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In war, there is no safe place for Gaza's children

A new report details the harrowing reality for Gaza’s children during last summer’s assault.

A woman holds an injured child from Khuza'a in Khan Younis hospital. Residents of Khuza'a found refuge in the hospital in Khan Younis after fleeing intensive Israeli bombardements of their village. Many residents were killed or wounded as they fled.

A woman holds an injured child from the city of Khuza’a in a Khan Younis hospital. Residents of Khuza’a found refuge in the hospital after fleeing intensive Israeli bombardments of their village. Many residents were killed or wounded as they fled. (photo: Activestills.org)

There came a point early on during last summer’s Gaza war when it seemed we reached a nadir. Four children, all under the age of 12, were killed by an Israeli naval attack while playing soccer on a beach. The boys were directly struck by two shells, which also seriously wounded four other children.

It was, as we now know, about to get infinitely worse for Gaza’s children. A new report released by Defence for Children International-Palestine (DCIP) documents the consistent targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure by the Israeli army during the 50-day war. Part of Defence for Children International, an independent NGO, DCIP conducted its research in Gaza between the end of the war and the beginning of 2015, examining the sites of attacks and taking sworn affidavits from victims, eyewitnesses, families and neighbors. The resulting document is a clear-eyed, yet harrowing, picture of the catastrophe that befell Gaza’s children during the course of the war.

The report’s statistics make clear that in an area where 43 percent of the population is under the age of 14, any conflict will have a disproportionate impact on minors. By the end of the war, 547 children had been killed — 535 as a direct result of Israeli attacks. 3,347 were injured, of whom 1,000 were left permanently disabled. 164 children were killed in drone strikes, with evidence collected by DCIP indicating that they were directly struck in several of the attacks.

The massive and disproportionate use of firepower by the Israeli army against civilian targets during the war included strikes on schools, hospitals and refugee camps, with the report concluding that there was no safe place for children in Gaza during the war. They were killed in their homeson a set of playground swings and taking shelter in schools.

A relative weeps over body of a family member at the Al Shifa hospital as more bodies arrive from the Al-Shejaiya area, July 20, 2014. (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

A relative weeps over body of a family member at the Al Shifa hospital as more bodies arrive from the Al-Shejaiya area, July 20, 2014. (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

These incidents repeated themselves consistently throughout the war; as the military’s use of force spiraled out of control (36,000 artillery shells, the ‘Russian Roulette’ of the IDF’s armory, were fired in 50 days), so did the number of dead children. One three-day period saw a child killed every hour. By the end of the war, an average of 11 children had been killed per day. On July 20th, the bloodiest day for children during the conflict (four days after the shelling on the beach) 59 children were killed. Twenty lost their lives during a massive assault on Gaza City’s Shujai’yah neighborhood (which saw 4,800 shells out of the 36,000 fired); another 18 — all from the Abu Jami family, who lost 26 members in total that day — were killed in an airstrike on their home in Khan Younis. Although statistically this was the worst day of the war for minors, the nature of their deaths were standard occurrences throughout the war.

How did Israelis respond to all this violence? A minority protested, certainly, but no widespread crisis of conscience occurred. There is, of course, the argument that the citizens of Israel were not fully aware of the scale of destruction in Gaza; only a fraction of the round-the-clock news broadcasts focused on what was happening “on the other side,” while the Israel Broadcast Authority and the Supreme Court banned a B’Tselem radio advert reading out the names of the children killed in the conflict.

Nonetheless, a week after that day on which 59 children were killed, footage emerged of a crowd of right-wing Israelis chanting at a pro-war demonstration in Tel Aviv: “Tomorrow there’s no school in Gaza, they don’t have any children left.” Somehow, they knew exactly what the army was doing in Gaza. And even if there was a majority in Israel that remained silent between its own fear and apathy, it is difficult not to recall the words of IDF Lt.-Col. Dov Yermiya, who during the 1982 Lebanon War decried “[t]his arrogant, cruel nation that dances at the edge of destruction.”

