There are especially grave concerns about the lives of children, after the deaths of at least 4000 children in Gaza since the Israel-Hamas war began.
It’s why 18 international aid agencies – including Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children – have now called for a ceasefire.
Israel, however, says it can’t enter a ceasefire until hostages taken by Hamas are freed and the group is removed from power.
Today, Save the Children’s Jason Lee on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and world editor for The Saturday Paper, Jonathan Pearlman, on why a ceasefire isn’t happening in the Middle East.
Hi, my name's Jason Lee. So I'm from Sydney, but I work here in the occupied Palestinian territory as the country director for Save the Children.
Unfortunately, kids in Gaza, they're used to conflict. This is not the first conflict. But the scale and the scope of what's happening now is really unprecedented. I think 40% of the civilian deaths are children. I mean, one child is killed every 10 minutes in Gaza right now.
Jason, can you tell me what the last few days have looked like for you? I want to know what a day in the life looks like for someone who's trying to get aid into Gaza right now.
So I'm based in Jerusalem and I can reflect on my day here. But also I want to reflect on the day of my team that are in Gaza, which I think is more relevant because, like the 1.4 million people that have been displaced, my team members in the same position. They've had to leave their homes, try to find shelter somewhere in the south, either in one of the seeking refugees in a school or a hospital, or I have other team members that are living with the families. And whenever there's an opportunity, we check in on them just to make sure that they're alive.
So this is pretty much the day to day of my team in Gaza, which in some respects mirrors what the average person is going through in Gaza, which is pretty dire.
Civilians don't have any place to live that's safe. You've got, again, 1.4 million people. That's 60% of the population that are homeless. And they're living in schools, in shelters that were designed for maybe one or 2000 people. And on average, these shelters are about four times the maximum capacity. So there's not enough bathrooms. I mean, I'll give you an example of one shelter in Khan Yunis, in the south. It's got 22 and a half thousand people in there. And there's, I think there's 16 bathrooms for 22 and a half thousand people and there's no running water. So, again, people are taking to open defecation outside because there's just no bathroom facilities. So when you've got that many people crowded into space, you can't have proper hygiene practices. There's no food, there’s no water. And every day, there's still airstrikes happening. So this is the reality of life for a person in Gaza right now.
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From Schwartz Media, I’m Ange McCormack. This is *7am*.
Jason Lee is Save the Children’s country director for the occupied Palestinian territories.
He’s been a humanitarian for more than 15 years, and says he’s never witnessed a crisis to the scale and scope of what’s happening in Gaza.
Now, his organisation is one of 18 international aid agencies who have jointly called for a ceasefire.
Israel, however, says it can’t enter a ceasefire until hostages taken by Hamas are freed and the group is removed from power.
Today, Save the Children’s Jason Lee on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and World Editor for *The Saturday Paper*, Jonathan Pearlman, on why a ceasefire isn’t happening in the Middle East.
It’s Friday, November 10th.
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Jonathan. So there's increasing pressure for Israel to agree to a cease-fire or at the very least, a humanitarian pause. Where are those calls coming from?
Yes, so that's right Ange. Some countries are using the word ceasefire and others are talking about a humanitarian pause. There's probably no formal definition for those but the distinction really seems to be about the matter of time. So we've seen some regional leaders calling for a ceasefire. The Foreign Minister of Jordan, Israel's neighbour, wants an immediate ceasefire, saying that the war is risking pushing the area into an abyss of hatred. Egyptian officials and Qatar have proposed humanitarian pauses for 6 to 12 hours a day to allow aid in and casualties to be evacuated. The US has stepped up its push for humanitarian pauses in Gaza. It started this more than a week ago. We saw Anthony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, visiting the Middle East and again urging Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to a pause. The US, and Australia for that matter, have not been calling for a ceasefire. They say that that would interfere with Israel's right to defend itself.
Israel's position is that it doesn't accept a ceasefire which would prevent it responding to Hamas' attack on October 7. Hamas is threatening more attacks and still firing rockets at Israel. And so Israel's position is that it wants to see Hamas removed and that a ceasefire would keep Hamas in power in Gaza. And there seems to be strong Israeli support for the government's position. That national mood is evident when you hear people in Israel who were victims of the attack or the families of the Hamas attack on October 7, and also from the families of hostages. So there is the question of the hostages. And Netanyahu has said that there will be no ceasefire without the return of the hostages. He said that this should be completely removed from the lexicon.
