Photo Essay: On Gaza, Children, and War


Bonus Tracks: Children enjoying their childhood


January 13, 2009



Children in Gaza Children in a Mindanao evacuation center



January 9, 2009, 21:51


War takes toll on Gaza children


Since the Israeli offensive in Gaza began on December 27, it is estimated that about 770 Palestinians and 14 Israelis have been killed. Roughly half of the Palestinians killed are believed to be civilians. Among them are many children, perhaps the most defenceless victims of the conflict.


With one of the highest birth rates worldwide, the Palestinian autonomy has an overwhelmingly young population. More than half of the people are under 14 years old. It is therefore no surprise that children have paid a high price in the latest armed conflict.

Palestinian officials say the Israeli offensive has killed around 170 children so far.

Gazans are vulnerable not only to frequent shelling. They are also victims of a growing humanitarian crisis.

Without electricity, hospitals are operating on backup generators and are low on fuel. The life-saving services provided by doctors and nurses in overloaded hospitals are under threat.

The risk of disease is growing as water wells and sewage pumps seize up due to a lack of electricity.

Even before the recent conflict broke out, 18 months of blockades meant Gazans had to endure appalling living conditions. Now it has got even worse. And children, who do not understand the logic of war, are still bearing the brunt of the Israeli attacks.

“When the air attack began, we were at home. We then ran in the street and saw injured people, many of them children. Two small girls were killed, one of them had her leg blown off. I’m asking: what have children done to deserve this?” Palestian citizen Abu Aood said.

“When night comes, children get scared, because tanks might come, or rockets may fall on us. Still we do not intend to leave our home,” Palestinian Mama Sahira said.

Kate Conrad from the Save the Children foundation says: “The situation for children in Gaza is increasingly dire."

She added that as the conflict enters its second week many children in the region lack the means of survival: 

“We are now in the 12th day of the conflict. Many are without water, without electricity. Food is very scarce. They are terrorised. They can't sleep at night. And we should understand, too, that even before this crisis hit, children there were very vulnerable.”

On Thursday, the United Nations demanded an investigation into the Israeli shelling of a Gaza school that killed nearly 40 people earlier in the week.


Photo Essay: On Gaza, Children, and War
By Preeti Aroon

Posted January 2009



Lost childhood: War is traumatizing for anybody, but it's especially devastating to the children caught in the crossfire. They are the ones who bear absolutely no responsibility for all the violence, yet they are the ones left with some of the worst physical and psychological scars -- scars they'll carry for life, warping their development into adults.


Photo: SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images




Wounded: Since Israel began its Dec. 27, 2008, offensive against Gaza, approximately 257 children in Gaza have been killed and 1,080 injured, according to U.N. numbers released Jan. 8. Israel accuses Hamas of intentionally attacking from civilian-populated areas, driving up casualties among noncombatants to provoke anger against Israel. Here, a wounded Palestinian boy is carried into the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on Jan. 4.


Photo: Abid Katib/Getty Images




School of hard knocks: Amid stacked desks, Palestinian children and their families take shelter at a school run by the United Nations in Gaza City on Jan. 5. The U.N. has turned 23 of its schools into shelters for Gazans displaced by the fighting. But taking refuge in a school is no guarantee of safety. On Jan. 6, Israeli soldiers fired mortar shells at a school in the Jabaliya refugee camp. Forty-two people were killed, and Palestinian medical officials said many were civilians. Israel says Hamas militants had been firing mortar shells from the school, something the U.N. denies.

Photo: MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images


Reduced to rubble: On Jan. 9, Palestinian children walk past the remains of buildings destroyed by Israeli airstrikes on the Jabaliya refugee camp. On Jan. 7, emergency personnel were allowed to enter the Zaytoun neighborhood, which the Israeli military had kept the International Committee of the Red Cross from entering for four days. Among at least 12 bodies found in one house were four weakened but alive children lying next to their mothers' bodies. On Jan. 8, 100 more survivors were found. Israeli said that entry to the neighborhood was delayed due to fighting and that it would investigate the matter.

Photo: Abid Katib/Getty Images


Dangerous ground: An Israeli mother shields her children during a rocket attack alert in the southern Israeli kibbutz of Kfar Aza, neighboring the Gaza Strip, on Jan. 7. Over the years, Gazan militants have fired rockets into southern Israel, and since a six-month truce between Hamas and Israel ended Dec. 19, the group has launched hundreds of the mostly unguided rockets. In May, a 48-year-old man in Kfar Aza was killed by a mortar shell while gardening. "Every door slamming makes people sweat," a resident of the kibbutz told Ynet news the day after the death.