A child amidst the rubble of his home, which had been destroyed the night before in Gaza. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills)

A child walks amidst the rubble of his Gaza home, which had been destroyed the night before by the Israeli army. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills)

For now, though, the silence has spread — a silence that Israeli society chooses to preserve. It will stay that way until the findings of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict are revealed at the Human Rights Council in June. At that point, Israelis will most likely feel the urge to speak up and defend our actions in the Gaza Strip, and raise again the impossibility of living under rocket attacks (the ramifications of which indeed should never be underestimated or dismissed). And in Gaza, the silence will soundlessly speak to the impossibility of living.

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    1. Pedro X

      Palestinian children died in a conflict initiated and fought on an urban battlefield chosen by Hamas. Hamas could have fought their war away from urban centers where the majority of Gazans live. Not only did Hamas choose to fight in an urban battlefield against a much superior fighting force, it turned urban areas, homes, schools, medical clinic, mosques, hospitals, and public buildings into part of their military complex. The choices Hamas made were to lower losses of fighters and military assets while exposing civilians to great harm. Hamas used its civilian population including children as human shields.

      Natasha Roth does not broach the subject of Hamas tactics and how those tactics were responsible for the harm occasioned in Gaza. She ignores a central fact that Hamas used ordinary people’s homes to house weapons, fighters, commanders and command centers. Take for instance the 26 Abu Jami members mentioned in the article who were killed in an Israeli air strike. Natasha Roth fails to tell the reader that an unrelated male of significant military rank in Hamas was killed in the targeted bombing in Khan Younis.

      Any journalist worth her salt would have told the reader that Senior Hamas commander, Ahmad Mahmoud, commander of the Khan Younis area was in the house of Abu Jami when it was bombed. Ahmad Sahmoud was unrleated to the Abu Jami family. Abu Jami by choosing to house a senior Hamas commander in his house, he made his house a legitimate target.

      Ahmad Mahmoud likely chose Abu Jami’s house because of Jami’s connections with Hamas. One only has to look at the funeral pictures of Jami’s family wrapped in Hamas’s garb to know these people were claimed as martyrs for the Hamas cause.

      Elder of Ziyon last summer published the names of many terrorists who used unrelated homes for their operations and when they were killed they took civilian members of the host family with them. This was no accident that Hamas leaders placed their command posts in civilian homes, it was by design.

      Natasha Roth totally ignores Hamas’ active use of children in the conflict. 160 Gazan children died building tunnels until Gazans stopped keeping such stats. In the late summer of 2014 when about 420 children had been killed in Gaza I did a survey of the ages and gender of the children. If Israel was bombing indiscriminately homes the numbers of children killed should be roughly split between female and males. The fatalities should have been spread roughly equally among age groups. This was not the case. Two thirds of those killed were males. One third of those killed were older teenagers, mostly male. As in other conflicts, this indicates the use of children as soldiers, runners, mules, lookouts, as well as fighters. Clearly Hamas and Islamic Jihad were using children directly in the conflict.

      This should be hardly surprising since Palestinians in Gaza sent over 100,000 of their children to Jihad camps to learn military skills. Hamas boasts it is training the next generation of child soldiers.

      Reply to Comment
      • Richard Lightbown

        Another post from Pedro X justifying Israel’s inhuman assaults on Gaza. He never expresses sympathy for the suffering that Israel inflicts on that territory. He never accepts any Israeli responsibility for this man-made misery. It’s always someone else’s fault that Israeli forces murder civilians with proscribed weapons, or assassinate children playing football on the beach, or machine gun fishermen 17 miles inside the limit Israel agree upon. Israel is not to blame for bombing the power station or the port or the sewage works.

