The scars of war on Gaza’s children


The screams filled the hospital recovery room as the little girl kicked her legs. Her mother leaned over to comfort her while turning her face away to try to hide her own tears. ‘I want Daddy,’ her daughter cried. However, even a phone call to him did not ease her pain.

Besan Ajrami is from Gaza. A victim of Israel’s eight-day November 2012 war on her home, the nine-year-old is the only one of over 1,000 injured people to be brought to Israel for treatment.

According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, approximately 170 Palestinians were killed, 33 of them children, and 1,269 people were injured during Operation Pillar of Cloud. Besan, in a cruel, twisted way, was one of the lucky ones – she is still alive.

A week after this emotional visit to the hospital, Besan’s mother, Soad, told me what had happened. It was the second day of the war. A Muslim holiday kept Besan and her twin sister Ruba from school. The girls played while their mother cooked lunch. Suddenly, Soad heard a loud bang and the whole house shook, shattering the windows. ‘This war was different from 2008. This time, not one part of Gaza was left untouched. And the area where we live is free of government buildings,’ said Soad, pointing out that there are no alarm systems or shelters in Gaza.

‘Ruba was alright, but when I saw blood on the wall, I knew that Besan had been injured. I ran out to the street, shouting for help. An ambulance was picking up other injured people from the neighbourhood, and they took Besan with them.’

Sami Ajrami, Besan’s father, then received the phone call that every parent dreads. ‘I was shocked and I froze, and then I rushed to the hospital crying while the worst thoughts entered my head,’ he said.

When he arrived he learned that Besan had lost three fingers on her right hand. ‘She was in shock, could not speak and was constantly crying. She could not sleep more than an hour at a time, and then she would wake up scared,’ he said.

Besan’s operation in Gaza proved unsuccessful, and she became a victim in yet another way – a victim of the blockade on Gaza. She was to undergo two more surgeries in Israel.

The Gaza blockade has resulted in significant drug shortages and continues to limit the ability of hospitals to deal with large-scale injuries. According to the UN Office of Co-ordination of Human Affairs (UNOCHA), 40 per cent of the ‘essential drugs’ list and 65 per cent of the ‘essential disposables list’ are out of stock. 

Although Besan has suffered emotional and physical pain, Ruba, who saw what happened, was also traumatized. ‘It’s difficult for her to accept that her twin has lost her fingers, and she even refuses to sleep with her in the same room,’ explained their father.

According to Diana Araki from UNICEF, 92 per cent of children in Gaza are afraid of loud sounds and 67 per cent have nightmares as a result of the war in November 2012. Bed wetting is now common among 18 per cent of older youth and 47 per cent of young children. Additionally, children suffer from high levels of stress, fear, lack of concentration and anger and post-traumatic stress disorders and there are widespread problems with coping and interacting.

UNOCHA estimates that 6,800 children whose homes were damaged or destroyed in the recent violence are in urgent need of psycho-social support.

Besan’s long, dark eyelashes cover her light brown eyes, and a faint dimple is indented in her chin. Except for the tip of her thumb, a bandage covers the empty space where her fingers once were.

Her father says that she has not yet returned to school, and prefers to play alone in her bedroom. Sadness has overcome the once-playful girl. Besan’s family is now working to get her used to using her left hand, ‘but it’s hard to convince her,’ says her father.

But he is optimistic. ‘I believe that she will get over it soon and do all of the things she used to do in the past. She is a strong girl, despite the physical injury.’ Her parents are thinking of prosthetic fingers so that she will not feel different from other children.

For the Ajrami family the outcome is somewhat happier than it could have been; Besan will return to Israel to continue treatment. But there are many other mothers whose children lost more than fingers, and many other fathers who received that dreaded call. War is not the answer.

‘Pinpoint accuracy’ in Gaza


At the Emergency Room of at Shifaa Hospital, Gaza. Photo: Gigi Ibrahim, under a CC License

The Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights has now assessed the destruction to Gaza and the 1.6 million people living in an area of land just 41-kilometers long and 12-kilometers wide.

