Israel’s War On Gaza’s Children

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Gazan children running for their lives
Gazan children running for their lives

THIS week the organisation Defence for Children International-Palestine Section (DCI-P) published an in-depth report detailing the devastating effects on the lives of Palestinian children of Israel’s murderous assault on Gaza last summer.

This assault, codenamed Operation Protective Edge by the Israelis, lasted for 50 days from July 8 to August 26.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs this war against the people of Gaza claimed the lives of 2,220 Palestinians.

Of these, the UN Office has identified that at least 1,492 are undoubtedly innocent civilians, while the DCI-P has independently verified the deaths of 547 Palestinian children among those killed.

Out of this figure of 547 they have further verified that 535 were killed as a direct result of Israeli attacks – nearly 68% of the children killed by Israeli forces were aged 12 years or younger.

As the report points out, the killing of Palestinian children by Israeli forces is nothing new in Gaza, where 43% of the population is under 14 years of age.

It states: ‘DCI-P’s investigation into all Palestinian child fatalities during Operation Protective Edge found overwhelming and repeated evidence that Israeli forces committed grave violations against children amounting to war crimes. This included direct targeting of children by Israeli drone-fired missiles and attacks carried out against schools. Israel, the world’s largest exporter of aerial drones, killed 164 children in drone strikes during the conflict.’

It goes on: ‘No day more clearly demonstrated the indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks that characterised the Israeli offensive than July 20, when Israeli air and ground forces killed at least 27 children in Gaza City’s Shuja’iyya neighbourhood. An Israeli fighter jet also destroyed the Abu Jami family home in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis on the same day, killing 18 children. In total, 59 children across the Gaza Strip lost their lives in one of the deadliest days of Operation Protective Edge.’

Evidence and testimonies collected by DCI-P showed that there was no safe place for children in Gaza during the Israeli assault. Children were killed in their homes by Israeli missiles, while sheltering in schools by high-explosive Israeli artillery shells, and in the streets by Israeli drone-fired missiles and artillery shells as they attempted to escape the onslaught with their families.

As the report explains: ‘Incidents such as these are not unprecedented. Operation Protective Edge was the sixth Israeli military offensive on Gaza in the past eight years, and raised the number of children killed in assaults on Gaza to 1,097 since 2006. Between December 2008 and January 2009, Israeli forces killed at least 353 children, as well as a further 33 children in November 2012.

‘Israeli armed forces have been regularly implicated in serious, systematic and institutionalised human rights violations against Palestinian children living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). Children affected by armed conflict are entitled to special respect and protections under international law, but Israel has consistently violated these protections through indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks that have resulted in large numbers of child fatalities and injuries.’

The case studies presented in this report add to the body of well-documented evidence of war crimes and serious violations of international humanitarian law committed by Israel over the past decade.

‘Palestinian children have often paid the highest price in Israel’s repeated military offensives, while also suffering from a man-made humanitarian crisis created by Israel’s eight-year long blockade of Gaza.’

The bulk of the report gives forensic details of the murderous attacks carried out by the Zionist military during the 50 days of war against Gaza.

From the indiscriminate, untargeted use of high explosive bombs and artillery against one of the most densely populated areas in the world, down to the targeted use of unmanned drones specifically targeting civilians and children, and the use of children as human shields by the Israeli army, it exposes the Israeli ‘military doctrines’ that guided these attacks.

All of these are in direct contravention of every international law on the conduct of war and constitute a massive catalogue of war crimes committed by the Zionist state.

On the issue of overwhelming force directed at residential and densely populated areas, the report found that: ‘The vast majority of child fatalities and injuries occurred in the context of intensive Israeli airstrikes and artillery shelling in densely populated residential neighbourhoods. Children were often present and sheltering in civilian structures when strikes occurred, usually with their extended families in single apartment blocks. As a result, many families lost multiple members.

‘The most heavily bombarded residential areas included the suburbs of the southern Gaza towns of Khan Younis and Rafah; the eastern neighbourhoods of Gaza City, including Shuja’iyya, Zeitoun and Tuffah; and Beit Hanoun, Beit Lahia and Jabalia refugee camp in the north of the Gaza Strip.

