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Nearly 40 children living the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have lost their lives so far in 2022.

Most recently, 17 children were killed in the Gaza Strip from Aug. 5-7, and two more were killed by the actions of Israeli law enforcement on Aug. 9 in the West Bank. On Aug. 11, United Nation’s Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet expressed concern about the number of children killed and wounded in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Loss of life is only part of the problem, as 151 of the 360 Palestinian casualties during August were children.

Pro-Palestinian groups are attributing the heavy casualties to deliberate Israeli strikes on civilian targets. Pro-Israeli groups point out that Palestinians indiscriminately launched rockets and mortars into civilian areas, causing 70 Israeli casualties during the August conflicts.

The destruction of civilian targets, including schools, is nothing new in the region.

For example, Israeli airstrikes in May 2021 damaged 50 schools in the Gaza Strip, impacting over 41,000 children. These strikes resulted in the deaths of 63 Palestine children and 450 pediatric injuries.

Three schools were damaged in southern Israel by rockets launched from Gaza, resulting in the death of two Israeli children.

While both sides blame the other for these tragedies, it is clear neither side is taking necessary precautions to minimize the risk to defenseless children and other non-combatants.

Following a Human Rights Watch investigation into the May 2021 conflict, Eric Goldstein, then acting Middle East and North Africa director for HRW, stated: “The failure of both Hamas authorities and the Israeli government to provide accountability for alleged war crimes by their forces highlights the essential role of the International Criminal Court.”

Similarly, in her August 2022 statement, Bachelet reminded combatants on both sides that “international humanitarian law is clear. Launching an attack which may be expected to incidentally kill or injure civilians, or damage civilian objects, in disproportionate manner to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated is prohibited.”

These rules exist to protect needed civilian infrastructure and, more importantly, the lives of innocent non-combatants, like children.

Israel and Palestine are not the only places where children are suffering the pains of war.

UNICEF reported on Aug. 22, 2022, that at least 972 children have been wounded or killed in the Ukraine-Russia conflict since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion began.

While the fog of war makes official numbers difficult, it is believed that around 300 children have died since the Russian invasion commenced, but that number could be much higher.

Russia has denied targeting civilians, but officials estimate that 1 in 10 Ukrainian schools and 400 medical facilities have been damaged or destroyed. This has an impact upon the health and welfare of the nation’s current and future residents.

Both Ukrainian and Palestinian children are suffering the trauma of war, resulting in death, a shortage of medical care and a basic education, among other negative impacts, because of both indiscriminate or targeted attacks.

This is not just a problem in a few countries; it is a global epidemic which needs to stop.

For over 25 years, UNICEF has tracked the plight of children caught in conflict zones.  Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Nigeria, the Philippines and Syria have all been hot spots for children caught in armed conflict. In many cases, children have been forced into taking up arms.

From 2010-2019, UNICEF and the UN verified over 170,000 human rights violations against children in conflict zones. These violations often are related to educational and health care resources.

The UN has documented over 13,900 attacks against schools and medical facilities since 2005. While some governments have defended such attacks, claiming that schools and medical facilities were being used by enemy combatants, the UN has only documented around 2,000 such cases of combatants using schools.

Save the Children estimates that 450 million children, or 1 in 5 worldwide, are living in a conflict zone, and the number of conflict zones has steadily increased since 2010.

The world’s leaders have looked the other way for far too long, resulting in generations of children who have grown up traumatized by conflict without an adequate education.

The death of children breeds resentment, generating anger that festers until it erupts in horrific violence and acts of terror.  Even the accidental destruction of schools or other civilian resources generates unnecessary violence.

If action is not taken to break the cycle, we will see intensified hatred between warring groups, resulting in decades of continued armed conflict that negatively impact everyone in the theaters of war.

In the case of Ukraine and Palestine, intentional and unintentional violence towards civilians does nothing to facilitate a peaceful and working arrangement between the civilian population and the occupying forces.

This results in more violence, with generations of children suffering the repeated cycles of violence.

People of faith and the moral community must call upon world leaders to put an end to combatants who target non-combatants and the places in which they take refuge.

Whether deliberate attacks or collateral damage, violence against children and civilian assets like schools, houses of worship, community centers and medical facilities must stop.

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