The devastation makes  it impossible not to believe that the stated aim of Israel’s Interior Minister Eli Yishai to ‘…send Gaza back to the Middle Ages’, Gilad Sharon’s calls to ‘flatten all of Gaza’, were not aberrations, but reflected Israeli government intentions.

In the first five days of the Gaza onslaught, the Israeli military state carried out 13,050 air strikes on the tiny strip already blockaded since electing the Hamas government in 2006.

The Al Mezan Centre’s initial findings on death and destruction are chilling and shaming but were out of date just 24 hours later. In an extensive list, damaged or destroyed schools now stand at 52, the deaths at 168.

Exactly what threat the clinics, the schools, the headquarters of the Palestinian Paralympic Committee, now rubble, posed to Israel’s security is unknown.. It is also hard to know what threat the dead pose to the State of Israel; three cemeteries were also bombed.

‘Children shall be the object of special respect and shall be protected against any form of indecent assault. The Parties to the conflict shall provide them with the care and aid they require, whether because of their age or for any other reason’, states paragraph 1, Article 77 of the Geneva Convention (1977).

On 15 November, Nader Basioni,14, sleeping in the same room as his brother Faris, saw the nine-year-old decapitated when metal from an air strike on ‘a near by field’ tore through the family home. ‘His head was gone except for a piece of skin of his face’, said Nader. ‘I’m afraid to go to sleep because I see him in my dreams. It’s the same thing over and over.’

That famed ‘pinpoint accuracy’ stuff has done well. ‘Pinpointed’ seemingly, were two dead boys probably about nine years old, one with his stomach near eviscerated, remnants of his leg placed on his body. The other, his leg made meat, exposed bone, blood drenching his jaunty blue and white, matelot-type sweat shirt.

A nine-year-old girl lost the fingers of her right hand, her mother is working to explain that her artistic passion can be achieved as well with her left. Pinpointing doesn’t get more accurate than the fingers of a small right hand.

Seven-year-old Nisma Kalajar may never talk again. She suffered a head fracture after falling from the third floor family apartment when it was targeted in a drone strike.

The images seem without end: another father kissing the face of his baby daughter, his arms round his other two lifeless, pre-school age children; Iyad Abu Khawsah, eighteen months, so frail, ethereally slender, lying in the arms of a stricken faced morgue attendant.

Sitting on a hospital trolley, next to his prone mother was a child about the same age of that bandaged little brother. He had his chubby hand on one side of her face, and his knee wedged against the other side. Her great eyes looked up at his scratched, smudged face. He sat there shoeless, in black, yellow and brown top and just a diaper, patiently waiting for her to wake up. She never will.

When eleven members of the Dallou family were annihilated with five children, their home reduced to a large crater, the Israeli army declared it a: ‘mistake in identification of the right home.’ a blatant admission that targeting homes is a norm, in yet further defiance of a swathe of international law.

The direct targeting of civilians is a breach of the laws of armed conflict. ‘Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited,’ states Additional Protocol I of 1977.

Israel, naturally, has not ratified Protocol I, but this provision generally recognized as customary law, and is theoretically applicable regardless of ratification.’ It has to be wondered how a country that repeatedly defies UN Resolutions continues to get away with it.

Further, forgotten it seems, amid the deafening silence of the United Nations and its seemingly now mute Secretary General (even his spineless predecessor Kofi Annan used to respond to illegal annihilations with: ‘regrettable’ or ‘unfortunate’) are two UN Resolutions of 1974 and 2002 affirming the rights of the Palestinian people in Pealtesjing to self-determination and sovereignty.

If, as seems near certain, Palestine moves from ‘Observer entity’ to ‘Non-member observer State’ at the UN on 29 November, which: ‘implies recognition of statehood …’ states Vera Jelinek, Dean of New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, regained nationhood of what remants remain of Palestine’s un- stolen land edges closer.

As Al Mezan points out in their Report: ‘The failure of international community to make timely, effective interventions to protect civilians and condemn violations of international law; including the failure of the Security Council to issue a statement (on the Gaza attack) illustrates that international community continues to apply (double) political standards on human rights and international law issues; an attitude that could allow for violations of international law to recur in the future.

In India, 14 November was Universal Children’s Day, which is celebrated there on the birthday of Jawahalal Nehuru, the country’s first Prime Minister who was much influenced by his friend Mahatma Gandi, who said: ‘When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it – always.’

