'Theyve incarcerated us here. Arent we human?
… so says the father of one of the Children Of Gaza in the new Dispatches programme, which screens tonight (8pm, Channel 4).
“Oh no, not that”, you might think. Don’t we already know all we need to know about this depressing subject? The answer is no, we don’t, not really. Apart from the ritualised tit-for-tat media appearances of Marc Regev for Israel v a critic from a UN agency (or similar), or a quick bit of BBC commentary from Jeremy Bowen, how much sustained exposure do we get on our radios or TVs? Not much.
So, check Children Of Gaza out. I’ve had a sneak preview and here are my thoughts:
As I’ve implied – it’s important that we get a relatively extended account. For nearly an hour we see what the effect of a major military offensive has been on some of the Gaza’s children. And we also see how Israel’s economic blockade of the territory (and Egypt’s at the Rafah crossing) has made life nearly intolerable in the aftermath of Operation “Cast Lead”.
For example, we see Amal, whose four-year-old brother Ahmad and her father were killed in an Israeli attack on her family’s home. She herself was badly injured. She was left trapped under rubble (for “four days”, I think the commentary said) and now carries around metal shrapnel fragments lodged in her brain. These give her headaches and can’t, according to doctors, safely be removed.
We see another girl, Onsyate, 12, whose nine-year-old brother was shot in front of her by an Israeli soldier. The soldier, she says, first shot her brother in the stomach then re-aimed and shot him through the eye. Onsyate now lives in a tent with her surviving family.
And we see a boy called Mahmoud who is unnervingly keen to follow his uncle into Islamic Jihad armed resistance and “martyrdom”. He is a scary embodiment of violence begetting deep embitterment and more violence.
What we also see is how difficult (well nigh impossible in fact) it is either to rebuild Gaza’s battered infrastructure or to leave Gaza to seek medical treatment. Amal’s family scavenge for concrete blocks to build – dry stone wall-like – a temporary shelter. Onsyate’s family try to get her to a Tel Aviv hospital. They eventually succeed, but nothing can be done.
Critics of the Children Of Gaza will say it fails to mention Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel, which is true, I don’t think it does. They might also say the children are “not representative”, that their cases are extreme or their stories selectively told. I can’t vouch for these particular stories but Amnesty has certainly documented many like them. It can – and should – be acknowledged that Israel has a right to defend itself from attack. But there can be no justification for armed attacks on non-belligerents – still less children (Amnesty continues to press for investigations into alleged war crimes on both sides). Meanwhile, it is likewise impossible to justify collectively punishing all of Gaza’s population for the sins of a few.
When a father from Gaza says “They’ve incarcerated us here”, he’s right.
On this blog platform the issue of Israel and Palestine regularly leads to disagreement. Fine. But watch this programme, read Amnesty on the effects of the blockade and tell me that the blockade is reasonable. It isn’t. (Please take action here).
So – this programme isn’t perfect, but I urge you to shake off any “Middle East conflict fatigue” and watch it.
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.