Burning Children and the Reckoning

I just read an article by Marc Ellis in Mondoweiss about his new book: “Burning Children: A Jewish View Of The War In Gaza,” which is a collection of his articles about the recent war between Hamas and Israel.

He details why his articles need to appear in a collection that points to a call to justice and a reckoning for the Jewish people. There is a quality I’ve seen oddly in the eyes of both left wing extremists and their right wing sisters and brothers. It’s not quite the dear in the headlights look, but rather the look of someone focusing too hard and more than a bit too narrowly. It’s not difficult to manage, since when I began my daily study of the situation some fifteen years ago I was overwhelmed by the oppression I viewed of Palestinians. It is an oppression that was real then and is no less real today. But it is not the whole story or does it stand alone beyond the seemingly endless cruelty of two sides fighting a brutal war with hugely asymmetrical weapons.

Hamas fires rockets that get the attention of Israelis as the Color Red sirens ring out and people run to shelters and the Iron Dome air defense system targets and shoots down any rockets headed for urban areas such as Ashkelon or Tel Aviv, (during the 50 day war it intercepted 735 rockets). Hamas and its allies fired more than 4500 rockets into Israelduring the war. Israel fired targeted missiles from F-16 aircraft, ships, tanks and artillery and demolished some 18,000 homes in Gaza along with the main electrical station and many many other buildings leaving some 100,000 homeless. At its conclusion on August 26th there were more than 2100 Palestinians dead, (including hundreds of children), and 71 Israelis.

On June 12, 2014 three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped; Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gilad Shaer , 16 and Eyal Yifrah , 19 as they were hitchhiking home from school in Gush Etzion. The kidnapping caused the Israeli government to initiate Operation Brother’s Keeper and launch an exhaustive search for the boys in the Hebron area and far beyond including the arrest, interrogation and detention of hundreds of Hamas members. This kidnapping, the arrests, Palestinian resistance, the recovery of the bodies and the capture of Hossan Qawasmeh, the revenge attack and burning alive of 15 year old Mohammed Abu Khdeir over a period of nearly three weeks all contributed to the toxic atmosphere that easily deteriorated into rocket fire by Hamas, missile fire by Israel and the commencement of a war.

The crux of the book seems to leave the three young Israelis who were kidnapped and killed literally in the dust, because over the course of the war to follow hundreds of Palestinian civilians including hundreds of children were killed in the Israeli attack on Hamas and Gaza. The video feeds of dead children were horrifying particularly for those of us living far beyond the war zone and happily unacquainted with the almost daily costs of this 100 year war of attrition. People were outraged at the sight of dead children laying on tiny stretchers in a hospital with their fathers and mothers looking down and screaming and crying in agony. The same people were angry at Israelis who seemed to be largely reconciled to the deaths as they went about their lives and supported the war in nearly record numbers. But millions of Israelis far beyond the Negev were forced to run with their children to shelters as the sirens rang out and the rockets landed all over central Israel and even farther north. It was the shelters and the Iron Dome that saved hundreds if not thousands of Israelis along with the relative inability of the Hamas rockets, (which now travel more than 75 kilometers), to aim and hit a target, (even as they get more deadly with each new conflict). The identification of some 30 terror tunnels running from Gaza into the Negev to the doorsteps of Israeli villages and Moshavim presented a tangible threat to the residents of southern Israel who were now seen as sitting ducks until the tunnels were destroyed by the IDF.

Beyond all of this to underline Ellis’ title sit the burning children, who along with their parents and the hundreds of other dead Palestinians represent a cost of war that only increases with time. Very few Israeli civilians paid with their lives and some 66 IDF soldiers were killed in the conflict. The first question involves the challenge of whether the children and all the residents of Gaza were utilized by Hamas as human shields, told not to leave their homes after receiving IDF phone texts, picking up leaflets and on occasion a knock on the roof prior to a missile strike? It also relates to locations including UN schools and other buildings hiding Hamas rockets or being purposely placed in close proximity to rocket launchers to prevent Israeli retaliation or create civilian casualties as a byproduct of any attack. There is proof and there was plenty of Hamas and Israeli management of the media throughout the 50 day war. There are no shelters in Gaza because Hamas chose to shelter only its leaders and fighters in tunnels under the Gaza strip. The fact that the United States is learning the difference between waging a war in Syria and commenting on the one in Gaza is clearly identified in President Obama’s decision to exempt American airstrikes in Syria from the tough standards on civilian casualties that he himself recently created.


The second question looks beyond the dead, the wounded and all the destruction and asks whether the United States, Europe, Egypt, its Arab allies, Israel and the United Nations have the where-with-all to structure the upcoming Donors Conference in Cairo on October 12th to empower the Palestinian Authority to manage the rebuilding of Gaza and the border crossings with Israel and Egypt and generate graduated freedom of movement for the people of Gaza in exchange for a parallel demilitarization of Hamas that eliminates the threat of rockets and tunnels and terror to Israel? Otherwise a lot more children, civilians and soldiers will be killed and once again the costs of rebuilding Gaza will be spent in vain…

About the Author
Larry Snider is President of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace, an NGO based in Philadelphia that brings the faiths together to learn about and from each other and to build a new constituency for Middle East Peace.