Hamas are the real winners


‘We must put an end to this [the rockets, Hamas, the Palestinians, the Arabs?] Once and For All!’ – this cry from the heart was heard dozens of times daily on TV from the harassed inhabitants of Israel’s battered towns and villages in the South.

It has displaced the slogan which dominated several decades: ‘Bang And Finish!’

It did not quite work.

The big winner emerging from the cloud is Hamas.

Until this round, Hamas had a powerful presence in the Gaza Strip, but practically no international standing. The international face of the Palestinian people was Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian National Authority.

No more.

Operation Pillar of Cloud has given the Hamas mini-state in Gaza wide international recognition. (Pillar of Cloud is the official Hebrew name, though the army spokesman decreed that the English name, for foreign consumption, should be Pillar of Defense.) Heads of state and droves of other foreign dignitaries made their pilgrimage to the Strip.

First was the powerful and immensely rich Emir of Qatar, owner of Aljazeera. He was the first head of state ever to enter the Gaza strip. Then came the Egyptian prime minister, the Tunisian foreign minister, the secretary of the Arab League and the collected Arab foreign ministers (except the one from Ramallah.) In all diplomatic deliberations, Gaza was treated as a de facto state, with a de facto government (Hamas). The Israeli media were no exception. It was clear to Israelis that any deal, to be effective, must be concluded with Hamas.

Within the Palestinian people, the standing of Hamas shot sky-high. The Gaza Strip alone, smaller than an average American county, has stood up to the mighty Israeli war machine, one of the largest and most efficient in the world. It has not succumbed. The military outcome will be at best a draw. A draw between tiny Gaza and the powerful Israel means a victory for Gaza.

Who remembers now Ehud Barak’s proud declaration in the middle of the war: ‘We shall not stop until Hamas gets on its knees and begs for a cease-fire!’


Destruction in Gaza. Photo: folkehjelp, under a CC License.

Where does that leave Mahmoud Abbas?

Actually, nowhere.

For an average Palestinian, whether in Nablus, Gaza or Beirut, the contrast is glaring. Hamas is courageous, proud, upright, while Fatah is helpless, submissive and despised. Pride and honor play a central role in Arab culture.

After more than half a century of humiliation, any Palestinian who stands up against the occupation is the hero of the Arab masses, in and outside the country. Abbas is identified only with the close cooperation of his security forces with the hated Israeli occupation army. And the most important fact: Abbas has nothing to show for it.

If Abbas could at least show a major political achievement for his pains, the situation might be different. The Palestinians are a sensible people, and if Abbas had come even one step closer to Palestinian statehood, most Palestinians would probably have said: he may not be glamorous, but he delivers the goods. But the opposite is happening. The violent Hamas is achieving results, the non-violent Abbas is not. As a Palestinian told me: ‘He (Abbas) has given them (the Israelis) everything, quiet and security, and what did [or “does”] he get in return? They spit in his face!’

This round will only reinforce a basic Palestinian conviction: ‘Israelis understand only the language of force!’ (Israelis, of course, say exactly the same about the Palestinians.)

If at least the US had allowed Abbas to achieve a UN resolution recognizing Palestine as a non-member state, he might have held his own against Hamas. But the Israeli government is determined to prevent this by all available means. Barack Obama’s decision, even after re-election, to block the Palestinian effort is a direct support for Hamas and a slap in the face of the ‘moderates’. Hillary Clinton’s perfunctory visit to Ramallah this week was seen in this context.

Looked at from the outside, this looks like sheer lunacy. Why undermine the ‘moderates’ who want and are able to make peace? Why elevate the ‘extremists’, who are opposed to peace?

The answer is openly expressed by Avigdor Lieberman, now Netanyahu’s official political number two: he wants to destroy Abbas in order to annex the West Bank and clear the way for the settlers.

After Hamas, the big winner is Mohamed Morsi

This is an almost incredible tale. When Morsi was elected as the president of Egypt, official Israel was in hysteria. How terrible! The Islamist extremists have taken over the most important Arab country! Our peace treaty with our largest neighbor is going down the drain!

