Children in the Crossfire

January 8, 2009

War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other's children.
-Jimmy Carter

The only way to end conflict is to erase lines of division, end blame, and refuse to justify the death of another person.  How so-called "civilized" people have justified killing each other for centuries has never been comprehensible to me.  At some point it seems that mankind should have matured enough to be able to negotiate and talk instead of fighting and killing. 

How many children have been killed in on-going conflicts around the world in just this last year?  Civilian deaths tolls in Iraq and Afghanistan are seldom discussed, but they are estimated in the hundreds of thousands.  In Gaza over 200 children have died in less than two weeks. Hopefully, a resolution can be negotiated and the needless killing will end.  You can support the protection of civilians in Gaza and Israel by joining Amnesty International's call to action campaign.

Yesterday President-elect Obama had lunch at the White House with President George W. Bush, and all of the former living Presidents, George H. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. It has been reported that one of the discussions at lunch was likely the crisis in the Middle East.  I would have liked to have listened to that conversation.  Would Bill Clinton's views give a hint to policies likely to be supported by Hillary Clinton, the future Secretary of State?  Jimmy Carter's views are somewhat predictable considering that he has  asked the world to join him in demanding human rights for the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip. President-elect Obama has been criticized for not being more vocal on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.  Yet he did make a brief statement yesterday.  From the Los Angeles Times:
In an apparent acknowledgment of the growing pressure, Obama broke his silence Tuesday after Israeli shells struck Palestinians in a U.N. school in Gaza, killing at least 30 people.

"The loss of civilian life in Gaza and in Israel is a source of deep concern for me," Obama said at his transition office in Washington, while continuing to insist that the United States has only one president at a time.

"After Jan. 20, I'm going to have plenty to say about the issue."
Meanwhile, the conflict between Israel and Hamas has escalated as Lebanon targeted Israel with rockets and Israel responded by sending missiles to Lebanon. Voice of America reports:
The Lebanese government condemned the attacks and said it is trying to determine who launched the rockets. There has been no claim of responsibility.
The UN Human Rights Council is calling for an emergency meeting of its 47 members on Friday to discuss Israel's civilian bombings in the Gaza Strip. 

Outrage at the civilian killings is being expressed by Amnesty International,
"An immediate pause in hostilities would at least make it possible for basic assistance to be got to civilians in dire need, permit the evacuation and treatment of the wounded and the burial of the dead," said Malcolm Smart. "It would also allow civilians trapped in Gaza an opportunity to leave the conflict zone safely to seek refuge with the assistance of neighbouring states where necessary, allow emergency repairs to essential infrastructure, and ensure that humanitarian workers can provide protection and assistance in safety."
Amnesty Interantional also reports:
Amnesty International said on Wednesday that both Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters are endangering the lives of Palestinian civilians – including by using them as human shields.

“Our sources in Gaza report that Israeli soldiers have entered and taken up positions in a number of Palestinian homes, forcing families to stay in a ground floor room while they use the rest of their house as a military base and sniper position,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme. “This clearly increases the risk to the Palestinian families concerned and means they are effectively being used as human shields.”

Both Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen are continuing to fire at each other from areas close to civilian homes, endangering their inhabitants.

The use of “human shields” in conflict is prohibited under Article 51(7) of the Geneva Conventions: "The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favour or impede military operations."
Human Rights Watch is calling for an investigation into alleged laws-of-war violations in Gaza:
There must be a serious and independent investigation into the shocking loss of civilian life that took place near the UN school and that has characterized this conflict. Only the Security Council can provide the kind of impartial inquiry that can determine what happened.
The International Red Cross is demanding access to wounded in Gaza. From the International Herald Tribune:
The international Red Cross accused Israeli forces Thursday of failing to assist wounded Palestinians and of "unacceptable" delays in letting rescue workers reach a Gaza home where four small children were found alive next to their mothers' bodies.

The Israeli army had refused rescuers permission to reach the site in the Zaytun neighborhood of Gaza City for days, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

Israeli officials said the delay was caused by fighting in the area.
In May 2008 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and founder of The Carter Center, former President Jimmy Carter wrote an article about the horrible human rights abuses in the Gaza Strip. It is worth reading in its entirety:
The world is witnessing a terrible human rights crime in Gaza, where a million and a half human beings are being imprisoned with almost no access to the outside world. An entire population is being brutally punished.

This gross mistreatment of the Palestinians in Gaza was escalated dramatically by Israel, with United States backing, after political candidates representing Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Authority parliament in 2006. The election was unanimously judged to be honest and fair by all international observers.

Israel and the US refused to accept the right of Palestinians to form a unity government with Hamas and Fatah and now, after internal strife, Hamas alone controls Gaza. Forty-one of the 43 victorious Hamas candidates who lived in the West Bank have been imprisoned by Israel, plus an additional 10 who assumed positions in the short-lived coalition cabinet.

Regardless of one's choice in the partisan struggle between Fatah and Hamas within occupied Palestine, we must remember that economic sanctions and restrictions on the supply of water, food, electricity and fuel are causing extreme hardship among the innocent people in Gaza, about one million of whom are refugees.

Israeli bombs and missiles periodically strike the area, causing high casualties among both militants and innocent women and children. Prior to the highly publicised killing of a woman and her four children last week, this pattern had been illustrated by a report from B'Tselem, the leading Israeli human rights organisation, which stated that 106 Palestinians were killed between February 27 and March 3. Fifty-four of them were civilians, and 25 were under 18 years of age.

