The Children of War

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There are three images that have run through my mind since the end of Operation Protective Edge.

The first shows a beach in Gaza. Decrepit buildings line the shore, leaving the siege’s poor reflection lingering in the ocean.  Behind, four children, using sticks stuck in the ground for goals, play football. It is a universal image. From the beaches of Rio to the estates of London, if there is space and there are children, there is likely football. But minutes after the picture was taken, an Israeli rocket thumped against the beach; killing all four.

The second shows a playground in Israel. In front of a slide and a pair of lifeless swings, an askew chair falls into a black crater left by a Hamas rocket. In lieu of an explosion, it had seemingly shrouded the area – so often the sight of joyful laughter – in silence. A reminder that though there were no child casualties on the Israeli side, it was not compassion from Hamas which brought about such good fortune.

And for the third, we return to Gaza. This time the setting is urban –befitting the most densely populated area on Earth. However, there is only one solitary figure in this picture. A girl of no more than 14 cuts a sharp white figure against the grey destruction of her home. She is salvaging what she can of her book collection; distinguishing the innocent fantasy of childhood from the rubble of her home.

Three images out of thousands. The first is a cruel reminder of the child casualties that have taken place – 418 Palestinian kids in just a month. And, though estimates are hard to come by now – Oxford Research Group reported that as of December 2013, 11,420 children had died in the now three years of Syrian civil war. It is painful to think what that number has risen to now.

The second two images leave us, we think, with more hope. No Israeli children were reportedly killed and the Palestinian girl had survived. But the war isn’t over for them.

Those two images remind me of a story my mother once told me about an Iraqi boy who had come to London after living through the Iraq war. She had the class draw and his came back, not the usual cacophony of bright colours, but a black square with red gashes. He would tell her that this was his “window”. He claimed to see it every night. She later realised it was the news that his mum would watch every night at 9 o’clock, showing the war that he was trying so hard to escape.

Many children will never escape their wars. The World Health Organisation estimates that of the 3,000 injured children in Gaza, 1,000 will suffer a lifelong disability. An estimated 1,500 will grow up – perhaps to be doctors or lawyers – but certainly without parents; orphaned in the war. The United Nations estimates that 373,000 children in Gaza “require direct and specialized psychological support”. This impact cannot be overestimated.

And then there is Amerli. A small town in Northern Iraq which resisted an ISIS siege for two months. Kids, not old enough to buy the Call of Duty video games had to carry AK-47’s just to survive.

There are countless stories of countless children scattered all over the world, who have been thrust into war zones that they may never escape. And while the Western world discusses allying with Assad in the name of “pragmatism” and Abbas refuses to sign the Rome Statute in order that both Israel and Hamas face court for their actions, it is important to remember the innocence they have destroyed.

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