Reclaiming Innocence: A plea for peace and hope in the Gaza Strip
Children across the Gaza Strip devastated by a lost childhood
For Ghazal, a 14-year-old, from Khuza’a village, near Khan Younis City, childhood is a distant memory, eclipsed by the ongoing hostilities. “I do not want anyone to ask me about my childhood anymore, I have no childhood, I only live in terror,” says Ghazal. On the very first day of hostilities, she bid farewell to her cherished home, reduced to ruins by a bombardment. She and her family sought refuge in a UNRWA school in Khan Younis, where hundreds of displaced families are now sheltering.
Today, a staggering 1,6 million people are internally displaced, half of whom are children. They are seeking refuge in UN facilities, schools, hospital grounds and public buildings, with extremely limited safe water, food and sanitation. These shelters are not even safe from attack and the risk of disease outbreak rises by the day.
Within the confines of a 20-square meter classroom, Ghazal shares space with her five siblings and three other families, forging an intimate bond of survival amid the harsh reality of their circumstances. Sadly, Ghazal has experienced this pain before. The scars of the 2014 hostilities still linger, her home was destroyed, and she was displaced for over two years.
“I left everything behind,” she recounts with a heavy heart, reflecting on the abandonment of her belongings, and the chaos that marked her past. The present is equally devastating, "I cannot stand this life, I cannot stand living in a school shelter, I cannot stand the idea that this is becoming normal for us.” She echoes the voices of every child living the harsh reality of displacement.
As the hostilities intensify, the toll of people seeking refuge in shelters becomes increasingly unbearable. The severe shortages of essential necessities, such as food, water, and fuel exacerbate the already dire conditions within the shelters. Overwhelmed by the sheer volume of displaced families, the facilities struggle to meet even their basic needs.
Ghazal sheds light on the grim reality within the classrooms-turned-shelters. In a desperate attempt to provide some privacy, the spaces are designated for women at night. However, the hygiene situation and bathrooms paint a chaotic and unmanageable picture. Ghazal describes the state of the school bathrooms, with lines longer than most can endure. “How am I going to handle living the same nightmare every day and every night?” she questions. The desperation in her words mirrors the broader struggle faced by those grappling with the harsh reality of displacement and deteriorating living conditions. “So no one ever asks me about my childhood again," says Ghazal.
The safety of children and families within these facilities is paramount, international humanitarian law dictates that civilian infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals, and shelters must be respected and protected at all times. UNICEF and many others are working to improve access to essential needs, such as water and food and improving sanitation conditions.
UNICEF calls for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and for sustained, safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance. It is a collective obligation to reclaim the stolen childhood of these children and all children, wherever they are. Too many children have been killed and injured already.