400,000 Gaza children

I am a Zionist, in addition to other attributes, and believe not only in Israel’s right to exist, but also to flourish and serve as a beacon for other countries to emulate and admire.

I also agree that Israel, like all countries, must defend itself from enemies, but this belief is predicated upon the notion that warring armies or specific terrorist leaders should be targeted for retaliation.

Children, even the enemy’s children, are always innocent and should be taken into account during the defense of a nation.

When the psychological trauma of the 400,000 children cited in a recent Newsweek article becomes a consequence of fighting terrorists (who are deemed evil because they use psychological trauma as a weapon), one must take a moment to question tactics:

Omar and Mohammed are just two of the 400,000 Gazan children the United Nations estimates are in need of psychological care as a result of not just the latest war in the territory but the three previous conflicts fought with Israel since 2006.

The most recent conflagration has been the deadliest, with 1,945 Palestinians killed, many of them civilians and including an estimated 457 children. On the other side of the border, some 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians have been killed.

Whether the result of Israeli air strikes, having parents or relatives killed before their eyes, hearing militants firing rockets from their own towns or themselves being wounded, the psychological trauma for Gaza’s young is profound.

The symptoms range from nightmares, bed-wetting and behavioral regression to more debilitating mental anxiety, including an inability to process or verbalize experiences.

Support doesn’t mean accepting the death, or even the psychological trauma, of children who live through bombing raids and witness the death of their parents. I’m not religious, but if God exists, the inability for many observers to even acknowledge the deprivations faced by Palestinian civilians is a tragedy that might easily be deemed a sin from a theological perspective.

I support and love Israel and view terrorists as intent upon ending innocent lives, but these views also coincide with the belief that certain tactics go too far and enter a realm that should never be entered by Israel, the U.S., or any other democracy. Also, according to a recent CNN article, “Gaza is facing high levels of shortages of medicines, medical disposables and hospital fuel supplies, and rising healthcare debt according to The World Health Organization (WHO).”

Like the emotional and psychological state of children, when civilians face a shortage of medicine, such realities should be separated from a hatred of terrorists.

There are only so many times one can hear “Hamas is at fault” without thinking of the declining American public opinion polls cited in my latest Jerusalem Post article, as well as the fact that civilians have suffered the most in this latest Gaza war. Yes, Hamas is a terrorist organization with a charter calling for Israel’s destruction, but these stated goals don’t translate into terrorist owned fighter jets and tanks. The Hamas charter will never cause anyone in Israel to face a raw sewage crisis, medicine shortages, and limits of around 2,279 calories per day according to Haaretz. Furthermore, publicizing these issues isn’t merely the propaganda of leftist, self-hating Jews naive to the nefarious aims of terrorists. Rather, informing the public of the various maladies faced by Palestinians is the work of renowned Israeli human rights group Gisha, as well as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and similar organizations.

While I’ve always prided myself on being part of a group of people who’ve championed human rights, with notables like Raphael Lemkin (the man who coined the phrase “genocide”), Hanna Arendt, and others, there exists a moral blind spot in the current conflict. This lack of empathy resides in the philosophy that one must pick a side and always refrain from mentioning the relevant grievances of the other side; of course “they” asked for it with their actions is the prevailing mentality. Unfortunately, I must accept the fact that many people in my community are either unaware of the dire issues faced by civilians in Gaza, feel that Hamas’s genocidal charter warrants such deprivations and deadly retaliation, or resigned to simply blaming Hamas completely for Palestinian suffering.

The reality is that Hamas’s charter ignores its Lilliputian status compared to Israel’s immense strength and overwhelming military power. Hamas’s widely cited charter and its impossible dream of eradicating Israel inevitably fuels childish and emotionally charged sentiments like, “Hamas wants to wipe Israel off the map, so any means is necessary to defeat them.” With such logic, the children who die in bombing raids or the medicine shortages in Gaza are the result of terrorists intent on mayhem; not necessarily the responsibility of a great democracy to ensure that its enemy’s children don’t face immense psychological and emotional scars from bombing raids.

Sadly, the bravado and hyperbole on the part of terrorists serve as a motivating force for normally rational and kind-hearted people to justify all sorts of questionable tactics like targeting hospitals and schools. The launching of rockets, however, isn’t prevented from such air raids (undermining the belief that when innocent people die it’s simply a military necessity) and has caused even the United States to declare the bombing of a school as “disgraceful.” Also, the logic behind supporting any and all tactics in the hopes of preventing blood thirsty terrorists from destroying Israel is not only flawed, but also extremely short-sighted. Israel has every right to defend itself, especially against terrorists, but should remember that it is a democracy and not an organization that must justify civilian deaths as part of its security.

Nightmarish scenarios fueled by lofty terrorist ambition don’t correlate to reality. Israel is a great democracy with an innovative economy, vibrant society, and dominant military possessing nuclear weapons. Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or any of the various other terror groups in Gaza can launch highly ineffective rockets and provoke debilitating military responses, but this asymmetric retaliation only serves the public relations goals of terrorists. Most importantly, the latest Gaza war has resulted in the death of 1,402 confirmed civilians, including over 400 children and 237 women not responsible for the actions of suicidal terror groups.

Furthermore, according to Gisha and a 2012 Guardian article, the blockade of Gaza resulted in a calorie restriction as a consequence of the flow of food being substantially limited:

The Israeli military made precise calculations of Gaza’s daily calorie needs to avoid malnutrition during a blockade imposed on the Palestinian territory between 2007 and mid-2010, according to files the defence ministry released on Wednesday under a court order…

Gisha said: “The official goal of the policy was to wage ‘economic warfare’ which would paralyse Gaza’s economy and, according to the defence ministry, create pressure on the Hamas government.”

The food calculation, made in January 2008, applied the average daily requirement of 2,279 calories per person, in line with World Health Organisation’s guidelines, according to the document…

The defence ministry handed over its document on the food calculation to Gisha only after the group filed a freedom of information petition.

When the defense of a country at one point entails making sure the enemy doesn’t starve, and ensuring that just enough (according to WHO standards) food enters a given territory, this explains the bizarre nature of the current conflict. It is abnormal and out of the ordinary for one country to dictate the food requirement of its own citizens, much less another population.

Finally, the current crisis, from the Palestinian perspective, can be summarized by the following sentences from an Amnesty International report on the blockade: “Patients with serious medical conditions that cannot be treated in Gaza continue to be prevented or delayed from leaving Gaza by the Israeli authorities – since the closure of crossings leading into and out of Gaza, patients have been made to apply for permits, but these permits are frequently denied. On 1 November 2009, Samir al-Nadim, a father of three children, died after his exit from Gaza for a heart operation was delayed by 22 days.”

Any long term peace must address the concerns and heart conditions of ordinary people, not just the security measures taken to combat Hamas and other terrorists.

About the Author
H. A. Goodman is an author and columnist published in numerous publications and websites.