        He also eschews sources. In this long post we have one vague reference to a partisan Zionist blogger. Everything else has to be taken on trust. But the problem is that Pedro X has been shown time and gain on these comments sections to be a serial liar. So how much of this can we believe? Not a jot.

        Show us some credible sources for all of these claims, X. And wouldn’t it be nice if you could express just a little bit of human kindness for the Palestinians?

        Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          The 2014 Gaza Assessment Report by Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs can be found here. http://www.jinsa.org/files/2014GazaAssessmentReport.pdf\ The Task force was composed of 5 retired American Generals including General Mike Jones, Former Chief of Staff, U.S. Central Command.

          See page 10 with respect to Hamas tactics:

          “The 2014 Gaza War also illustrated non-state actors’ increasing propensity for operating from heavily populated urban environments, a problem that will become more acute in the coming decades due to increased global urbanization. Though U.S. forces have engaged in numerous urban battles against non-state entities over the past 13 years in Nasiriyah, Sadr City, Fallujah, Ramadi and other cities and villages in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan, Hamas deployed a different and more dangerous concept of operations than the United States has encountered.

          Hamas appears to have pursued “unrestricted warfare,” defined as the ability to blend
          technologies with military actions and political-influence activities, seeking victory not on the battlefield but through pressure on Israeli decision-makers. Hamas’s focus in the conflict was on the exploitation of the presence of civilians in the combat zone, not just as a passive defense tactic, but through actions intended to place its own civilians in jeopardy. Hamas’s strategy appears to have been to discredit Israel internationally by portraying the IDF’s military operations as indiscriminate and disproportional.”

          See page 11:

          “This Task Force observed significant evidence that, on numerous occasions, Hamas’s rocket launchers were situated in a way, such as at United Nations facilities, that violated LOAC obligation to refrain from placing vital military assets among civilian populations. This Task Force cannot but conclude that Hamas’s infractions were deliberate, nor can we imagine a military justification for Hamas’s tactics.

          It is the conclusion of this Task Force that Hamas sought to exploit the civilian population and IDF respect for LOAC to prevent Israeli attacks or to ensure an Israeli response would cause civilian casualties. Further, Hamas also exploited general lack of understanding about the balance between military necessity and humanitarian protection central to LOAC to present a false narrative that combat operations which produce civilian casualties are inherently unlawful.”

          See page 1 for assessment of Israel’s actions:

          “Contrary to accusations of widespread unlawful military conduct, we observed
          that Israel systemically applied established rules of conduct that adhered to or exceeded the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) in a virtually unprecedented effort to avoid inflicting civilian casualties, even when doing so would have been lawfully permitted, and to satisfy the concerns of critics. However, it is the conclusion of this Task Force that Israel’s military restraint unintentionally empowered Hamas to distort both the law and facts for their own purposes to the ultimate detriment of civilians’ safety, for which Hamas bears sole responsibility.”

          Re dead terrorist in Abu Jami house see Elder of Ziyon August 25, 2014 report which was based on B’Tselem report of terrorist being killed in the strike on his house. Jewishpresscom had earlier reported on July 25, 2014 that “Ahmad Sahmoud – Hamas commander in Khan Younis” had been killed. Jewish press indicated that their source was the IDF. Obviously Ahmad Sahmoud was a high value target. Abu Jami put his own family in jeopardy in allowing Sahmoud to operate from his household. Hamas, though, bears the ultimate responsibility for placing a Hamas commander in Abu Jami’s household.

          War is cruel and creates chaos and sorrow. War not only causes intended consequences but also unintended consequences such as 4 dead children playing on a beach next to Hamas’naval headquarters during the middle of a war. One can feel sorrow for the families of the deceased children or blame them for not preventing them playing on a battlefield. However, the real blame lies with Hamas which engaged in war and refused Israel’s offer on July 6, 2014 to go back to a ceasefire. Hamas needed the war to enhance its stature and popularity in Palestinian society. On July 6, 2014 it could not afford to back down from the war it had started. It chose war and was prepared to let Gaza’s population suffer the consequences of war in an urban battleground.

