So much has appeared in the international press and on the Internet that it would seem to be an exercise in redundancy to offer a perspective on the tragedy that befell the people of Gaza last year, especially the Gazan children. A devastating and colossal tragedy it certainly was; the Israeli attacks by sea, air and land were more brutal than anything the inhabitants of Gaza had ever endured previously.
The pictures that flooded television screens around the world showed a gruesome parade of young corpses and wounded children being loaded into and unloaded from the trunks of private cars that transported them to the only hospital in Gaza worthy of being called a hospital. People of conscience all over the world found these images horrifyingly explicit and they brought home to us both the magnitude of the death and destruction unleashed by Israel’s brutal assault against helpless and innocent Gazan children who had nowhere to run or hide. This latest orgy of air strikes and armed incursions by Israeli military forces turned the besieged and starved Strip into an unbearable inferno – literally into the Killing Fields of Gaza.
In November 2000, the Globe and Mail published my article “Who are the victims here?” in which I described the living conditions of Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip during my stay in the occupied territories in 1999:
“I recently observed the effects of the ‘peace process’ when I visited the children of Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Gaza, Rafah and East Jerusalem. These children know first-hand the effects of military and economic oppression. There is hardly a family that has not experienced torture, imprisonment or economic hardship.
“Most of these children live in refugee camps in houses with corrugated roofs and cramped living spaces. Often, they do not have running water. The children lack adequate schools, health-care facilities, hospitals, social services, public parks, swimming pools, or recreation facilities. In the camps, the streets are their playgrounds, often with open sewers and waste flowing freely. They have seen no other reality.”
It is sad that what seems so obvious to rest of the world escapes the minds of apologists for Israeli state terror.
Children make up more than half of crowded Gaza’s 1.4 million people and are the most defenseless victims of Israeli siege of Gaza. Israel’s harsh security measures come at an enormous humanitarian cost and the stark reality is that under Israeli occupation, an entire generation of Palestinian children and youth have suffered a litany of horrific, traumatizing events for thirty years. In addition to almost-daily home demolitions, they have witnessed intimidation, humiliation, fear, insecurity, poverty, closures, and the menacing presence of armed settlers.
With all their healthy socializing structures destroyed by the Israeli military, these children have never known peace or security, or the freedom to roam the streets and playgrounds. Gaza’s children, like their parents, continuously face hardship in simply going about their lives; they are prevented from living in peace and security, going to school, or doing things that make up the daily fabric of most people’s existence. Their parents have not known peace and freedom either, and cannot even dream about a safe and productive future for their children, and the children to come after them.
Ever since the moribund Oslo peace accord, they have been living in large prison camps. Now, locked up and besieged in Gaza by an Israeli army that happens to be one of the most powerful in the world, these children are under attack in their own land, in their own homes, and are being subjected to economic, psychological, physical and emotional terror from the air, sea and ground. Indeed all of Gaza has become a danger zone where children’s homes have been demolished, bombed, and shelled, killing children inside. Other children have been killed while riding in cars with their parents, while playing in the streets, while walking to school, visiting friends, and even while taking refuge in a UN Shelter.
Imagine the psychological and emotional terror experienced by children who grow up knowing that their parents cannot protect them from helicopter gunships, ground missiles, or snipers’ bullets. These children have no escape routes, no options, because the Israeli army and invading settlers are the ones who determine which child, which family, will be shot; which houses and trees will be bulldozed and uprooted; which street or alleyway will be hit by the sharpshooters. Their basic human rights are being trampled on by deliberate policies of the Israeli government whose obscene actions have denied these innocent children education, safety, health, economic well-being and all the amenities of normal life.
This nightmare of the children of Gaza is best described in the pages of Franz Kafka:
Lawrence Davidson in Counter Punch writes that, “In Kafka’s world, the prevailing theme is uncertainty and unpredictability. There are no set rules for behavior and the orders given by authorities seem arbitrary and even contradictory. You do not know what the laws are. The ‘authorities’ in Kafka’s work sit in their fortresses and periodically intrude upon the lives of the confused and apparently helpless protagonists.”
Similarly, nothing is predictable for Palestinians. Israel’s rules can change from one day to the next without notice or explanation. They live in an arbitrary environment, continuously adapting to circumstances they cannot influence and which increasingly reduce the range of their possibilities. No one really knows how many Palestinian children will continue to re- experience the horrors of conflict psychologically and emotionally throughout their lives.
Yet, as the world witnessed the organized, ruthless killing and maiming of these Palestinian children, there was only deafening silence from our "humane" Canadian government. If Prime Minister Harper so greatly respects the dignity of human life as he stated during his recent visit to China he would have asked Israel long ago to cease its murderous onslaught on the children of Gaza.
During my stay in the occupied territories, I was often asked by Palestinians why the world ignored their sufferings and their right to self-determination. I had no answer then. But today I can tell them that they are not alone; the world is outraged at what it witnessed in Gaza and for the “first time since the establishment of the State of Israel, an international campaign calling for sanctions against Israel for its innumerous violations of International Law has been very successful in drawing huge public attention and initiating a great number of mobilizations and initiatives around the world.” (Michel Warschawski)
No amount of “anti-Semitic” or “self-hating” labels pasted on people of conscience who criticize the Israeli occupation can stifle that debate; it is a debate now spreading throughout the world, focusing unavoidable scrutiny on Israel and its brutal occupation of Palestinian territories.
When the dust settles, history will record that the atrocities repeatedly committed by Israel against defenseless Palestinian children in Gaza was a turning-point in the long ordeal of Palestine’s occupation. Things can never be the same again in Palestine because the world knows more of the truth about Israel’s’ cruel agenda than ever before.
(Mrs. Wahida Valiante is national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. She is a retired professional family counselor who visited Palestine as part of a fact-finding medical team. While there, the team visited refugee camps, health care clinics, hospitals, orphanages, children’s schools, local and international charities and women’s refugee centers, as well as speaking extensively with social workers and local Palestinian families.)