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German charity 'evacuates' Palestinian children from Gaza, sends them to West Bank

March 13, 2024 at 5:23 pm

Palestinian children holding banners and empty bowls, gather to protest the food shortages in the city due to Israeli attacks and demanding a ceasefire in Gaza City, Gaza on March 12, 2024. [Omar Qattaa – Anadolu Agency]

Almost 70 Palestinian children from Gaza’s southern area of Rafah have been moved from the enclaved and taken to the occupied West Bank, in an operation initiated by a charity and assisted by Germany’s embassy in Israel.

According to a statement by the charity, SOS Children’s Villages International, the 68 Palestinian children – reportedly all orphans – were taken from an orphanage in southern Gaza’s Rafah and moved to the city of Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Monday, after working “through diplomatic channels with all relevant authorities” to arrange the operation.

The children – reportedly orphaned before Israel’s current offensive on Gaza – were escorted by 11 employees of SOS Children’s Villages during their removal from Gaza to the Occupied West Bank. “Even though the children are now relatively safe, we are still very concerned about all the other children and people who are still in grave danger in the Gaza Strip”, SOS Children’s Villages stated.

The operation was assisted by the German embassy in Israel, which said that it decided to participate in the move following a request by the Charity for help in November. Thanking Israel for “an important humanitarian gesture”, the embassy claimed that the moving of the Palestinian children was a temporary measure to get the children “out of acute danger” and was not an attempt to move them permanently.

READ: Gaza: Grave violations against children must stop, says Save the Children CEO

It has been confirmed by the United Nations that the operation was conducted with approval from Israeli occupation authorities, which have not yet commented on the action.

Although reports and statements published by SOS Children’s Villages, the German embassy and Israeli media calling the operation an “evacuation” and “rescue”, there remains significant mystery surrounding the identities, situation and current location of the Palestinian children, as well as a lack of clarity regarding the operation itself.

The concealment of such details has led many to conclude that the Palestinian children were abducted and disappeared by Israel through the cover of the Charity’s work, especially with there being neither any visual assurance of their safety nor any confirmation of their consent to the transfer.

However, SOS Children’s Villages told MEMO that the children from the SOS Children’s Village Rafah in Gaza. “These were the children for whom we could obtain consent from their legal guardians. Some children at SOS Children’s Villages were not evacuated as consent was not granted by their relatives.”

“The transfer was approved by the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Social Development, as it is the legal guardian of the children. The children are still in the care of SOS Children’s Villages Palestine. A team consisting of both caregivers from the West Bank, as well as those who have joined from Gaza, provide support to the children,” Head of Global Communication, Bertil Videt, explained, adding that 11 of the charity’s staff members in Gaza were also evacuated.

“The negotiations have taken place since mid-November. We have worked through diplomatic channels with all relevant authorities to bring the children and adults to Bethlehem in the West Bank, where they arrived safely on 11 March. The evacuation of children from our village in Rafah is a temporary measure to ensure their safety by removing them from immediate danger. All Gazans leaving the strip must have the right to return guaranteed.”

READ: Gaza’s children: Victims of war or superheroes?

UPDATED: This article and its headline were updated on 14 March 2024 at 14:55 GMT with details and quotes from SOS Children’s Villages