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War in Gaza - Children and Civilians Pay the Highest Price

15 January 2009

Child mortality and morbidity in Gaza continue to escalate as a result of the military action taken by Israel.  An editorial and series of reports on the conflict have been published in the Lancet.  These, together with case studies highlighted by the United Nations and International Committee of the Red Cross, illustrate the extreme humanitarian consequences resulting from the Israeli invasion of the Gaza strip.

Based on Ministry of Health data reported by the UN OCHA, as of 14 January, there were 1,013 Palestinian fatalities, of whom 322 are children and 76 are women.  There were also 4,560 injured Palestinians, of whom 1,600 are children and 678 are women.

Therefore, within Gaza, children and women comprise 39.3% of deaths, 50.0% of injuries, and 48.0% of total casualties.  Given the nature of the weaponry used by Israel it is inconceivable that all of the remaining 52% of casualties were the result of precision targeting of combatants.  It is evident that civilians form a clear majority of all the Palestinian casualties in the war so far, and that half of all casualties are women and children.

In contrast, Israeli casualties up to the same time point comprise 13 fatalities and 58 injuries, (not including those treated for shock).  Of the fatalities, 69% were military personnel.

These casualty data are indicative of a military campaign being waged in an indiscriminate, disproportionate, and therefore under International Humanitarian Law, illegal fashion.  Failure of the international community to ensure legal culpability would provide military forces around the world with a clear message that the Geneva Conventions can be discarded with impunity, as in Gaza today.  If this happens, children and women will continue to pay heavily in future conflicts.

What can the international health community do in response to this unacceptable state of affairs? We can act as citizens and advocate to our political representatives. We can participate in direct civic actions such as boycotting Israeli goods. We can contribute money and material support to humanitarian efforts in Gaza.  And we can also join and support one of the many health-based civil society groups that campaign on human rights and peace issues, or who call for improved monitoring and surveillance of the conduct of war and its health effects. 1

Andrew Seal MSc PhD; David McCoy BMed DrPH (UK); Carlos Grijalva Eternod BSc MSc; Audrey Prost BA PhD; Mary Wickenden BMedSci MSc; Joanna Morrison BSc MSc; Filippo Dibari MSc MSc; Paloma Garcia-Paredes BA MPPM; Jolene Skordis MCom PhD; Mike Rowson MSc; Sonia Lewycka MSc; Anthony Costello BChir FRCPCH

UCL Centre for International Health and Development

1Such organisations include: Physicians for Human Rights; Medact; Peoples Health Movement; and IPPNW