US reactions were almost the same.

And now – less than four months later – we hang on every word Morsi utters. He is the man who has put an end to the mutual killing and destruction! He is the great peacemaker! He is the only person who can mediate between Israel and Hamas! He must guarantee the cease-fire agreement!

Can it be? Can this be the same Morsi? The same Muslim Brotherhood?

The 61 year old Morsi (the full name is Mohamed Morsi Isa al-Ayyad. Isa being the Arab form of Jesus, who is regarded in Islam as a prophet) is a complete novice on the world stage. Yet at this moment, all the world’s leaders rely on him.

When I wholeheartedly welcomed the Arab Spring, I had people like him in mind. Now almost all the Israeli commentators, ex-generals and politicians, who uttered dire warnings at the time, are lauding his success in achieving a cease-fire.

Throughout the operation I did what I always do in such situations: I switched constantly between Israeli TV and Aljazeera. Sometimes, when my thoughts wander, I am unsure for a moment which of the two I am looking at.

Women weeping, wounded being carried away, homes in shambles, children’s shoes strewn around, families packing and fleeing. Here and there. Mirror images. Though, of course, Palestinian casualties were 30 times higher than the Israeli ones – partly because of the incredible success of the Iron Dome interception missiles and home shelters, while the Palestinians were practically defenseless.

On Wednesday I was invited to air my views on Israel’s Channel 2, the most popular (and patriotic) Israeli outlet. The invitation was of course withdrawn at the last moment. Had I been on air, I would have posed to my compatriots one simple question: Was It Worthwhile?

All the suffering, the killed, the injured, the destruction, the hours and days of terror, the children in trauma?

And, I might add, the endless TV coverage around the clock, with legions of ex-generals appearing on the screen and declaiming the message sheet of the prime minister’s office. And the blood-curdling threats of politicians and other nincompoops, including the son of Ariel Sharon, who proposed flattening neighborhoods in Gaza City, or even better, the whole Strip.

Now that it is over, we are almost exactly where we were before. The operation, commonly referred to in Israel as ‘another round’, was indeed round – leading nowhere than to where it started.

Hamas will be firmly in control of the Gaza Strip, if not more firmly. The Gazans will hate Israel even more than before. Many of the inhabitants of the West Bank, who throughout the war came out in their thousands in demonstrations for Hamas, will vote in even greater numbers for Hamas in the next elections. Israeli voters will vote in two months as they intended to vote anyhow, before the whole thing started.

Each of the two sides is now celebrating its great victory. If they organized just one joint celebration, a lot of money could be saved.

What are the political conclusions?

The most obvious one is: talk with Hamas. Directly. Face to face.

Yitzhak Rabin once told me how he came to the conclusion that he must talk with the PLO: after years of opposing it, he realized that they were the only force that counted. ‘So it was ridiculous to talk with them through intermediaries.’

The same is now true for Hamas. They are there. They will not go away. It is ridiculous for the Israeli negotiators to sit in one room at the Egyptian intelligence service HQ near Cairo, while the Hamas negotiators sit in another room, just a few meters away, with the courteous Egyptians going to and fro. Concurrently, activate the effort towards peace. Seriously.

Save Abbas. As of now, he has no replacement. Give him an immediate victory to balance the Hamas achievements. Vote for the Palestinian application for statehood in the UN General Assembly.

Move towards peace with the entire Palestinian people, including Fatah and Hamas – so we can really put an end to the violence, Once and for all!

This article was originally published by Gush Shalom and was crossposted with permission.

PHOTO: Gaza’s child death toll rising


Inside Al Shifa hospital, Gaza.


Photo: Anne Paq/Activestills.org

The Palestinian boy pictured here was killed in an Israeli air strike on the Gaza Strip on Thursday 15 November. Seven children are reported to have died here since Israel’s first attack on the densely populated Strip, where 44 per cent of residents are under 15. As of Friday morning, violence between Israel and Gaza had claimed 24 lives: 21 Palestinians and 3 Israelis.

Read more from New Internationalist by Israeli writer Uri Avnery, who argues in ‘Operation Short Memory’ that the offensive will only achieve devastation and great suffering on both sides of the border.

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