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The Sunday Independent
Nicole Fritz

To insist, as Israel does, that the people of Gaza have the power themselves to end their suffering, when one in five of those dead is a child, is callously disingenuous, writes Nicole Fritz.

Let’s assume that Hamas is as wholly atrocious as Israel maintains it is. That even if it had the means to acquire a missile defence shield, like the Iron Dome, to protect the inhabitants of Gaza, that it would not do so.

That it deliberately inserts its fighters into densely populated civilian areas.

That it has little concern for Palestinian civilian deaths bar the cynical calculation that the higher the casualties, the greater its credit.

Let’s then listen to Israel’s statesmen when they say, apparently saddened at the killing and horror being rained down on the people of Gaza: the Palestinians can stop this.

Israel’s President Shimon Peres says, “I saw the pictures which are coming from Gaza. They are terrible.

“But the ones who can stop them are the people themselves, are the people of Gaza, are the terrorists.”

Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk, reiterates the line on social media: “Can’t you see that Hamas is insisting on tragedy for Palestinians. Demand (that they) reject Hamas and chose life.”

Since the ground invasion of Gaza began, the death toll has climbed to more than 600 Palestinians killed, mostly civilians.

More than 150 of those killed have been children. By Israeli spokesmen’s logic, those children might have saved themselves.

I would have to ask them: how would they have done this?

Of the casualties in Israel’s war thus far, more than one in five dead has hardly begun life, let alone developed the capacity to effect political reform such that Hamas might become a spent political force.

War is known to inflict civilian casualties.

But those who conduct wars are bound, by law and ethics, to seek to minimise civilian casualties.

While imprecise, standards regulating military conduct require that the striking of a legitimate military target be weighed against the number of innocent lives that will also likely perish in the strike.

Israel thus far appears unconcerned for either imperative.

As but one example, an Israeli strike in Gaza on Sunday levelled a four-storey house, killing a low-level Hamas operative, but also 25 innocent family members, among them 19 children – aged between 4 months and 14 years.

The strike occurred as the family gathered to break the Ramadaan fast, ensuring maximum numbers of family members present, as the Israeli Defence Force would have known.

It is these types of attacks, as Anne Barnard of the New York Times reports, that have led more and more Palestinians to accuse Israel of seeking to “inflict maximum suffering to demoralise Palestinians and weaken support for Hamas”.

But if Israel believes, as it claims, that Hamas cares nothing for the well-being and sustainability of the Palestinian people, the tactics seem illogical by Israel’s own reasoning and frighteningly perverse.

How might members of a civilian population, if made pawns by its ostensible political leadership, seek to distance itself from that leadership in the midst of a siege? That is an unfair and unreasonable demand to make of any fully-fledged adult. It is entirely ludicrous to make of any child.

If, as Israel claims, the people of Gaza are being ransomed by their leadership, that their lives are deliberately being endangered, than it seems that a special duty of care is owed them – particularly when Israel is the originating source of that danger.

That is especially so when the civilian population have nowhere to go, no place to retreat – owing to a barricade by Israel.

The high number of fatalities of children resulting from Israel’s strikes – the UN reports that a child has died in Gaza every hour for the past two days – suggests that Israel has conducted the most recent war, at best, entirely unconcerned for the fates of those wholly innocent of this conflict.

The children are not just innocent in the way that all civilian non-combatants are understood to be, but they are more fundamentally innocent in that they have no capacity to affect the situation.

Israel maintains that Hamas’s criminality absolves it of responsibility. It does not.

And to insist, as Israel does, that the people of Gaza have the power themselves to end their suffering, when one in five of those dead is a child, is callously disingenuous.

*Fritz is the director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre.



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