There is a new mural on the International Wall on the Falls Road in West Belfast dedicated to the children of Gaza who have been subjected to their third Israeli onslaught in six years. The mural draws upon what is possibly the most iconic and powerful image from the Vietnam War; that of a heavily burnt naked child (Kim Phúc) running down a road after a napalm attack on her village. It captures in an instant the effects of lethal, indiscriminately applied force on defenceless civilians which is something we have witnessed repeatedly in the Gaza Strip since Israel launched its ‘Operation Protective Edge’ on 8 July.
In launching the mission, the Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu said that Hamas would “pay a heavy price” for allegedly abducting and killing three settlers in the West Bank on 12 June. Despite a crackdown in the West Bank in response to the abduction of the settlers that saw 10 Palestinians killed and 500 arrested, Israel commenced bombing Gaza with F-16s, Apache helicopters and un-manned drones.This has been followed-up by a ground campaign that has committed troops and tanks into civilian areas and has left the world aghast at the horror that has unfolded. From Belfast to Sydney, London to Toronto, Paris to Washington people have come out on the streets in tens of thousands to ask who is paying the “heavy price” of Israel’s war?
Reporting the casualties in Gaza is a problem because the death toll is constantly rising but, at the time of writing, there have been 1,300 fatalities, more than 80% of whom are civilians including 240 children. 7,000 have been injured and 215,000 internally displaced people have taken refuge in 81 United Nations-run schools. Despite flying under a UN flag, six of these schools have been attacked and other civilian targets - 18 health facilities, 85 schools and 2,200 houses - have been destroyed. There is simply no hiding place from the bombardment with Israel designating 44% of Gaza a ‘no-go zone’ as if the remaining 66% was any more secure. When the Israeli military laid waste to the neighbourhood of Shujaiyeh on 19 July, a Palestinian couple moved their four daughters to their grandfather’s house in Gaza city thinking it would offer them more protection. The girls were killed by an Israeli shell while playing on the roof of the house. Another family left bereft by trying to second guess Israel’s military intentions. The reality is that there is nothing surgical about bombing an area of 360 sq kms with a population of 1.7million people.
The Centre for Global Education in Gaza
The Centre has been working in Gaza since 2011 delivering development education projects to children in partnership with a Palestinian NGO called the Canaan Institute. The projects have two objectives: to supplement education provision for children, most of whom attend school for half a day because of a lack of school buildings; and to provide psycho-social support to children suffering the effects of conflict related trauma. Both projects ended in May and I travelled to Gaza on 19 May to meet the facilitators and children, assess project delivery and plan future activities. Over five weeks I travelled the length and breadth of Gaza and visited the six community centres in which the Centre’s projects were delivered: Beit Lahia, Bureij, Deir al-Balah, Khan Yunis, Maghazi and Nuiserat. I spoke with Kholoud, a child psychologist who told me that children’s trauma has resulted from constant exposure to conflict and the strained domestic life caused by grinding poverty.
I met Kasem, a 12 year old boy in Deir al-Balah who became deeply traumatised by seeing five of his neighbours killed by a helicopter attack in his neighbourhood. He became withdrawn, quiet, difficult to control in school and at home, taking little interest in the life around him. Kholoud said that trauma manifests itself through a range of behaviours: difficulty in concentrating in school, bed-wetting, becoming violent, swearing, a constant state of fear and tension, or retreating into themselves. How many children will be traumatised by what they have seen in Gaza over the past two weeks? Who is really paying the “heavy price” of Israel’s war?
I visited Gaza’s eight refugee camps which are densely populated housing blocks in warrens of narrow streets with slab upon slab of concrete headed skyward given the lack of physical space to expand on the ground. Most of Gaza’s citizens are refugees forced from their homes in the 1948 ‘Nakba’ or catastrophe when Israel began the colonisation of their land. They are highly impoverished and mostly dependent on food aid provided by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN mission established in 1950 to provide for the welfare of Palestinian refugees.
