By Dr Cesar Chelala
A friend who lives in Tel Aviv recently told me, “We are so shocked by the death of this little four-year-old boy….he was such a beautiful child. The whole country is in shock.” She was referring to the death of Daniel Tragerman, who was killed in his home in Sha’ar Hanegev by a rocket presumably fired by Hamas sympathisers.
The whole of Israel is in shock over the death of this child, a fan of Leo Messi, the famous Argentinian football player. And everywhere there is the image of this child dressed in an Argentinean footballteam jersey, the number 10 proudly displayed on his chest. Although this child’s death is truly to be lamented, there is hardly a word in the Israeli media lamenting the deaths of 478 Palestinian children. One of the few exceptions is the always courageous voice of Gideon Levy, the Haaretz columnist.
One of the most terrible consequences of the war in Gaza –and of all wars – is how it dehumanises us to the point that we divide children into ‘friends’ and ‘enemies’ and only lament the deaths of our ‘friends’. We consider those that are not our ‘friends’ as inevitable casualties of war. And in the meantime the number of dead children continues to increase.
“After the first child, nobody batted an eye; after the 50th not even a slight tremor was felt in a plane’s wing; after the 100th, they stopped counting; after the 200th, they blamed Hamas. After the 300th child they blamed the parents. After the 400th child, they invented excuses; after (the first) 478 children nobody cares,” writes Levy in Haaretz in an article entitled “The Difference Between Children.”
Of Gaza ’s 1.8 million residents more than half are children who, following the latest Israeli onslaught called “Protective Edge”, will for years suffer the psychological consequences of war. “There isn’t a single family in Gaza who hasn’t experienced personally death, injury, the loss of their home, extensive damage, displacement,” said Pernilla Ironside, the chief of UNICEF’s Gaza field office. While 373,000 Palestinian children are in need of immediate psychological aid, UNICEF has only 50 psychologists and counsellors on the ground in Gaza .
“The impact has truly been vast, both at a very physical level, in terms of casualties, injuries, the infrastructure has been damaged, but also importantly, emotionally and psychologically in terms of the destabilising impact that not knowing, not truly feeling like there is anywhere safe place to go in Gaza,” said Ironside.
Gaza ’s children educational possibilities have been seriously thwarted by the conflict. According to UNICEF estimates, at least 219 schools have been damaged by Israeli airstrikes, and 22 schools were completely destroyed. As the new academic year starts, nearly half a million children in Gaza will not be able to return to primary and secondary schools, according to Save the Children, UNICEF and UNESCO.
Gazan children are desperate for signs of normalcy in their lives. As Lodovico Folin Calabi, acting head of the UNESCO office in Ramallah stated, “Going back to school means bringing back normalcy to children. For this we need a durable ceasefire, and we must meet the most pressing needs for the rapid recovery of the education system.”
Levy has been one of the fiercest critics of Israeli actions in Gaza that have targeted children. His words couldn’t be more eloquent: “An iron wall of denial and inhumanness protects the Israelis from the shameful work of their hands in Gaza. And indeed, these numbers are hard to digest. Of the hundreds of men killed one could say that they were “involved”; of the hundreds of women that they were “human shields.” As for a small number of children, one could claim that the most moral army in the world did not intend it. But what shall we say about almost 500 children killed? That the Israel Defense Forces did not intend it, 478 times? That Hamas hid behind all of them? That this legitimised killing them?”
The death of four-year-old Daniel Tragerman was a tragedy. And so is the death of 478 Palestinian children. To ignore this fact is to be complicit with their murder.
Dr. Cesar Chelala is a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award