, so it terrifies adults, let alone children. Until the recurring bangs were gone, the bangs became intermittent. But our confidence was shaken, for fear that these explosions might return”.

For these children who have endured so much, there must be hope. It is critical that they and their families get the support they need – now.

We have seen incredible signs of resilience, with children taking to the street with mops and brooms to clean their towns and rebuild their homes. They should not bear the burden alone. 

As a first step, the international community must provide immediate support for the emotional and mental needs of children and make a sustained commitment to their education and wellbeing. Afterall, there is no peace without peace of mind.  

To ensure long-lasting and sustainable peace, the international community needs to work with all parties for a just solution that tackles the root causes of this escalation of violence. This will only be achieved when equal rights are upheld for both Palestinian and Israeli children, ending the 14-year long blockade and the decades-long occupation.

The peace we forge now should be strong enough to sustain a secure childhood. No parent should hear their nine-year-old son ask, as one boy did: “Will God recognise us if we arrive to heaven in pieces? Will He put our pieces back together?”  

Atrocities like these can warp a child’s mind irreparably. They must never happen again.

daniel wordsworth

Daniel Wordsworth is the CEO of World Vision Australia.