Open letter on the urgent situation of children’s rights in the OPT following 100 days of war in Gaza  

Girl in OPT

History will not judge inaction favourably - Terre des Hommes’ open letter on the urgent situation of children’s rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory following 100 days of war in Gaza

As an international child rights organisation working in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), we as Terre des Hommes are writing to world leaders to express our outrage at the grave and urgent situation facing Palestinian children, and to call upon them to act urgently to achieve a peaceful resolution. 

From Gaza to the West Bank, including East Jerusalem: Palestinian children are under attack. Children in the OPT live under a constant threat of violence, injury, and death. No Palestinian child is safe. 

For decades, children and their families in the OPT have experienced chronic protection concerns such as military detention of children, multiple grave violations of children’s rights, including killing, attacks on schools and hospitals, and reliance on humanitarian assistance as a result of Israeli home demolitions, blockade and forced displacement leading to the longest unresolved refugee crisis in the world. Children in particular face severe physical and psychological trauma as a result. The brutal violence experienced by Palestinian children and their communities will resonate for generations.

In this context, the most recent Israeli military offensive in Gaza, launched in retaliation to the Hamas-led attacks and hostage-taking in southern Israel on 7th October, has resulted in disproportionate and irreversible damage to children’s lives.  Echoing the words of a UNICEF spokesperson:  Terre des Hommes teams across the OPT are bearing witness to a war against Palestinian children.  

In Gaza, as of 14th January, Israeli bombardments and airstrikes have killed over 23,960 people and injured over 60,580, and approximately seventy per cent of these fatalities are women and children. Forty percent of the population in Gaza is under the age of fifteen years old. For every ten minutes that the war in Gaza continues, another child is killed. Over 10,000 children have been killed and thousands more injured. Approximately 1.9 million people in Gaza, some 85 % of the population have been displacedhalf of them are children.  

In addition to the bombardments, the Israeli military siege is perpetuating a form of collective punishment on civilians, and children are disproportionately impacted. Severe restrictions of food, water and petrol have led to the decimation of health, education, civil and communication infrastructure. Children’s right to health has been compromised by the spread of communicable diseases, including over 60,000 cases of diarrhea in children under five years old, and heightened the risk of famine. More than 130,000 babies in Gaza, those aged under 2 years old, are not receiving critical life-saving breastfeeding and age-appropriate complementary feeding practices. Children and family members who survive attacks cannot access the care that they need. Gazan children’s right to education is disappearing : by mid-December, over 70% of Gaza’s education infrastructure, including schools and universities, had been destroyed. The United Nations Secretary General has called the situation in Gaza ‘a humanitarian nightmare’ and expressed deep concern about “violations of international humanitarian law”.  

“My life is hard, hard, hard, very hard. What do you expect?” Twelve-year old girl, Gaza

Every child in Gaza is suffering. Whether they have lost a family member or friend, watched their home be destroyed, been forced to leave their neighbourhoods and take shelter in temporary refuges, children in Gaza live in constant fear for their lives and their loved ones. Their whole existence is permeated by the earthshattering destruction and incomprehensible violence of war. Even children who will live to see the next ceasefire are traumatized and will live with debilitating memories for the rest of their lives. 

“We are all in danger. Most people feel the anger. It is dangerous for everyone. Even our homes are dangerous. There is no safe place” – Adolescent girl, Nablus

Meanwhile, in the West Bank, Terre des Hommes teams also bear witness to an alarming increase of human rights violations experienced by Palestinian children and their families. Since 7th October 2023 and as of 14th January 2024, 339 Palestinians, including 88 children, have been killed in the West Bank. Curfews have been imposed across the West Bank, preventing Palestinians from accessing vital services and suspending ordinary life. Israeli forces have accelerated demolitions of Palestinian homes and increased the number of civilian arrests, compounding longstanding mistreatment of children in Israeli military detention who are subjected to physical and psychological abuse. 

Terre des Hommes teams in Gaza and the West Bank continue to provide life-saving support to children and their families. Nevertheless, our operations have been severely impacted by the grave situation across the OPT. In Gaza, as Terre des Hommes teams face acute shortages of food and water while they grapple with the turmoil of displacement and loss of loved ones, they are still actively facilitating humanitarian aid, including heath, sanitation and protection services, to those in need.  In the West Bank, Terre des Hommes teams can no longer access Hebron, Nablus and Jenin, yet we continue to support remotely by working closely with our partner community-based organisations.  

We continue to be moved by the strength of Palestinian children and young people who are standing up to denounce violations of their rights. In Gaza, children convened a press conference calling for an end to hostilities. Other children are mobilizing on social media to bear witness to the violence they are experiencing. In our own conversations with children, they have told us that they crave safety and yearn for peace. 

Terre des Hommes stands alongside these children and calls on world leaders to stop the war on children in the OPT, which jeopardizes the principle of humanity that lies at the heart of international law. 

The world is waking up to the urgency of taking action to uphold the integrity of international law and the imperative to prevent escalation of the conflict in the wider Middle East region. South Africa has brought a case concerning alleged violations by Israel of its obligations under the Genocide Convention to the International Court of Justice. European Union officials are warning that war may spread to neighbouring countries.

At this time of unprecedented crisis, bold leaders will be remembered for decisive steps to stop the war against Palestinian children. History will not judge inaction favourably.

We call on world leaders to ensure that parties comply with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law, notably regarding the protection of civilians and particularly children; to enable accountability processes so that violations of children’s human rights are not met with impunity; to secure immediate and unimpeded humanitarian access; and to prioritise diplomatic channels to secure the release of all hostages.

We call on world leaders to do everything in their power to accelerate efforts towards an immediate and durable ceasefire, as a prerequisite for a just and lasting peace that will enable all children in the OPT to fully enjoy their rights.

Signed by: 

  • Valérie Ceccherini, Secretary General, Terre des Hommes International Federation    
  • Barbara Hintermann, Director General, Terre des hommes Lausanne 

The statement was sent directly to more than 30 relevant leaders, offices and institutions, including United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and President of the Swiss Confederation Viola Amherd.  

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