In 1982, following Israel’s acts of aggression, and the mass killing of innocent children in Lebanon, the United Nations General Assembly declared 4 June of each year as the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression to commemorate children of the world who suffered physical, mental and emotional consequences because of wars and conflicts. This day affirms the UN’s commitment to protecting the rights of children as reflected in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). It provides a moment to reflect on what is needed to find lasting resolution to such conflicts.
39 years after the atrocity by Israel in Lebanon, we continue to witness war crimes in Gaza and Jerusalem that constitute grave breaches to the Geneva conventions designed to protect civilians during wars. In May 2021, this included clashes at the Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem after the Israeli police attempted to evict residents of Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood while Hamas armed group launched rockets towards Israeli population centres.
This conflict, between 10th to 25th May, led to more than 253 people being killed in Gaza, including 66 children. Alongside, 12 people including two children were killed in Israel. In response to this humanitarian crisis, states’ representatives and global actors are visiting Tel Aviv to support the ceasefire and help speed humanitarian assistance to Gaza.
Ending war crimes and injustice
The crisis makes it vitally important that we question the progress being made by the international community towards ending violence against children and implementing SDG 16 “to promote just, peaceful, and inclusive societies”. The world is still governed by conflicts that lead to bloody clashes and wars. Victims of this impotence are children. Here we are posed with pre-conflict and post-conflict actors that are not able to collaborate for a war-free world where children are safeguarded from conflict.
The pre-conflict actor mentioned is represented by world state powers that are not resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has been around for years and decades. The post-conflict actor is represented by humanitarian organisations that are involved during or after any war to try and relieve its calamities.
The humanitarian-development peace nexus has acknowledged that conflict resolution and prevention are critical towards ending humanitarian needs, reducing poverty, and ensuring sustainable development. “Sustainable development and durable solutions to displacement are not possible without peace”. This emphasises the importance of meeting emergency needs while ensuring longer-term solutions to address the causes of conflict and vulnerability and to support peace. This is essential for development to be sustainable.
The Humanitarian Centre at IDS explores the difficulties of linking relief and development to the complex and volatile nature of emergencies related to conflict peace and security. Humanitarian assistance provides short-term relief but does not address structural problems such as security and justice. Simply put, conflict cannot be addressed with humanitarian assistance alone.
The lived experience of protracted crisis
Children and youth’s memories are being marked with experiences of individual and collective traumas in addition to a history of exodus. Palestinian and other children were born and raised in their migrant communities in scattered places around the world. Those children were, and are still deprived of their basic rights, such as their right to safety and security, their right to land and property, and their right to live in peace and dignity.
Humanitarian aid provides children with their basic needs such as food security, education in emergencies, psychosocial support, but does not provide them with their right to dream, to achieve, and to live without resentment and anger.
“Prevention is better than cure”. Desiderius Erasmus
Looking forward, key is how we better protect those most vulnerable people of societies, especially children. Resolving or preventing conflicts by giving justice to people is as essential as food security to realising peace, stability and promote coexistence and reconciliation. It requires resolution of the struggle between humanitarian-development efforts, critical geopolitics and states power and their hegemony. This in turn relies on justice and the prevention of crimes against humanity within a global system that holds accountable those who commit violence and gives rights to innocent victims. If we can achieve this, then children globally could have the opportunity to develop and grow in healthy environments that promote their wellbeing and supports them to realise their ambitions.