Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Gaza's silent victims

The Israeli Defence Force's air and ground assault on Gaza has been disproportionately deadly on one group of Palestinians: children. It is not widely enough known that of the 1.5 million people that live in Gaza, half are children under the age of 15. In any military operation, then, it was inevitable that children would die. Since the assault began, of the 636 Palestinians that have been killed, at least 115 have been children, according to reports in the Financial Times.

The Israeli assault on Palestinian children is easily seen in the repeated bombing of schools, which has been roundly condemned around the world. The latest tragedy, in which 40 civilians, including children, were killed when a United Nations school was bombed, reminds the international community that despite repeated assertions by the Israeli Defence Forces that they seek to minimize civilian casulties the reality is that civilian populations, whether they be in private homes, schools, or medical facilities, are systematic targets, and this includes children.

Who can forget the murder--for that was what it was--of Rami Jamal al-Durra in September 2000? French television filmed the scene of the 12 year old huddled next to his father, hiding, as his father pleaded with the Israelis to stop shooting. In response, the Israelis shot at the father, wounding him, and killing Rami Jamal al-Durra. It is a scene that we have, unfortunately, had to witness again this month.

Prior to the assault, as a consequence of the Israeli blockade of the territory, some 50000 children were malnourished; as in Iraq in the 1990s, there can be no doubt that some children have died as a consequence of the conditions created by the blockade. To this horror must now be added the horror of the deaths of far too many wholly innocent children.

The irony of this assault on children is not lost on the Israeli leadership: as Ehud Barak, the defence minister who is directing the assault, once said when asked what he would do if he were a Palestinian facing the Israeli Defence Forces, 'I would join a terror organization'. In attacking Gaza's children, the Israelis are creating the conditions that perpetuate the cycle of violence that plagues the region.

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