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Older People Not Spared in Hostilities in Israel/Palestine

Older Israeli Hostages, Gaza Residents Under Bombardment at Particular Risk

Palestinians help an injured older man following overnight Israeli air strikes on the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza, October 25, 2023. © 2023 Abed Rahim Khatib/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Photo

The last month has been a nightmare for Israeli and Palestinian civilians, including older people.

About 1,400 people in Israel have been killed and more than 240 taken hostage since October 7, according to the Israeli government. Old Lives Matter, a University of Haifa project, reports that over 110 older people were killed in the Hamas-led attack on October 7. Others survived the attack but lost family members or caregivers.

While they released Nurit Cooper, 79, and Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, on October 23, Palestinian armed groups are still holding other older people hostage, including Holocaust survivors, people with dementia, and peace activists.

Chanan and Edna Cohen, hold up portraits of his sister, 77-year-old Margalit Moses, and her husband, 79-year-old Gadi Moses in their family home in Lakhish, Israel, October 30, 2023. The older Moses couple were abducted by Hamas-led fighters from their home in the kibbutz of Nir Oz on October 7, 2023.  © 2023 Ohad Zwigenberg/AP Photo

At least 35 older people are being held hostage or missing, according to the Hostages and Missing Families Forum. With the International Committee of the Red Cross urging that they have access to the hostages, which they should be granted under international law, those who require medication and care may not be getting them.

The taking of hostages and deliberate killing of Israeli civilians by Hamas and other armed groups are war crimes.

Older people have not been spared in Gaza either. More than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since October 7, including 667 older people, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health. Amid relentless bombardment that has reduced entire blocks to rubble, Israeli authorities have ordered more than 1 million people to flee northern Gaza. But for many older people, evacuation is impossible. Those who flee face particular difficulties, including access to medicines.

Israel’s collective punishment of Gaza’s population through cutting off food, water, electricity, and fuel, and willfully blocking humanitarian relief, which are war crimes, makes worse an already dire situation for older people trapped in the strip.

Israel’s unlawful 16-year closure of Gaza, part of the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution being committed by Israel against Palestinians, has long harmed older people. In 2021, HelpAge International found that 80 percent of those surveyed in Gaza required medical support and 78 percent felt anxious most or all of the time.

International humanitarian law guarantees special respect and protection to older civilians, who can face heightened risk of injury and abuses in armed conflict. Parties to conflict should arrange to safely remove older people from besieged or encircled areas.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad should immediately release all detained civilians, including older hostages, and Israel should cease unlawful attacks, restore water and electricity, and allow in badly needed aid, fuel, food, and medicines to Gaza. 

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