Children stand in a line waiting for food portions

Addressing the physical and mental health needs of children in Israel and Gaza

The Israel-Hamas war has taken the lives of thousands of children and is impacting the mental health of many more. The World's Shirin Jaafari sat down with Save the Children's CEO, Janti Soeripto, to learn more about how they are working to address children's needs in Gaza and Israel.

The World

In times of conflict, most nongovernmental organizations have to be very careful to avoid getting involved in politics and stay focused on getting access to the people and places needing help. 

Head of Save the Children, Janti Soeripto, is navigating this now as her organization works to provide aid to children in Gaza, where nearly half of its 2.2 million population is under the age of 18.

“Most of the population now has moved to the south, as they were just advised to do,” Soeripto told The World. “So, [there are] overcrowded shelters in a very small space. [And] with consistent, continuous violence and fighting, it is not a complete surprise that many, many civilian casualties will follow.”

Israel is said to have dropped 6,000 bombs in Gaza during the first six days of the Israel-Hamas war. 

These bombs have landed on refugee camps, schools and people’s homes.

About 4,000 children have been killed by Israel in Gaza, according to a statement from the Hamas-run Ministry of Health. Israeli officials say Hamas militants killed 31 children in Israel on Oct. 7. About 20 of them remain hostages.

The World’s Shirin Jaafari spoke to Janti Soeripto to learn more about Save the Children’s work in Gaza and what the situation looks like on the ground for many children.

Shirin Jaafari: Have you been able to get supplies into Gaza?
Janti Soeripto: We have. We were happy to hear that now three trucks from Save the Children have made it across the Rafah crossing over the past couple of days. We have more trucks waiting. We'd love to get them in, too. And the other thing I would say, in order to distribute the supplies, once they’re in, we also need to have fuel. Currently, we’re using donkey carts in the south of Gaza to distribute supplies. We have staff taking supplies on their back to deliver supplies door-to-door or to distribution centers. But clearly, that is not the fastest, most effective way to do distribution.
How are you negotiating and getting more aid into Gaza? Are you talking with the Egyptians, the Jordanians, the Israelis?
The main negotiators are the international community, governments, US governments, the EU, and others. We are, of course, doing our part to call for the ceasefire, humanitarian pulls and for more trucks to be allowed in. And not only trucks with supplies but also to allow more humanitarian workers in. We do that privately. We have conversations with legislators here. Clearly, USAID is looking at that and trying to influence it, as are other development and humanitarian agencies worldwide.
I want to talk about the kids on the Israeli side as well. We know that a number of them are held hostage currently. What do you know about how they are doing?
It's horrible. Look, the abduction and kidnapping of children is a grave violation of their rights. It’s a crime, and those hostages have to be unconditionally released. Absolutely. The children and the adults. Right. And that ought to be part of a pause in the fighting.
Have you been able to get any information about how they’re doing?
No. Nothing. And that, you know, that is also not in the purview or in the mandate of humanitarian organizations. That negotiation is really happening at a government level.
So, let's imagine that there is a ceasefire tomorrow. What are some of the immediate needs of children in Gaza?
So, then, we would send in fresh, new, more humanitarian workers. We would send in medical care and more medical supplies. We would send in also, you know, people always think, ‘Is that really the most important thing?’ And we think it is … play and education materials for children. Give children the chance to be children, even for a little bit. Every day, we set up child-friendly spaces, and we get them to start to actually process some of the trauma. So, that's where some of the mental health psychosocial support comes in. I visited Gaza a few years ago and saw some of the work we were doing there with play-through-education, through roleplay and counseling. Sports is an important part of that, too. And I saw kids with hope. I'm always amazed. I get to see a lot of those kids in those circumstances. I'm always amazed by the amount of hope they still have. So it is possible to do it if we can get in there and do the work that we know needs to be done.
Do you have any final thoughts on this conflict and its impact on children?
Look, I said this before to people. I think particularly people who are looking from the outside, you know, putting ourselves in the shoes of all of those parents in that region … Israeli parents, Gazan parents, Palestinian parents on the West Bank. Picture that. Imagine it's your child or a child you have in your life … your niece, brother or sister. Imagine what it is like to go through a period of this, with this level of violence, with this level of destruction and outright fear. I think we need to keep that in mind when looking at, you know, what would it take to stop the violence … then yes, of course, we need a prolonged period of no violence, of a release of hostages, of an allowance of aid to go in. Then, the rehabilitation of the buildings, hospitals and schools will need to happen, which will take much longer.

Editor's note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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