On a recent trip through the Middle East, I attempted to gain a better understanding of the crisis. One of my visits was to Sderot, a community of about 20,000 in southern Israel that is frequently struck by rockets fired from nearby Gaza. I condemned these attacks as abominable acts of terrorism, since most of the 13 victims during the past seven years have been non-combatants.

Subsequently, I met with leaders of Hamas - a delegation from Gaza and the top officials in Damascus. I made the same condemnation to them, and urged that they declare a unilateral ceasefire or orchestrate with Israel a mutual agreement to terminate all military action in and around Gaza for an extended period.

They responded that such action by them in the past had not been reciprocated, and they reminded me that Hamas had previously insisted on a ceasefire throughout Palestine, including Gaza and the West Bank, which Israel had refused. Hamas then made a public proposal of a mutual ceasefire restricted to Gaza, which the Israelis also rejected.

There are fervent arguments heard on both sides concerning blame for a lack of peace in the Holy Land. Israel has occupied and colonised the Palestinian West Bank, which is approximately a quarter the size of the nation of Israel as recognised by the international community. Some Israeli religious factions claim a right to the land on both sides of the Jordan river, others that their 205 settlements of some 500,000 people are necessary for "security".

All Arab nations have agreed to recognise Israel fully if it will comply with key United Nations resolutions. Hamas has agreed to accept any negotiated peace settlement between the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, provided it is approved in a referendum of the Palestinian people.

This holds promise of progress, but despite the brief fanfare and positive statements at the peace conference last November in Annapolis, the process has gone backwards. Nine thousand new Israeli housing units have been announced in Palestine; the number of roadblocks within the West Bank has increased; and the stranglehold on Gaza has been tightened.

It is one thing for other leaders to defer to the US in the crucial peace negotiations, but the world must not stand idle while innocent people are treated cruelly. It is time for strong voices in Europe, the US, Israel and elsewhere to speak out and condemn the human rights tragedy that has befallen the Palestinian people.
And from Her Majesty Queen Rania speaking on behalf of the children of Gaza:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” ... Article one, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person” … Article three, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Over the past 41 years, the people of Gaza have been living under occupation. Over the past 18 months, they have been living under siege. And for the past 10 days, the people of Gaza have been subject to a cruel and continuous military attack.

Either the declaration is not so universal, or the people of Gaza are not human beings, worthy of the same “universal” rights. This is the message the world is sending out today.

Today, I am here with representative members of the UN family, to share with you the extent of the humanitarian crisis that is Gaza.

But not only is there a humanitarian crisis in Gaza... there is a crisis in our global humanity. Nelson Mandela once said that “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” Today, I tell you, our humanity is incomplete without theirs. It is incomplete. It is not universal.

This is the message I am sending world leaders: Our humanity is incomplete when children, irrespective of nationality, are victims of military operations.

More than seventy dead children. Close to six hundred injured. What does the world tell to their mothers? To the Palestinian mother who lost five daughters in one day? To the mothers watching their children cry in pain, huddle in fear, and deal with more trauma than any of us will experience in an entire lifetime?
(Read her entire statement)

More recommended reading:
What's Behind the Violence in the Gaza Strip? San Francisco Times
Red Cross Reports Grisly Find in Gaza, Washington Post


Anonymous said...

Muslim extremists need to be wiped out. Israel is defending herself and those Hamas savages use civilians as shields. Typical Muslim terrorists, launch missiles then run and hide behind school children. I agree though, that is very sad to see any child hurt. So, how do you suggest we stop the Taliban? They are the most horrific of all Muslim fanatics. They are living in the stone age. Watch the Kite Flyer to understand what life was like in Afghanistan.

Obamanomics 81 said...

Obamanomics 81...enough is enough

The aggressive acts by Israel against the residents of Gaza can’t be condoned. The UN formed this state and the UN and the US must stop the blanket bombing of civilians, including children.

The US has defended Israel in the past, perhaps due to the Holocaust, or the link Judaism has with Christianity, but Israel must learn to stand alone without US aid. US policy in the mid-east has damaged the credibility of America and it is time for a change. To defend Israel in this matter is criminal.

Terrorism is a battle strategy of the oppressed and this incident will certainly intensify terrorism in the region. I suspect Arab nationalists will target the US if America blindly supports the oppressor. Israel’s conduct of belligerent dealing with their Arab neighbors has created the regions instability for two generations, and the world must stop it. Enough is enough.

I would encourage President-elect Obama to send Israel a clear message of change regarding US policies in the mid-east. The United States has an opportunity to take a stand for justice and humanity and set right, what has long been wrong regarding positions in the Arab-Israeli conflict. I would encourage the US to strike Israeli missile launchers and other military storage locations. Israel would not fire on a US plane. US intervention against the oppressor is warranted. One strike against Israel would have immeasurable positive impact on America’s reputation of justice abroad and would send a wake-up call to Israel that the US will no longer support these actions.

If the US did this, fanatical actions against America would be far less likely. People do not become fanatical against you without cause, so it stands to reason that discussing issues with dissident factions and religious zealots is better than blanket bombing their children, which will create terrorists for generations to come.

We should be concerned with our fragile environment, a more equitable way to distribute the earths dwindling resources, extreme nationalism, and religious fanaticism, and an unnecessary war damages efforts to improve the world in each area.

My America favors “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, and there is something morally wrong with a nine year old needing to throw rocks and sticks at US made tanks inside a large metropolitan city.

Ron Hodges