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UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

‘I wish the war would end’ – Gaza’s children pay psychological cost of conflict

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-1405/El Baba
A boy cries, his head in his hands, at the funeral of two friends in the town of Beit Hanoun, a neighbourhood of Gaza City.

By Chris Niles

NEW YORK, USA, 12 January 2009 – The children of Gaza have three hours a day in which it’s safe, at least in theory, to go out. The humanitarian ceasefire does not always hold, but it provides a measure of relief for those who need to find food and water, or try to retrieve possessions from their former homes.

In Sheikh Radwan, children climb over the rubble, looking for familiar things, trying to make sense of what has happened to their community in the last two weeks.

“I was at Grandpa’s house,” said Ehab, 12. “I heard the shelling and ran away. I saw the house being shelled. The windows broke as well as the door. All of it gone, there is no longer a house.”

Conflict intensifies

Across Gaza, the story is the same as the conflict intensifies into ground incursions. According to the Ministry of Health, at least 854 Palestinians have been killed and more than 3,680 injured.

UNICEF estimates that 400,000 people in the territory do not have piped water. The World Health Organization warns that the health system is close to collapse.

© UNICEF video
A bombed building in Sheikh Radwan, Gaza, where children are enduring a third week of armed conflict.

“We have no electricity and no gas. Look at the electricity wires – all of them are down,” said one woman, describing how her house was destroyed. “There is no water…. Where shall we eat? There is no wheat and no bread, nothing.”

‘Safe spaces must be created’

As terrifying as the daily danger is, what makes it worse for children is that there is no escape. There are no bomb shelters, and the borders are closed. UNICEF reports a new phenomenon of children so shocked that they are unable to speak.

“Nowhere is safe for children and their families in Gaza at the moment,” said UNICEF Representative in the Occupied Palestinian Territory Patricia McPhillips. “There needs to be an end to hostilities so we can truck in urgently required water, medicine and other life-saving assistance for children. And until the fighting ends, safe spaces must be created in Gaza so we can deliver our pre-positioned supplies.”

But despite all they have witnessed over the past two weeks, Gaza’s children continue to hope that the future will be better.

“I wish to live like all children of the world,” said a boy named Mahmoud. “I wish the war would end and we can go back to school.”




11 January 2009:
UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on the psychological impact on children as the conflict in Gaza intensifies in its third week.
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