The Goldstone Report - Israel, Gaza, and children

I was flicking through my copy of the Amnesty International Report 2009: The State of the World's Human Rights (it is very helpful; get your copy here), and I started reading the entry for Israel and the OPT. 

If you have signed up to our e-zines (you can do so by registering with us),you may recall that at the beginning of the year we ran a campaign on children's access to healthcare in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT.) Children with life-threatening conditions such as congenital heart defects were refused access to healthcare because their guardians posed 'security risks' to border officials. The report also informs me that a Palestinian woman lost her child after giving birth in a car, because she could not cross the border to the hospital.  A 34 year-old mother of five died after being denied treatment for Hodgkins lymphona – obviously thus leaving those five children without a mother.

Border restrictions in Israel and the OPT have far-reaching consequences, and this denial of healthcare rights to children is just one of them.  Take a look at Israel's Backyard blog to find out more about border crossings in Israel and the OPT.  I used this to research a short story about a young boy who took his life by taking out a toy gun at the checkpoint.  It details the daily experience of West Bank residents living, working and worshipping either side of the fence.

The much-debated Goldstone Report found that both the Israeli army and Palestinian armed groups committedwar crimes during the recent Gaza conflict – during which some 1,400Palestinians and nine Israelis were killed. Human rights agencies have been calling on governments to acknowledge the report, but there has been a fierce backlash.  An article in the Jerusalem Post quotes the former commander of British forces inAfghanistan Colonel Kemp, who says that 'mistakes are not war crimes'.

What has this got to do with children's rights specifically?  We know from news reports of the indiscriminate bombing of schools during Operation Cast Lead in January 2009 that many casualties in the war were children.  We also know that four 17 year-old Israelis were killed by Palestinians by rocket attacks, and that it is these types of attacks that led to the massive January offensive.  We also know that Palestinian one and two year-olds are not allowed to be carried across a border for medical treatment by their 'security risk' mothers and grandmothers.

Mistakes are not war crimes?  Let us work out, from what we know about Gaza and healthcare, whether war crimes were committed here or not:

The former commander of British forces inAfghanistan Colonel Kemp has said that the IDF took more precautions duringOperation Cast Lead than any military in the history of warfare (my italics), by forewarning Gazans of the offensive by dropping 2 million leaflets, and making over 100,000 phone calls.  Given that the Gaza Strip is the most densely populated piece of land on this planet, and has long been under siege, where exactly were the forewarned Gazans supposed to go?  If, in times of relative peace, children are denied healthcare due to border-crossing restrictions, we are clearly dealing with a collective punishment one step up from a denial of food imports.  These leaflets, therefore, presented the addedcruelty of informing Gazans that they would be under both siege andattack, and there was no escaping the onsalught.

Things weren't all that great at home either – by the time of the bombing, 80% of Gazans were reliant on international aid to survive.  This is collective punishment at its most severe.

In the interests of balance, a much-discussed topic at the AGM on the issue of campaigning on the Gazan war, we must declare that yes, rockets are thrown by Palestinians at Israelis, and yes, there have been deaths on both sides.  But let us also count the dead, and see whether we find balance.  Let us look at who is targeted, how they are targeted, and see whether we find excusable 'mistakes'. 

It would be fruitless to list the individual examples of the indiscriminate murder of Palestinian under-18s, but please turn to page 184 of the 2009 Amnesty report to see for yourself.  Children are by no means excluded from this violence. Aiming at and shooting a 16 year-old girl and a 15 year-old boy in the head, from a house across the road, in front of their mother, is not a 'mistake'. Those that do survive will have grown up in constant fear, suffering from PTSD, and (more than likely) more than a little vengeful.  The cycle will repeat itself – more stones and rockets will be thrown over the wall, and across the border, by those who have suffered in Gaza and the West Bank.

Let us also look quickly at the practice of imprisoning Palestinian youngsters.  The AI report declares that 300 children were held incommunicado without charge in 2008.  Two 16 year-old girls were arrested in June and were still in administrative detention at the end of 2008.  A 12 year-old boy was arrested for throwing stones at soldiers, and for three days was detained and beaten. These are only highlights from the report, and I would hazard a guess that they are representative of an active military and institutional disregard for the rights of the child.

Finally, 2008 saw the eviction of families from their homes in the West Bank, rendering hundreds of children homeless.  In our campaigning on forced eviction within the Demand Dignity campaign, let us not forget these children.

War crimes?  Crimes against humanity?  Decide for yourself.

Comments welcome, but keep them balanced ;)


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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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