Dec 5, 2023

This Is a War on Children, and 'Safe Zones' Are Death Traps: UNICEF

By Juan Cole /
This Is a War on Children, and 'Safe Zones' Are Death Traps: UNICEF

Gaza was a free-fire zone on Saturday and Sunday, with UN officials saying that no place in the Strip is safe. Hundreds were killed, almost all of them innocent noncombatants, and including a worrisome number of children.

Although Israel tried to pull the stunt of issuing a map with supposedly safe zones, almost no one in Gaza has access to the map because of electricity outages and lack of internet access. Moreover, many Palestinians don’t have transport, and there is nothing to eat or drink at those places anyway. Many are refusing to move again, since so many are already internally displaced persons crowded into inadequate United Nations Works and Relief Shelters, which lack sufficient food, water and other necessities for these hundreds of thousands of people made homeless.

CNN Morning anchor Isabel Rosales interviewed James Elder of UNICEF from Khan Younis, Gaza, in the supposedly safer south. Elder is an Australian national who lives in Sydney. His bio tag at LinkedIn says, “James Elder is Spokesperson for the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF). In this role he has responsibility for speaking on humanitarian crises across the globe, together with all key issues that affect children. In 2022 this role has meant five missions to Ukraine, and three to the Horn of Africa.”

Elder clearly is putting his life on the line to report on this gut punch of a humanitarian disaster for children in Gaza, over 6,000 of whom are already known to have been blasted to smithereens by Israeli Air Force pilots, with more thousands under the rubble, some of them dying slow deaths from dehydration before they expire. Gaza journalists are essentially putting out goodbye videos, saying they can no longer gather news, and that they may not survive the carpet bombing.

First Rosales played a video Elder had put out on social media in which he warned,

“We see more children with the wounds of war, with the burns, with the shrapnel littering their body, with the broken bones. Inaction by those with influence is allowing the killing of children. This is a war on children.”

Rosales asked him to describe the situation at the hospital where he was located at greater length:

“Utter panic. I’ve just been in a hospital with bombardments going on all around, I must say. As I was there, ten children came in with the wounds of war — ten, maybe, in a couple of hours, with horrendous wounds, with shrapnel to the brain, with eye injuries, with third degree bones. It is a war zone, that hospital. So there is panic among the people. Absolute. It changes every hour here. People don’t know where to go. They are almost in a trance. Children in the hospital, Isabel, grabbing me — mothers are grabbing me, saying take me somewhere safe. A little girl held me, and I try to take a moment always. She just had two empty water bottles. She’s in a hospital. “Please, can you put some water in them?” The water in the taps, it is salty, she can’t drink it. So it is utter panic.


People are being told to move from A to B. It’s like a chess game. Except that it ends in the death of children. It’s not a game for them. The “safe zones,” Isabel, I think it’s so important [to stress that] it’s a false narrative and it’s a dangerous narrative. People don’t have the transport. They don’t know where they’re meant to go. They are places in the desert. They have no water, they have no food, they have no protection in these places. And so when they get there disease stalks. And when they — quite often — get to these places, they are bombed. It’s a very dangerous narrative that is being shared. They are not safe zones. They will be zones of death.”

CNN Morning: James Elder

Note that Elder is reporting that the tap water in Khan Younis is too salty to drink, and because Israel has destroyed the pipelines and denied fuel for pumps, desalinized water is not reaching people. Salt water causes you to urinate out more water than you take in, so over time will kill you from dehydration. This little girl is facing this life-threatening situation in the hospital.

Meanwhile, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported “Heavy Israeli bombardments from air, land and sea across Gaza, as well as ground operations and fighting.” Hamas also fired some rockets at Israel, though apparently ineffectually.

The report continues, “From the afternoon of 2 December to the afternoon of 3 December, at least 316 people were killed and at least another 664 injured in Gaza, according to the Ministry of Health (MoH) in Gaza.”

The Israelis summarily ordered 20 percent of Khan Younis to go elsewhere, to the places Elder characterized as death traps. Khan Younis had a population of about 230,000 before the current Israeli carpet bombing campaign, making it roughly as populous as Richmond, Va. or Spokane, Wa. A fifth of its population would be roughly 46,000 people that were being herded elsewhere all of a sudden, under threat of death by bombardment.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says he is dedicated to “thinning out” the population of Gaza, some 2.2 million people. Apparently leaving none of them anywhere to live somehow figures into this final solution removing the impurities from the Israeli body politic.


Juan Cole is the founder and chief editor of Informed Comment. He is Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History at the University of Michigan He is author of, among many other books, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace amid the Clash of Empires and The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Follow him on Twitter at @jricole or the Informed Comment Facebook Page

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