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Saving Gaza’s Children

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As a miluim (reserve duty) combat soldier who has served in Gaza in the war against Hamas, even though I am above the age of obligation, I believe in the necessity of doing whatever it takes to destroy the organisation and the other terrorist groups in the Strip.

In saying that, there is no doubt that the citizens of Gaza are paying a heavy price.

The Health Ministry in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, says that over 31,000 Palestinians have been killed, including more than 12,300 children. This is in addition to the damage to buildings and infrastructure.

One can argue with the numbers and the State of Israel believes that the dead comprise 12,000 terrorists (compared with the 6,000 that Hamas has admitted to), but given that the Israeli government has estimated that the ratio of civilian to combatant deaths is 2:1, it’s reasonable to conclude that many thousands of non-combatant Palestinians have died.

The entire responsibility for the suffering of the Gazans lies with Hamas. Every innocent person killed is blood on the hands of Hamas and the other terrorist organizations.

Despite this, the extensive damage, the terrible living conditions and the death of a large number of children in particular, significantly harms the status of Israel in the international community, as can be seen by the accusations of genocide that South Africa has brought to the International Court of Justice.

It’s also helping to weaken support for the destruction of Hamas amongst our allies at a most critical juncture, especially that of the United States and United Kingdom.

Even according to our own moral compass and values as a democratic and Jewish country, the situation in Gaza touches our humanity.

We therefore need ideas to prevent the death of as many non-combatant Palestinians as possible and to reduce their suffering.

One proposal that the US is leading is the building of a temporary pier off the coast of Gaza to provide humanitarian assistance. However, the provision of such aid is exceptionally complex, as evidenced by the stampede that killed scores of Palestinians at the end of February.

Another idea is the voluntary evacuation of the children from Gaza to host families in third countries such as Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and to Europe.

The children would only be evacuated with the consent of their parents and would return to Gaza at the end of the war. A trusted international organization would facilitate this.

It is critical to emphasize that this is not a nefarious scheme to split up Palestinian families against their will and it is not an attempt to “transfer” all the Palestinians from Gaza forever.

Rather, it’s a proposal to save the lives of tens of thousands of children. For that alone it would be worth it. By offering these children the chance to leave a war zone and live in a safe, comfortable and peaceful environment it would also improve the quality of their lives. At the same time it would lighten the burden of the aid agencies in Gaza that provide relief for the area’s citizens.

In addition, this proposal would show the world that Israel has no intention of committing genocide.

The program requires much further thought, research and resources, but it’s not without precedent given that in previous conflicts children have been evacuated to third countries. Just this week, it was reported that the Israeli army was evacuating over 70 orphans from Rafah in Gaza to Bethlehem at the request of Germany.

Here are some thoughts as to what a plan of voluntary evacuation would entail:

1) Host Families – The children would stay with host families who would receive training about how to look after their guests, financial compensation and any other necessary assistance.

2) Medical Care – The children would receive medical care, including psychological therapy.

3) Costs – The costs of the program would need to be properly calculated but it’s reasonable to assume that they would run into the tens of millions of dollars if not more. International donors would hopefully provide the bulk of this money but Israel should also contribute.

4) Administration – The program would be administered by an international organization that Israelis and Palestinians trust, perhaps the European Union or USAID of the United States government.

5) Accompaniment of Children – Every child up to the age of seven or eight would be accompanied by his or her mother according to the wishes of the family and as long as the mother is a non-combatant.

6) Eligibility – The program would be open to any Gaza citizen up to the age of 15 or even 18.

7) Israeli Field Hospitals – Israel should establish field hospitals to treat Palestinian children injured in the war. The creation of the hospitals would take place in coordination with the international community, and be similar to those that Israel established to treat the wounded in the civil war in Syria and at disaster sites around the world. Hamas prevented many Palestinians from using such a hospital at the Erez Crossing in 2014 but now that it has far less control of Gaza more civilians would hopefully use it.

The program to voluntarily evacuate Gaza’s children faces many obstacles and is perhaps pie-in-the-sky thinking. Would the international community be willing to fund it? How quickly and how well could the plan be implemented? Would Gazan parents consent to the evacuation of their children out of a war zone? If they did, would Hamas try to prevent the implementation of the plan or is it too weak to do so?

Notwithstanding these questions, Israel must pursue the proposal; any lack of co-operation on the part of Hamas would be further proof that it hides behind children to use them as human shields.

About the Author
Yigal Grayeff is the managing director of Lenagen Bekef, a music school in the center of Jerusalem. Yigal is also a combat infantry soldier in the IDF reserves. Prior to ‎‎Lenagen Bekef, he was a senior news editor at financial Web site Seeking Alpha, communications ‎manager at venture ‎capital firm Gemini Israel Funds, and a reporter for the Jerusalem Post. In addition, Yigal ‎worked as an ‎editor at Dow Jones Newswires in London.‎
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