          Reply to Comment
          • Richard Lightbown

            Ah yes, JINSA (the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs): just the sort of garbage you would quote from. Here is part of its mandate: “…a non-profit, non-partisan organization to advocate on behalf of a strong U.S. military, a robust national security policy, and a strong U.S. security relationship with Israel and other like-minded allies.”

            The non-partisan claim is a bit hard to swallow given that the term means not a strong supporter of a party, cause or patron. I mean why exactly would an organization that is not a strong supporter of (say) Israel have a programme called ‘the Generals and Admirals Programme to Israel’, which invites recently retired U.S. top brass to visit Israel and meet military counterparts?

            And the Task Force? Well it doesn’t appear to have gone to Gaza so where did it get its data from to allow it to make its ‘authoritative’ statements? Well the quote you gave us from page 10 of their report is attributed to the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, and to an INSS Insight. (INSS = Institute for National Security Studies which produces “high quality research that shapes the public discourse on issues of Israel’s national security agenda”.) Some of the usual suspects posing again as accurate and non-fictitious sources.

            And the quote you gave us on page 11 is not referenced by Task Force, just like most of your garbage.

            You’ve quoted their glowing appraisal of the Tsahal’s actions (on page 7 actually not page 1 as you stated in error). Let you give me an alternative assessment of the IDF’s behaviour. It comes from ‘Gaza, 2014 Findings of an independent medical fact-finding mission’ and was written by “eight independent international medical experts, unaffiliated with Israeli or Palestinian parties involved in the conflict”, all of whom actually visited Gaza, as opposed to being fed a load of propaganda to base their report on. These are the conclusions from the Executive Summary, in full:

            “ • The attacks were characterised by heavy and unpredictable bombardments of civilian neighbourhoods in a manner that failed to discriminate between legitimate targets and protected populations and caused widespread destruction of homes and civilian property. Such indiscriminate attacks, by aircraft, drones, artillery, tanks and gunships, were unlikely to have been the result of decisions made by individual soldiers or commanders; they must have entailed approval from top-level decision-makers in the Israeli military and/or government.

            • The initiators of the attacks, despite giving some prior warnings of these attacks, failed to take the requisite precautions that would effectively enable the safe evacuation of the civilian population, including provision of safe spaces and routes. As a result, there was no guaranteed safe space in the Gaza Strip, nor were there any safe escape routes from it.

            • In numerous cases double or multiple consecutive strikes on a single location led to multiple civilian casualties and to injuries and deaths among rescuers.

            • Coordination of medical evacuation was often denied and many attacks on medical teams and facilities were reported. It is not clear whether such contravention of medical neutrality was the result of a policy established by senior decision-makers, a general permissive atmosphere leading to the flouting of norms, or the result of individual choices made on the ground during armed clashes.

            • In Khuza’a, the reported conduct of specific troops in the area is indicative of additional serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.”

            Yes Pedro X, there would inevitably have been abuses of international law committed by Hamas. That in no way exonerates the state of Israel from the serious barbaric abuses committed by its military forces during Operation Protective Edge. Neither does it in any way excuse a bunch of well-rewarded U.S. generals from writing a pack of lies about the behaviour of Israel’s military forces. Nor does it excuse you and your handlers from peddling that propaganda as fact, or for maliciously implying that Natasha Roth’s article, based on authoritative research from the Defence for Children International – Palestine, is therefore inaccurate and a sub-standard piece of professional journalism.

            As for your assertion that “One can feel sorrow for the families of the deceased children or blame them for not preventing them playing on a battlefield.” I am genuinely sorry, but I don’t believe that you mean a word of that.

