The Temple Mount - the golden Dome of the Rock mosque in the old city of Jerusalem, Israel

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Silent tragedy: Palestinian women and children struggling for basic human rights in the Hamas-Israeli conflict

Lebanese journalist Batoul Yazbeck breaks down the latest developments in Gaza, and shines a light on some of the most vulnerable people in the world right now, Palestinian women and children.

As a journalist, I’m going to do something rare. I’m going to make a request of you as a reader to please actively approach this article with an open heart and a well-informed mind. 

I’m going to ask that you shed your preconceived notions and embrace the historical, legal, and political intricacies that form the bedrock of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. 

Rather, my frame for this story is that I want to both describe the present conflict and importantly, to highlight the people with the least power in the present situation, that is, Palestinian women and children who are suffering and in pain right now. 

Okay. So what is the latest situation in Gaza?

Of utmost concern is the ongoing conflict between Hamas and Israel, now in its twelfth day. Following an unexpected attack orchestrated by Hamas militants on October 7, 2023, that killed at least 1300 Israelis. Israel’s government has responded by escalating its siege on Gaza. This has caused a dire shortage of vital resources such as water, food, and power. The intensified clampdown is accompanied by a relentless aerial assault, which suggests a broader ground invasion may be imminent. It is imperative that immediate action is taken to protect innocent civilians caught in the crossfire and to prevent further escalation of this devastating conflict.

The present conditions in Gaza appear more harrowing than any earlier period, reminiscent of the distress faced by Palestinian refugees who sought shelter there during the tumultuous events of 1948 when Israel was first established. Tragically, over 130,000 individuals have been compelled to abandon their homes as relentless airstrikes continue to devastate the densely populated enclave, resulting in a devastating death toll. As of the time of writing this report, human losses are estimated to be at least 4000 people, including hundreds of children killed and more than 11,000 people wounded.

Amidst the escalating crisis in Gaza, an ever-growing chorus of human rights and humanitarian advocates raises their voices in condemnation. They view the unfolding tragedy not only as a poignant tableau but also as a stark testament to the global community's failure to safeguard the fundamental needs of innocent people. Trapped by the turmoil, these victims find their escape routes barricaded, making it nearly impossible for them to seek refuge from the relentless armed conflict. This dire situation is acutely felt by women who have suddenly lost their homes, children whose lives have been tragically cut short by the bombing that obliterated their dwellings, and elderly individuals who are confined to their residences, unable to escape the maelstrom of violence.

Women and children in Gaza bear the brunt of the armed political and existential conflict

After Israel's directive to relocate 1.1 million people from the north to the south, the decision has triggered widespread panic and suffering, particularly among tens of thousands living in an area that has endured economic stagnation for 16 years due to Israeli blockades.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has described the situation in Gaza as “abhorrent” as residents scramble for basic necessities such as food and water and struggle to get medical care in hospitals at the breaking point. At present, the UN Population Fund reports that 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza face dire challenges in accessing healthcare facilities due to the destruction of multiple hospitals through bombings.

Furthermore, newborns relying on incubators in hospitals are under imminent threat in the event of power outages, as highlighted by Fabrizio Carboni, the regional director for the Near and Middle East at the ICRC. That is in addition to concerns about the spread of epidemics rising due to the influx of people in hospitals while children there are already contracting smallpox, according to UNRWA.

And as the conflict between Israel and Gaza intensifies, the situation has grown increasingly dire. The most recent tragedy unfolded with Israel's airstrike on Gaza City's Al-Ahali Baptist Hospital, resulting in a devastating loss of over 500 (at least) lives, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. This incident marks a grim milestone in the history of the region, as it stands as the deadliest single strike carried out by Israel in Gaza.

This is compounded by the fact that essential women's health requirements, including those related to communicable diseases and reproductive health (such as sanitary products and protection against transmitted skin, reproductive, and urinary diseases), have been overshadowed by the overwhelming scale of the crisis. Furthermore, it is worth noting that all children in the besieged strip are being denied their fundamental right to education, where academic year in the MENA region.

The aftermath of the conflict in Lebanon and the urgent appeals for neutrality and the avoidance of entanglement in a regional war

Undoubtedly, the ongoing conflict has spilled over into neighboring Lebanon, a country with a deep-seated history of hostilities with the country Israel, which it regards as its adversary. On the flip side, Lebanon's current government with the conflicting interests and influences of various regional and global powers, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and even Russia, are each vying for a foothold in the Arab region. Simultaneously, Lebanon contends with myriad crises of such magnitude that they've eroded any prospects for positive change, leaving its citizens wary of any armed confrontation that could exacerbate these challenges and relegate them to the sidelines in the shadow of the looming specter of war.

Amid the ongoing conflict, concerns have arisen about its potential spillover into Lebanon. These apprehensions were further fueled by Hezbollah's attempts to intervene in support of Hamas, a move that could draw Lebanon into a needless and devastating conflict. Such a situation would expose Lebanese citizens to the grim prospect of a humanitarian catastrophe, given their already fragile economic and social conditions due to financial and institutional collapse. They would be left without a sanctuary or an escape route, especially since their neighboring countries to the south are embroiled in the ongoing conflict, while turmoil engulfs Syria to the north and east.

In response to this, a groundswell of popular dissent has emerged, condemning local involvement and the broader specter of regional warfare. This opposition has been sparked by ongoing skirmishes along the Lebanese-Israeli border, resulting in the tragic loss of innocent lives, including elderly citizens, as well as the murder of Reuters photojournalist Issam Al-Abdullah by Israeli forces, with six other journalists wounded in airstrikes. The Lebanese government has decried these actions and filed a formal complaint with the international community.

What is our accountability for the unfolding events as journalists, human rights advocates and women all around the world?

There is an unmistakable and pressing imperative at this moment to address the ongoing crisis. It calls upon the international community to shed their entrenched political stances and instead cast their gaze upon the innocent lives being tragically squandered in a conflict they bear no responsibility for. It is incumbent upon the world to halt and take notice, not due to any self-serving interests, but for the profound reason that history will indelibly etch our collective silence concerning the chronic loss of life and the historical injustice inflicted upon civilians, including the most vulnerable among us—children, women, and the defenseless—who cry out for compassion and mercy.