And Jonathan, obviously, the reason that more and more countries are calling for some kind of stop in the fighting is the death toll in Gaza, and around 40% of those killed are children. How is the Israeli government explaining those figures?
Yes Ange, so the death toll in Gaza is growing and it's been devastating. More than 10,000 people killed in Gaza, according to officials there, and more than 4000 children. Israel says that the high death toll is due to Hamas using civilian infrastructure, using schools and mosques and hospitals. And so Israel says that Hamas is deliberately using these facilities to effectively hide behind civilians and residents in Gaza. But there have been growing calls for Israel to try to reduce the number of casualties. The US government has reportedly told Israel to be more precise, to gather more extensive intelligence and use smaller bombs to reduce the risk of casualties. There's been growing pressure from the United Nations. The General Secretary Antonio Guterres said this week that Gaza is becoming a graveyard for children.
So civilians are still at risk in Gaza. And that is one reason that various aid groups have been calling for a ceasefire. And they are calling on all parties to respect their international obligations. So then it renewed calls for immediate and unconditional release of the civilians held hostage and a ceasefire. And among the groups calling for that are the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children.
Jason Lee, so you’re the country director for Save the Children, and you’re responsible for Gaza. Can you explain what Save the Children do?
Save the Children, we are a child rights organisation. We operate globally and the position that we take is very much based on principles of rights, human rights, especially the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. And these are all rights from the right to play, the right to education, the right to be a child, the right to be safe. And this is the foundation of all our work. And we are also guided by humanitarian principles and humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality, which means that we deliver assistance to the most vulnerable. We are not political. We don't pick any side. We advocate, with all duty bearers, to respect the rights of children, but we also advocate for duty bearers to be held to account when they don't. And this is all duty bearers. So irrespective of the situation that we work in, we always fight for the rights of all children and these are all the rights. And for duty bearers, no matter who they are, if they fail to meet its obligations to hold them accountable.
Jason, you've actually been working on getting aid trucks into Gaza, I understand. Can you explain what the challenges are right now, in terms of getting aid physically into Gaza? How does that work?
So normally, before the escalation, humanitarian personnel, so people, and goods used to come through crossings from Israel into Gaza. Those are closed at the moment. The only option that's available is through Egypt. The biggest barrier right now is humanitarian access. The numbers of trucks that are coming in is not enough to meet the actual need on the ground. The first day there were 20 trucks that came in. Now, to give you an example of how this is not enough, in that first 20 trucks, there was enough water for 22,000 people for one day. So that's 1% of the population for one day. A conservative estimate is that there needs to be at least 100 trucks coming into Gaza every day with life-saving assistance. This is life-saving assistance. The challenges that we're facing now are the actual coordination. How do we get the number of trucks in? They need to go through a very lengthy inspection process. Many of the trucks are not allowed through. What I've been able to bring in, great. We deliver them straight away, but it's not enough. It's barely enough to meet the needs of... I mean, we've got 1.4 million people that are homeless. They're looking for safety somewhere. Three trucks, 100 trucks, 200 trucks is not going to meet that need.
I mean, you've got a situation now in hospitals where surgeries are being performed without anaesthetics because they don't have the supplies. They've run out of supplies. They've run out of bandages. So they're using dish towels as bandages. You've got civilian doctors that are using their mobile phones as flashlights because there's no lights in the hospital.
Again, the thousands of children every day that are being injured that need lifesaving medical care, that they can't get to because the hospitals are overcrowded, they've got no supplies, they've got no electricity so they can't run. The 130 premature babies that are in the incubators now are at risk of dying if the fuel runs out and they can't keep them going.
This is, again, this is the situation for the entire 2.3 million people living in Gaza right now. And of the 2.3 million people in Gaza, half of them are kids.
After the break, how this war will shape a generation of children in the Middle East.
Jason, can you tell me about the challenges of getting accurate information about the situation right now? You know, how are you able to keep track of things like the death toll, injuries and damage inside Gaza, when there are such precarious communication lines and everything like that?