Their economic situation has deteriorated further since Israel imposed an economic siege on Gaza in 2007 in response to the election of a Hamas government the year before. The siege has reduced to a trickle the amount of food, medicines, construction material and other day-to-day necessities entering Gaza. The economy has flatlined as Gaza can neither import nor export goods to any meaningful level and unemployment has spiked to around 50 percent. It is the Israeli siege that underpins the current conflict and needs to be lifted without delay. It is illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention and represents collective punishment. As Save the Children puts it: “The blockade has been the single greatest contributor to endemic and long-lasting household poverty in Gaza.” Israel claims that it maintains the siege to stop rocket attacks from Gaza but seven years on from the imposition of the blockade and three wars later – “Protective Edge” following on from “Pillar of Cloud” (2012) and “Cast Lead” (2008-09) – this strategy has failed. By removing the restrictions on people and goods in and out of Gaza – thereby acceding to basic, fundamental rights – Israel is much more likely to stem missile attacks from Gaza.
Ending the conflict
The immediate objective for all those concerned with the crisis in Gaza should be to bring about a cessation in hostilities and then to ensure an enduring peace. Our politicians have been depressingly slow to respond to the massive public response to the slaughter in Gaza. The European Union and United States, key Israeli allies have reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself while “urging restraint” in its operations in Gaza. This is a de facto green light to Israel to continue its campaign and will undoubtedly result in further casualties.
We have gone past the point of issuing statements and platitudes to one where immediate action is demanded. The Taoiseach Enda Kenny should expel Israeli diplomatic staff from Ireland until the aggression in Gaza is ended and siege is lifted. The Taoiseach should also unilaterally initiate an Irish ban on imports from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs has stated that "Israeli settlement activity is illegal under international law…and an obstacle to peace”. Many church and civil society groups in Ireland and around the world have supported the call for a ban on settlement imports and now is the time for the Irish government to take that important step.
The development sector in Britain and Ireland has not been vocal enough in calling for emergency support for Gaza. The Disasters and Emergency Committee (DEC) in Britain has not yet launched an emergency appeal for Gaza despite the enormity of the crisis and huge reconstruction effort that will need to follow any ceasefire. In Ireland too we have yet to hear a united development sector voice calling for an end to the war in Gaza and condemning Israel’s actions. This is despite a petition with 6,000 Irish names being handed into the Foreign Minister, Charlie Flannagan, by Sadaka - the Ireland Palestine Alliance - condemning Israel’s bombardment of the people of Gaza “in the strongest possible terms” and calling for Ireland to take action to stop Israel’s “war crimes".
Ireland’s abstention on a UN vote on whether to launch an investigation into allegations of Israeli war crimes in Gaza was a new low in Irish diplomacy and does not reflect the level of public anger and concern at the death toll in Gaza. We need more public action – protests, e-mails, phonecalls, social media work - to stop the conflict, lift the siege and remove the possibility of Gaza confronting another war in the future. As the Irish Times put it: “The international community must step up its efforts to secure a swift and enduring ceasefire that will bring to an end the slaughter of the innocents we are witnessing in Gaza.”
Edmund Burke famously said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (sic) to do nothing”. Has this quotation ever been more fully vindicated than in these past weeks in Gaza? Let’s all resolve to take action to stop this bloodshed.
Sign this petition calling on the Irish government and all Irish elected representatives expel Israeli diplomats in protest over the slaughter in Gaza. There are already over 5,500 signatures.
Support CGE Emergency Appeal for Gaza:
The Centre for Global Education has responded to a call from our partner organisation in Gaza, the Canaan Institute, to launch an emergency appeal for donations to provide emergency supplies of food and water to some of Gaza’s 140,000 internally displaced civilians. Many of these people fled their homes with nothing but the clothes on their back. Many will have no homes to go back to. You can make a donation here: https://mydonate.bt.com/charities/centreforglobaleducation
Protest: The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign carries details of protests and vigils being held across the island of Ireland. To find out where the nearest protest is to you click on this link: http://www.ipsc.ie/press-releases/all-out-for-paletsine-ongoing-actions-for-gaza-around-ireland-updated-when-we-have-updates
CGE Blog >