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Gaza: who is really paying the “heavy price” of Israel’s war?

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 56% 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.