In Gaza, Mia Farrow highlights children's plight – and their hope

Nine months after Israel's offensive in Gaza to end Hamas rocket attacks, US actress and children's advocate Mia Farrow described widespread trauma – but also glimmers of resilience.

Gil Cohen Magen/Reuters
Actress Mia Farrow (c.), a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, looks at the remains of rockets fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza, during a visit to a police station in the southern town of Sderot on Thursday.

GAZA CITY, GazaUS actress and children’s rights advocate Mia Farrow sought to draw world attention to the severe humanitarian situation in Gaza at the end of a two-day tour Thursday, calling the Israeli blockade on the tiny coastal strip “unacceptable.”

“All people of conscience are offended and outraged by this situation and we sincerely hope that measures will be taken to alleviate this situation as soon as possible,” said Ms. Farrow, who spoke of children’s trauma but also highlighted glimmers of resilience nine months after the Gaza war. “It’s a collage of human destruction, courage, endurance and celebration.”

A UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2000, Farrow has been a vociferous advocate for children in conflict zones including Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, and Darfur – where she has repeatedly highlighted the devastating impact of continued violence on children. She also led an activist effort to label Beijing the “Genocide Olympics,” highlighting China’s connection with Darfur. While her efforts have been lauded by many, a recent opinion article in The Christian Science Monitor argued that activist hype in Darfur had misdirected funds that could have saved lives.

In Gaza, Farrow visited Gaza City’s Shifa hospital and met school children and teachers in northern Gaza. She was then headed toward the West Bank and Israel, which launched the three-week offensive after years of rocket attacks from Gaza. According to Defence for Children InternationalPalestine, as many as 352 children were killed in Operation Cast Lead, as the Israeli offensive was known. Estimates of the total number of Palestinian casualties range from 1,100 to more than 1,400.

According to the controversial Goldstone report (.pdf) being debated by the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday, Palestinian militants launched about 8,000 rockets and mortars into southern Israel since 2001 – resulting in a handful of deaths and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder rates as high as 94 percent among children. But while acknowledging Israel’s premise for the war, the report harshly criticizes Israel’s actions and accuses it of committing crimes against humanity.

Despite trauma, children ‘full of hope and determination’
Farrow focused largely on the current conditions of Gazans, particularly the “apparent trauma” of children with whom she spoke, but also criticized Israel for having attacked a population that could not flee.

“It is unacceptable to confine a population, dropping leaflets of warning that you are going to attack and bomb and so forth, and leave them nowhere to go, and then continue to confine that population,” she said.

She said Gaza’s children – who make up almost half of the 1.5 million population in the strip – were deeply affected psychologically by the 22-day war last January and the wider siege.

“A teacher said that when they hear a loud noise they look at the sky and scream and run and some will cry,” said Farrow, who also related stories of children whose houses were bombed around them, whose relatives were killed, and one who was placed by Israeli soldiers with her family in a hole and worried they would be buried alive. “A little girl said I don’t know what will happen next, and yet I was told by a group of children I want to be a doctor, I want to be a teacher. The children were full of hope and determination.”

According to UNICEF, 840,000 children in Gaza are under extreme stress and trauma-inducing conditions, while shortage of drinking water – 60 percent of Gazans lack daily access – and sewage overflows in residential areas are becoming an imminent threat to public health. Around 20,000 residents are still displaced, UNICEF said, and "280 schools damaged by the fighting still cannot be rehabilitated or repaired due to the ongoing blockade."

Medicine and school supplies remain scarce in the besieged strip. Farrow said doctors told her they were treating children without being able to analyze their conditions because they lacked the proper equipment. Doctors also reported to her that congenital abnormalities among children had mysteriously doubled in the last three months.

Hundreds of war victims are also still awaiting artificial limbs.

“There are hundreds of victims but they’ve had only 40 to 45 successfully delivered since January,” she said. “The kinds of injuries, the kinds of amputations are different from the kinds that they’ve seen before. A gunshot wound involving an amputation is one thing, an explosion causes far more damage and is more difficult for them to treat.”

Farrow called on militants to stop rocket attacks
A mother of 14 children, 10 of whom were adopted, Farrow expressed her hope that President Barack Obama “will genuinely seek solutions that are just and acceptable to all parties.”

She also appealed to Gazan militants to stop launching rockets onto Israel.

“On a personal note, I would like to ask the people of Gaza not to give the international community ammunition to view you in a negative way … If [rocket] offenses could stop then there would be more support, though I understand the impasse. I’m a mother of 14 children, I know about conflict.”

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