Photo: JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images


Collecting keepsakes: Yinon Tubi, 11, of Sderot, in southern Israel, on Jan. 5 displays his collection of shrapnel from Qassam rockets fired from Gaza. He began collecting 18 months ago. When sirens sound, he enters bomb shelters. When he emerges, he follows the smoke to collect shrapnel. He does it "so I 'll have a souvenir to show my children, and even my grandchildren, what distress I, my family, and all of Sderot's residents lived through," he told Haaretz. Recently in the Washington Post, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter wrote that over the years, the unpredictable rocket explosions have inflicted "serious psychological damage."

Photo: YOAV LEMMER/AFP/Getty Images


Cooped up: An Israeli woman and her daughters take refuge Jan. 1 in a bomb shelter in the southern city of Beersheba, which is often hit by rockets fired from Gaza. A rocket hit an empty kindergarten Dec. 30, and school -- from preschool to university -- was canceled this week. The Education Ministry has launched Internet lessons so that children don't fall behind, but parents say students have difficulty understanding them.

Photo: YEHUDA RAIZNER/AFP/Getty Images


Helping hands: A Saudi boy in Jeddah on Jan. 3 carries a donation for Gazans. On Jan. 8, Saudi Arabia announced that it had raised $45.6 million in emergency aid for Gazans in a weeklong telethon. King Abdullah contributed $8 million, and his brother, the crown prince, donated $2.6 million. An anonymous Saudi business executive pitched in $6.7 million.

Photo:  Omar Salem/AFP/Getty Images


Pint-size protesters: A boy points a toy gun and gestures on Jan. 4 in Rabat, Morocco, as demonstrators protest the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Children have frequently participated in protests around the world, condemning Israel's actions. Occasionally they are dressed as militants. Other times, they carry signs with phrases such as, "Don't kill the children" and "Israelis: enemy of children!!!" Children have also appeared carrying mock cadavers of children and smeared in fake blood to depict Gazan children killed during Israeli attacks.

Photo: ABDELHAK SENNA/AFP/Getty Images


Or pint-size pawns? Supporters of Israel shout anti-Palestinian chants as anti-Israeli protesters demonstrate in front of the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles on Jan. 2. As the man's poster indicates, many accuse Palestinians and their supporters of abusing children by indoctrinating them with militant ideology, using them as propaganda tools, and exploiting them as human shields.

Photo: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images


◄◄ Aiming below the belt: A Palestinian boy tucks a Koran into a mock explosive belt during a demonstration in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh in southern Lebanon on Jan. 2. The emotionally charged Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been raging for decades, and a peaceful solution has proven sadly elusive. Unfortunately for the children involved, the chance to grow up free from violence, emotional trauma, and radicalization seems to be a distant dream.

Photo: MAHMOUD ZAYAT/AFP/Getty Images



UN: 257 Palestinian children killed in Gaza
01/09/2009 | 08:59 AM

New York Times

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Tiny bodies lying side by side wrapped in white burial shrouds. The cherubic face of a dead preschooler sticking up from the rubble of her home. A man cradling a wounded boy in a chaotic emergency room after Israel shelled a UN school.

Children, who make up more than half of crowded Gaza's 1.4 million people, are the most defenseless victims of the war between Israel and Hamas. The Israeli army has unleashed unprecedented force in its campaign against Hamas militants, who have been taking cover among civilians.

A photo of 4-year-old Kaukab Al Dayah, just her bloodied head sticking out from the rubble of her home, covered many front pages in the Arab world Wednesday. "This is Israel," read the headline in the Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm. The preschooler was killed early Tuesday when an F-16 attacked her family's four-story home in Gaza City. Four adults also died.

As many as 257 children have been killed and 1,080 wounded — about a third of the total casualties since Dec. 27, according to UN figures released Thursday.

Hardest on the children is the sense that nowhere is safe and adults can't protect them, said Iyad Sarraj, a psychologist hunkering down in his Gaza City apartment with his four stepchildren, ages 3-17. His 10-year-old, Adam, is terrified during bombing raids and has developed asthma attacks, Sarraj said.

Israel says it is targeting Hamas in response to its repeated rocket attacks on southern Israel, and is doing its utmost to avoid civilian deaths. However, foreign aid officials note that civilians can't escape blockaded Gaza and that bombing crowded areas inevitably leads to civilian casualties. The Israeli military has used tank and artillery shells, as well as large aerial bombs.

In the Shati refugee camp on the Mediterranean, 10 boys were playing football in an alley Thursday when a shell from an Israeli gunboat hit a nearby Hamas prison.

At the sound of the explosion, one of the older boys whistled, a signal to interrupt the game. Several players took cover with their backs pressed against a wall. After a minute or two, the game resumed.

