4 August 2014

SOS Children’s Villages and the Israel-Gaza conflict: Children are the most vulnerable victims

Children have been disproportionately affected by the Israel – Gaza conflict, 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.

SOS Children’s Villages has no political affiliation and is working hard to remind all parties of their fundamental obligation under international human rights law to protect the safety of children.

So far, more than 1,500 Palestinians and more than 60 Israelis have been killed in the latest outbreak of violence over Gaza.

In Israel: Children too afraid to leave their mothers' sides

Children are suffering in Israel. Missiles have struck cities and camps around Neradim, where one of our Israeli villages 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. SOS Children’s Villages ensures that all of the children are trained in how to respond to the alarm.

None of the children have suffered physical harm, but staff, SOS 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 will not use the bathroom alone in case the alarm is sounded.

Some of the children have relatives in southern cities that 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. Sadly, many of the older children remember this kind of violence from earlier outbreaks, but that has not made the latest round any less frightening.

In Gaza: “I feel like I am in a nightmare”

The conflict has escalated dramatically over the last few weeks, and the sound of bombs has rattled our village in Rafah, a city in the southern Gaza strip, for weeks. Though no one has been harmed, SOS mothers are alert to the possibility of attack.

"The last 2 to 3 days have been very hard. There has been a lot of shelling and bombing," Samy Ajjour, Family-Based Care Coordinator in Rafah, said.

"Although the last few days have been hard, we are currently able to meet all our essential needs. No bombs have landed directly on our Children’s Village. However, they have been within earshot. We can see and feel the impact.”

The homes and buildings which make up the village are constantly shaken by shellfire, and staff members were unable to reach work because the continuous bombardment meant it was 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 said. “I don't know what tomorrow will bring to me and my family.”

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