            Reply to Comment
          • Pedro X

            PHR-I sponsored Gaza Report was hardly made up of independent people with no connection with either Israel or the Palestinians. 5 out of the 8 had an expressed pro Palestinian positions or had an anti-Israel view and had expressed same. NGO Monitor had this to say:

            “many of the fact-finding members are political activists with histories of biased anti-Israel remarks. The inclusion of individuals with this background is in violation of legal and ethical fact-finding standards, such as those outlined in the Lund-London guidelines:

            Alicia Vacas – Published a letter in support of Kairos Palestine, a document written by Palestinian-Christian activists that calls for BDS and denies the Jewish historical connection to Israel. In an article she published following her visit to Gaza, she refused to call the conflict a war, but rather a “massacre” and referred to Israel’s “devilishly sophisticated and flourishing industry of death.”

            Laurel Baldwin-Ragaven – In an article published in The Lancet medical journal (August 30, 2014), Baldwin and others compared Israel to an apartheid state and called “on South Africa to expel the Israeli ambassador during this current conflict.”

            Jennifer Leaning – Steering Group member of the highly politicized Lancet Palestine Health Alliance. In 2009, she co-authored a piece in The Lancet, showing a photo of a damaged building described as the Al-Quds Hospital in Gaza. In fact, the picture was off an adjacent building. (The article has been removed.)

            Önder Özkalipci – Coordinator and co-editor of the UN Istanbul Protocol, which alleged that Israel’s actions concerning the Mavi Marmara (2010) constituted torture. Since 2013, he is a freelance consultant to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and PHR-I.

            Louis Reynolds – “Founding member and chair of People’s Heath Movement, South Africa” (pg. 19). People’s Heath Movement, South Africa participated in an August 2014 protest “calling for a Free Palestine.” On August 15, the international umbrella of People’s Heath Movement published a statement, “strongly condemn[ing] the brutal armed attack by the Israeli occupation military forces on Gaza Strip….these attacks have to be seen in the context of the decades‐long occupation and ethnic cleansing of the territory of historic Palestine….We therefore express full solidarity with the Palestinian people, who have resisted an illegal regime of occupation and apartheid for over 60 years. We condemn the war crimes committed by Israeli forces, which must be held accountable for the sake of universal justice.”

            Moreover the medical experts lacked any military expertise which was necessary to make conclusions concerning either Israel’s or Hamas’ use of weapons. The Report is simply worthless propaganda by far left wingers with a known agenda.

            For a full discussion of the failings of the Gaza report read


            Reply to Comment
          • Richard Lightbown

            Well it’s no surprise that NGO Monitor (NGO M) likes neither the people who wrote the report nor what it says. I wasted quite a lot of time going through their report which is based primarily on vilification, half-truths, unsubstantiated allegations and even outright lies. (If an interviewer states that a rocket has taken off from ‘nearby’ Shifna Hospital this does not mean, as NGO M construes, that the hospital has been used by combatants. It does mean that Shifa Hospital was not involved and should retain its protected status under international law.)

            Much of the criticism is based on assumption, for example the repeated allegations and insinuations about Hamas intimidation of witnesses has been given no factual support.

            This report would not stand up in a court of law (but oh how I would love to see Gerald Steinberg cross-examined on it by a top-notch barrister.)

            The NGO-M gibberish does not detract in any way from the PHR-I report and allegations of serious breaches of international law remain, despite the report from the five U.S. armchair generals. Here for example is the UN OCHA report ‘Gaza Initial Rapid Assessment 27 August 2014’, p14:

            “17 out of 32 hospitals were damaged and six closed down as a result. Out of 97 primary health centers (PHC) monitored for damage and closures, 45 reported damage and 17 were closed. Four are completely destroyed. 16 ambulances were damaged, and 83 health personnel injured, 21 health personnel died.”

            Only a bunch of asinine clowns could deduce from those details concerning major war crimes that “Contrary to accusations of widespread unlawful military conduct, we observed that Israel systemically applied established rules of conduct that adhered to or exceeded the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) in a virtually unprecedented effort to avoid inflicting civilian casualties”. To put it bluntly, that statement from the JINSA report is a blatant lie and the people who signed on to it are a disgrace to the uniforms they once wore.