Samih Hilal, 14, said he sneaked out of his grandfather's house against the orders of his worried father. The house was crowded with relatives who fled more dangerous areas, he said, and he couldn't stand being cooped up for so many hours.

"Do you think we are not afraid? Yes, we are. But we have nothing to do but play," Samih said.

Another boy, 13-year-old Yasser, waved toward the unmanned Israeli drones in a defiant gesture, instead of seeking cover during the shelling. "There is nothing we can do. Even if we run away here or there, their shells are faster than us," he said.

Indeed, all of Gaza has become dangerous ground.

Children have been killed in strikes on their houses, while riding in cars with their parents, while playing in the streets, walking to a grocery and even at U.N. shelters.

Sayed, Mohammed and Raida Abu Aisheh — ages 12, 8 and 7 — were at home with their parents when they were all killed in an Israeli airstrike before dawn Monday. The family had remained in the ground floor apartment of their three-story building, while the rest of the extended clan sought refuge in the basement from heavy bombardment of nearby Hamas installations.

Those in the basement survived. The children's uncle, Saber Abu Aisheh, 49, searched Thursday through the rubble, a heap of cement blocks, mattresses, scorched furniture and smashed TVs.

He said Israel gave no warning, unlike two years earlier when he received repeated calls from the Israeli military, including on his cell phone, that a nearby house was going to get hit and that he should evacuate.

"What's going on is not a war, it's a mass killing," said Abu Aisheh, still wearing the blood-splattered olive-colored sweater he wore the night of the airstrike.

The Israeli military did not comment when asked why the Abu Aisheh house was targeted.

In the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City, medics found four young children next to their dead mothers in a house, according to the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross. "They were too weak to stand up on their own," the statement said.

The Red Cross did not say what happened to the children, but noted that the Israeli army refused rescuers permission to reach the neighborhood for four days. Israel said the delay was caused by fighting.

Medic Mohammed Azayzeh said he retrieved the bodies of a man and his two young sons from central Gaza on Wednesday. One of the boys, a 1-year-old, was cradled in his father's arms.

In the Jebaliya refugee camp, five sisters from the Balousha family, ages 4, 8, 11, 14 and 17, were buried together in white shrouds on Dec. 29. An Israeli airstrike on a mosque, presumably a Hamas target, had destroyed their adjacent house. Only their parents and a baby girl survived.

Israel accuses Hamas of cynically exploiting Gaza's civilians and using them as human shields. The military has released video footage showing militants firing mortars from the rooftops of homes and mosques.

"Israel wants to see no harm to the children of Gaza," said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev. "On the contrary, we would like to see their children and our children grow up without the fear of violence. Until now, Hamas has deliberately prevented that from becoming reality."

Rocket fire from Gaza has disrupted life in Israeli border communities, and with the latest intensified militant attacks, hundreds of thousands of Israelis are in rocket range. Schools are closed and fearful Israeli children rush into bomb shelters at the sound of air raid sirens.

In the ongoing chaos of Gaza, it's difficult to get exact casualty figures. Since Dec. 27, at least 750 Palestinians have been killed, according to Gaza Health Ministry official Dr. Moawiya Hassanain.

Of those, 257 were children, according to the UN's top humanitarian official, John Holmes, citing Health Ministry figures that he called credible and deeply disturbing.

"We are talking about urban war," said Abdel-Rahman Ghandour, the Jordan-based spokesman for UNICEF in the Middle East and North Africa. "The density of the population is so high, it's bound to hurt children ... This is a unique conflict, where there is nowhere to go."

Successive generations of Gaza children have grown up with violence, part of the accelerating conflict with Israel. In the late 1980s, many threw stones at Israeli soldiers in a revolt against occupation. In the second uprising, starting in 2000, some were recruited by Hamas as suicide bombers.

Sarraj, the psychologist, said he fears for this generation: Having experienced trauma and their parents' helplessness, they may be more vulnerable to recruitment by militants.

In his Gaza City apartment, Sarraj tries to reassure his own children.

His 14-year-old stepdaughter lost her school, the American International School, to a recent airstrike, and a girlfriend was killed in another attack. The family lives in the middle-class Rimal neighborhood and still has enough fuel to run a generator in the evenings, enabling the children to read.

Yet when the bombings start, he can't distract them. "They are scared," he said. "They run to find the safest place, in the hallway, away from the window." - AP



Evacuees in Mindanao

Letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on children in armed conflict by Luis G. Jalandoni, Chairperson, NDFP NegotiatingPanel



By Luis V. Teodoro

THE 12-day Israeli assault on Gaza and its cost in non-combatant lives has elicited the usual tongue- clucking about the need for a ceasefire to prevent another "humanitarian disaster".

