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The impact of explosive weapons on children in Gaza

For the last decade, civilians – and in particular children – have borne the brunt of the hostilities in Gaza. The territory has faced three prominent conflicts in the last 12 years: the Gaza War in 2008, the Israeli-Gaza conflict of 2014 and the Israeli-Gaza conflict of 2018.  And each offensive have ruptured the lives of families across the beleaguered territory.

According to UNICEF, there are an estimated one million children in the Gaza Strip. Indeed, in 2016 approximately 40% of the population there was estimated to be under the age of 15. As such it is perhaps inevitable that, as well as malnutrition and disease, the repeated use of explosive weapons over Gaza has resulted in significantly high mortality rates and injuries on children living there. Such repeated use has had a profoundly negative impact on their mental health along with significantly compromising their educational development.  

In recent years, Gaza has faced repeated explosive violence in the form of air-launched explosive weapons, notably the use of aerial bombing and ground to ground missiles. According to the UN, the use of airstrikes by Israel against Gaza increased significantly during the 2014 war. It estimated that Gaza suffered some 6,000 airstrikes and 50,000 tank and artillery shells over 51 days. This bombing resulted in 1,462 Palestinian deaths, a third of whom were children. 

Save the Children was to report that all child deaths during the 2014 conflict were caused by explosive weapons.  

AOAV was to record some 3,813 civilian deaths and injuries from explosive weapons in Gaza in 2014. Almost all of these (98%) occurred between 7 July and 26 August, in what has been termed ‘Operation Protective Edge’. The majority of civilian casualties recorded by AOAV from explosive violence in Gaza in that year were caused by the use of aerial weapons (53%), such as air-dropped bombs or missiles. Shelling and other ground-launched explosive weapons accounted for the approximately 47% remaining civilian casualties in 2014, according to AOAV‘s data. 

Since 2014, Gaza has continued to be impacted by sporadic escalations in violence. AOAV has recorded some 329 civilian casualties between 2015 and 2019, with 148 occurring in 2019.  

Impact on Children
It is clear, then, that explosive violence presents a great threat to the children of Gaza. Failure to observe international laws by both sides has meant children in the conflict zone have not benefited from the protection that legislation should provide. For example, Israel was to exonerate itself for the killings of four children on a beach in Gaza by missile strike, saying it was targeting a military compound. Journalists who attended the scene in the immediate aftermath reported that the compound was, in fact, a small fishing hut.

Physical Health 
Use of explosive weapons in Gaza has contributed to high rates of physical disability in children. In the 2014 conflict alone, 3,436 children were injured, of which 10% reportedly suffered a permanent disability.

In Gaza, those children with disabilities often receive little support. The U.K. government’s Department for International Development found that schools there do not have the infrastructure to adequately assist children with disabilities. A 2011 survey conducted by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics also found that 42.2% of people in Gaza with disabilities never enrolled into school, some 27.1% dropped out and 56.3% were illiterate. This has contributed to the 90% unemployment rates in disabled individuals in Gaza. Children with these disabilities may require lifelong care and support, however specialist care is frequently unavailable in Gaza.

Psychological Health
Unsurprisingly, Gaza’s children are also psychologically impacted by exposure to explosive weapons. Aside from risk of injury or death, living in a volatile environment presents a substantial threat to children’s mental health and development.  Palestinian children exposed to bombardment in the Gaza strip were found to have much higher levels of severe PTSD than those in areas not exposed – but those in non-exposed areas also have higher levels of anxiety than to be expected for children their age.

According to the World Health Organisation, half of Palestine’s children between 6-12 years old suffer emotional and behavioural disorders. 78% of caregivers in Gaza reported that children and young people were most scared of bombing and the sound of aircrafts, according to a study conducted by Save the Children. The same study also found that mental impacts of explosive violence intensify with a child’s increasing proximity to the Gaza-Israeli border. Two-thirds of children in schools close to the border deal with psycho-social distress.  

In an environment riddled with conflict and injury, facing limited resources due to border blockades, mental health services are not equipped to deal with a staggering number of cases. According to a study conducted in November 2019, some 26,000 children currently require immediate mental health support due to the ongoing volatility in Gaza. A study for the International Journal of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that 25.6% of Palestinian youth had experienced suicidal thoughts; a significantly greater number than the average in teenagers in the Middle East and globally.  

Education 
The reverberating impacts of explosive weapon use has exacerbated the difficulties of accessing education in Gaza. 63% of children profiled in a 2019 study said that they felt scared when they were not in the presence of their parents. This has had a notable impact on children’s desire to attend school. The same study found that 57% of children felt ‘only a little safe’ or ‘only sometimes safe’ at school, with only 26% feeling ‘safe’ at school.  

Schools are frequently closed due to airstrikes by Israeli forces. School closures impacted an estimated 637,195 children in Gaza from 12 to 13 November 2019 alone, during a period of escalated explosive violence.  

Explosive violence can also impact education permanently; in the 2014 conflict 249 schools were destroyed by airstrikes. As schools are being destroyed, or cleared by Hamas to use for military purposes, it appears unlikely that the education system in Gaza will be able to meet the rising demand for school places, effecting the development and learning of Gaza’s children.

The future holds little promise of improved prospects, as youth unemployment in Gaza stands at 60% according to the World Bank in 2018.  

Conclusion 
The children of Gaza have endured overwhelming threats to their development and their physical and psychological well being from explosive violence. Given the sporadic nature of explosive violence in Gaza, even in quiet periods the persistent threat prevents children from leading normal lives and profoundly impacts their emotional wellbeing. While violence has long had an impact on Gaza, it is clear that future generations will continue to be impacted.

For more research on the impact of explosive violence on children, please visit AOAV’s category page on this matter here.