‘During the July 20 assault on the Shuja’iyya neighbourhood in eastern Gaza City, Israeli forces reportedly fired 4,800 shells into the neighbourhood over a seven-hour period contributing to one of the deadliest days for children during the offensive. On average, Palestinian children living in Gaza died at a rate of 11 per day, every day, during the conflict. Israeli forces killed a total of 59 children throughout Gaza on July 20, including 29 children in Shuja’iyaa.

‘In attacks similar to Shuja’iyya, Israeli forces bombarded Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, with intensive shelling and airstrikes on August 1 following reports that a Palestinian armed group had Captured an Israeli soldier. The widespread and disproportionate attacks in Rafah contributed to a single-day death toll of 49 children killed throughout the Gaza Strip on August 1.’

On the question of the military doctrines used by the Israeli forces the report identifies two, both illegal under international law, that guided the war strategy.

Of ‘Dahiya’ doctrine, the report says: ‘Israeli military operations during July and August 2014 appeared to be consistent with a stated Israeli military strategy known as the “Dahiya Doctrine,” which involves overwhelming and disproportionate force directed at government and civilian infrastructure and residential neighbourhoods associated with armed groups that Israeli officials deem to be hostile regimes or factions.’

This doctrine derives its name from the massive destruction of the Dahiya quarter of Beirut by the Israeli’s back in 2006.

The doctrine was enunciated at the time by the Israeli military commander Gadi Eisenkot who declared: ‘What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on. We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases.’ He ended: ‘This is not a recommendation. This is a plan, and it has been approved.’

As the DCI-P report notes: ‘While the doctrine attempts to justify the use of indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians and civilian structures, it exhibits a complete disregard for international law and results in indiscriminate attacks and disproportionate force that constitute war crimes.’

On the Hannibal directive, the report says: ‘In an attempt to justify their disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks, the Israeli military admitted to implementing another doctrine, a policy called the “Hannibal directive”.

‘This directive gives the Zionist state permission to its forces to use “any means necessary” to prevent the capture of one of its soldier by enemy forces. “Such means would include the use of excessive force or devastating firepower, even if those means risk the life of the captured soldier.” Israeli officials to negotiate for the release of a captured prisoner.’

The report found that Israeli forces implemented the Hannibal directive after it was claimed one of their soldiers had been taken prisoner during fighting in Rafah on August 1st.

The report reveals that: ‘Following the incident, Israeli officials affirmed, “that commanders on the ground had activated the Hannibal directive and ordered ‘massive fire’.” The indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks in Rafah killed nearly two hundred people between August 1 and 3.’

The report continues: ‘Regardless of its policy aims, evidence shows that the Hannibal directive does not conform to international humanitarian law standards because it results in indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians.’

Among its lengthy list of proposals the DCI-P call for the ‘International Community’ to:

‘• Demand that Israel end its prolonged military occupation of Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and its eight-year siege on the Gaza Strip, a form of collective punishment prohibited under international law;

‘• Call on the UN Secretary-General to list Israel’s armed forces in his 14 th Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict for committing grave violations against children during armed conflict, specifically killing and maiming and attacks against schools;

‘• Fully support the International Criminal Court’s exercise of jurisdiction over the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and oppose and refrain from taking any punitive measures against the State of Palestine for engaging with the International Criminal Court.’

This report has detailed the barbaric and deliberate slaughter by the Israeli state carried out against the Palestinians – a slaughter that deliberately targeted civilians and especially the children and youth and stands as a powerful indictment of the Zionist state.

The fact, however, remains that all the murderous brutality meted out by the overwhelming might of the Israeli forces could not defeat the Palestinians in Gaza.

Indeed, after 50 days of slaughter, it was Israel that had to agree an unconditional ceasefire and drop its demand that Hamas disarm.

All the might of Israel, armed to the teeth with the most modern weaponry supplied by its imperialist masters, could not break the heroic resistance of the Palestinian people.

Far from emerging strengthened, the Zionist state came out of this war against the children of Gaza immeasurably weakened.

The task ahead is to forge onwards with the campaign to recognise the Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and to demand that the Zionists be brought to justice for their crimes against humanity.