The phrase is straight out of the dictionaries of UN relief agencies, and by now has little meaning to many people. The entire planet having become one huge disaster area, humanitarian crises have become so common millions are part of one, while others have been desensitized to the tales of suffering that daily flood the media.

In Gaza, the Israeli bombings, machine-gunning, artillery-pounding and tank attacks of the past two weeks are mere additions to the disaster Palestinians have endured both during formal Israeli occupation as well as "withdrawal. " The Western media insist that Gaza is under Hamas control, but it is still under Israeli blockade, and the Israelis control the seas and the airspace. As a result the Palestinians there have had to live on $2 a day per capita.

Israel has also cut off the water supply, and conducts military operations in the Strip at will, since it has the high-tech, US-supplied hardware that assures it military superiority over the Kalashnikov- and RPG-armed Hamas fighters. In retaliation for the Hamas' capture (the Israelis and Western media called it a "kidnapping" ) of an Israeli soldier in 2006, for example, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) launched a series of attacks on alleged Hamas strongholds that left at least a hundred Palestinians including children dead.

Before that, the Islamist group Hamas had handily won 56 percent of the seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council in elections international observers said were fair and free. The Palestinians' failure to vote for the US-Israel favored Fatah party of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas rather than Hamas provoked a punishing Israeli response and US efforts to unseat Hamas, whose poll victory the US had not anticipated.

As has become normal in US foreign policy during the Bush watch, the Hamas victory was a result the policy was trying to prevent. It was much like the attempt to halt Iraq's turning into a terrorist breeding ground by attacking it in 2003 which produced the exact opposite effect of turning it into a terrorist breeding ground.

The usual suspect is US President George W. Bush, who had pushed for the elections "in furtherance of democracy" over the objections of Israel and the US' Fatah allies, who knew they couldn't win a fair election. Bush's commitment to democracy rapidly faded with the Hamas victory, and was replaced with the usual US tactic of punishing entire populations for voting for people it doesn't like, in the hope that they (the population) will eventually change their minds.

The punishment in this case, said US journalist David Rose in a 2008 article in Vanity Fair, was an intra-Palestinian civil war, specifically between Fatah and Hamas, in which, of course, the usual civilian casualties were likely. To make a long and distressingly sordid story short, the US refused to recognize the Hamas-led, democratically- elected government, and rejected the Hamas call for a ceasefire to allow negotiations on the two-state plan that has been supported by much of the international community for 30 years except by Israel and the US.



Instead the US offered to arm and train Fatah so it could confront Hamas militarily. By now practically a US creature, Fatah's Abbas agreed, albeit reluctantly, and sent fighters off to Egypt for training and arming-with US funding, of course.

To preempt Fatah's capturing with arms the power it had lost in the polls, Hamas attacked Fatah security forces and defeated them in the middle of 2007. The US policy under Bumbling Bush once again produced the exact opposite result of its intent: it made Hamas and its hold on Gaza even stronger.

State terrorism begets home-made terrorism. Hamas kept lobbing rockets into Israeli-held areas in Gaza and the West Bank, but also targeted Israeli towns near the Gaza-Israel border as the Israelis kept up their blockade, assassinations, and brutal military incursions. A tenuous truce that might as well have been non-existent was somehow put in place, with the Israelis continuing to arrest and assassinate Hamas leaders by obliterating the neighborhoods they live in, while Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israel, killing civilians and causing extensive property damage

The immediate justification for the December air attacks and subsequent ground assault by the Israelis was to put a stop to the rocket attacks, which, however, would be possible only if Hamas were totally destroyed and its links to its major patrons and funders, among them Iran, were severed.

While analysts concede that Israel could inflict substantial damage on Hamas, it's not likely to destroy it, not only because its fighters are among the population, but also because the usual collateral damage on women, children and other non-combatants is likely to foment even greater anger against Israel and the US, and to breed even more terrorists and terrorism. Despite the noises it's making about an immediate ceasefire, the Bush administration is incidentally likely to have approved the Israeli attack, which seems to have been timed to limit the options of the incoming Obama administration in dealing with Hamas.

The way to peace in this part of the Middle East has been known for 30 years: it is to negotiate and implement the two-state solution that in the first place the creation of the Jewish state out of Palestine in 1948 by the UN was supposed to put in place, but which it never did. Except for a brief period during the Clinton administration, neither the US nor Israel have ever considered that solution, blinded as they are by their singular focus on their self-interest and in denying the Palestinians a fair share of the land and resources to which they have as much right as the Israelis. The US and Israel are as eyeless in Gaza as Samson was-- but with the difference that Samson was blinded, not by greed and intolerance, but by love and his Philistine foes.--##

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Children enjoying their childhood:

Playing the game tumbahan on a Sunday afternoon

at a neighborhood near the Payatas dumpsite

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