            I also see no reason to discount statements from Palestinian doctors serving in Gaza simply because NGO M finds these statements offensive. No valid justification has been given to impugn the reputation of Dr Sabhani, who told Al-Monitor

            “The Israeli army indeed used DIME weapons, as some bodies arrived at the hospital amputated with a distinct smell. We have dealt with wounds that can’t be healed […] In addition to the use of DIMEs, which we have proven, we have seen other indicators that prove the use of other lethal weapons that we have yet to identify. We received bodies with strange wounds, some of them charred while others were exposed to nail shrapnel. Some bodies even arrived at the hospital beheaded, and others have been crushed, as if a huge rock had fallen on them.”

            There is also this statement from the general director of the Palestinian Ministry of Health, Medhat Abbas: “Among the injuries confirming the use of DIMEs were second and third-degree burns and losses of upper and lower limbs. The clinical response of the injured bodies to treatment cannot be understood. For instance, while the wound is supposed to heal with antibiotics, it expands in a dangerous way that threatens the life of the injured.”

            There are also plenty of nasty videos on YouTube from Gaza showing horrific injuries which conform to these descriptions. These weapons are banned under the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons of 1980, which Israel ratified on 22 March 1995. If Israel really believes that it has not used these weapons why does it not submit to an international inquiry under the auspices of the UN?

            I am not so stupid as to deny that there were very likely illegal actions on the part of Palestinians in Gaza during the war of 2014 with Israel. But I am certainly not so bloody stupid as to believe the vile propaganda put out by the like of messrs Steinberg and X who seek to absolve Israel of any criminal wrongdoing during that very nasty war.

            Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Just on the narrow military tactics level alone Pedro makes no sense. On the face of it. First, much of their tunnel system was obviously away from urban centers. Second, Pedro seems to complaining that asymmetric Arab fighters did not behave in a way he would never expect or want asymmetric Jewish fighters in the Gazan landscape facing a high tech Air Force to behave. Pedro is complaining that the Arab fighters did not construct their tunnel entrances out in the open fields with neon flashing lights saying “hit me please” and did not line up like British Red Coats in open formation on the fields of Gaza and wave sabers and rifles at F/16s with laser guided bombs. Ludicrous.

        ” The choices Hamas made were to lower losses of fighters and military assets while exposing civilians to great harm. Hamas used its civilian population including children as human shields.”

        Actually it is equally true that the choices Israel made were to meant to absolutely lower losses of its own fighters while exposing civilians to great harm. Israel used overwhelming and indiscriminate fire power from a distance and upon civilians in order to avoid an asymmetric battlefield and avoid a true fight on the ground and so absolutely minimize IDF casualties above all other considerations. Israel further enacted its Hannibal policy, coldly eliminating mass numbers of noncombatants over a wide area expressly in order to prevent one soldier’s capture. And to call urban guerrilla warfare tactics a use of “human shields” is simply tendentious propaganda. A “human shield” is rather the use of a civilian hostage by a soldier as a literal shield in an operation, something the IDF has been shown to do on a number of occasions in the West Bank.

        None of this excuses Hamas one bit for its offenses or defends their ideology. But it is to point out that Pedro has one set of standards for his own and another set for others and is not even aware of it. We can go on and on about who started what and why, and that’s a whole other argument, but Pedro X betrays as usual a double standard and unspoken prejudices in the assumptions he deploys about military tactics.

        Reply to Comment
    2. RudyM

      “Natasha Roth, a British immigrant to Israel. . .”

      i.e., part of the problem. What made you think you have a right immigrate to Israel when Palestinian refugees are prevented from returning?

      Reply to Comment
      • New Relic

        You seem confused friend
        Every country on the planet is allowed to make its own immigration policies. Your approval is not necessary.

        Reply to Comment