The Ministry of Health has been collating information. And by the way, this is the Ministry of Health in Ramallah on the Palestinian Authority side. And, of course, you know, they have people on the ground working with the Ministry of Health that are also in Gaza. And they're collecting information just like any ministry would do, and anywhere else in the rest of the world. I mean, when we have a natural disaster in Australia. Department of Health and Ageing, they collect information. They they they have the means to do so. And the ministry is doing the same thing. And I know there's been a lot of questions about the validity of or how reliable those numbers are, and we've actually looked back historically at previous conflicts at the official figures released by the ministry and compared them against the UN verified figures that are released as well. And they're pretty similar. I mean, they're very small differences, but definitely nothing that is statistically significant. And pretty much when you're looking at ballpark, it is more or less the same. But I also want to, to remind everyone the figures that we talk about, these are not just numbers. These are children. These are everyday kids that have dreams, ambitions and hopes like everyone else. And this is why it's really, really important that we push for a ceasefire, but also for adherence to international law. If we fail in this, this will be the legacy of the international community. Our failure to protect the hopes and the dreams of children.
Jason, we've heard about the deaths of dozens of aid workers in Gaza over the last few weeks. Can you talk to me about how dangerous it is for aid staff right now and what you're hearing from and what you're concerned about, in terms of your staff inside Gaza?
Yeah, look, I am really concerned about my teams. There's ongoing airstrikes in the north and the south, so there is nowhere in Gaza that is safe right now. Despite the fact that people were told to evacuate and move to the south. People are still being killed in the south because of airstrikes and shelling. And there've been lots of humanitarian workers that have been killed whilst trying to either find people to give assistance or we're trying to deliver assistance, trying to transport assistance. So this is why there's such a high number of aid workers that have been killed. There's such a high number of health workers that have been killed. Because, again, the airstrikes and the shelling are happening near hospitals and sometimes hitting the hospitals as well, whilst the doctors and nurses inside working and they've been killed or injured because of them.
And Jason, your organisation's goal is to protect children. What concerns do you have about the children who you do manage to save? I mean, how will this war and its trauma shape a generation of children in the Middle East?
One of the things that is so difficult to quantify, and people forget, is the longer-term mental health impact on children. Especially young kids. Young kids now may not understand what's happening, but they see everything that's happening around them. They hear everything that's happening around them. And they feel, they feel the terror and the fear. My hope, and the only way that we can secure future for children in Palestine and in Israel, is to have a long lasting, peaceful and durable solution that respects the rights of all children. And this is all children. Every single right applies to all children, no matter who they are or where they are, or what circumstances they're in. We don't get to pick and choose which rights to defend, for which children and when it's convenient to do so.
Now only then, when you have an actual, equitable and long-lasting, peaceful solution that addresses the rights of children, that they're kept safe, that they have access to the things that all kids do, like being able to go to school and being able to go to the doctors, being able to play outside. And you give them the therapy and the treatment and support that they need to rebuild their lives. This is how we manage and we heal the kids that are going through this event right now. If we don't, these children will carry not only the physical scars that they do from the injuries, but also the emotional and mental trauma of going through this.
Jason Lee, thanks so much for your time today.
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Also in the news today …
Optus has handed down its annual financial results, just one day after its network crashed across the country.
Its Singapore-based parent company Singtel, lauded the profit results. But Communications Minister Michelle Rowland says the outage was so concerning the Federal Government will launch a review into how it happened.
The United Nations’ refugee agency has welcomed the Australian High Court’s decision that indefinite immigration detention is unlawful.
Its representative in Australia Adrian Edwards, said in a statement: “the decision has the potential to begin to align Australia’s immigration detention practices with international law.”
*7am* is a daily show from *The Monthly* and *The Saturday Paper*.
It’s produced by Kara Jensen-Mackinnon, Cheyne Anderson and Zoltan Fesco.
Our senior producer is Chris Dengate. Our technical producer is Atticus Bastow.
Our editor is Scott Mitchell. Sarah McVeigh is our head of audio. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief.
Mixing by Andy Elston, Travis Evans, and Atticus Bastow.
Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.
I’m Ange McCormack and next week, Scott Mitchell will be hosting *7am* while I’m on leave. Thanks for listening.
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