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Ashes, Ashes, They All Fall Down

Israel’s War on Palestinian Children

by VIJAY PRASHAD

On 18 November, the Israeli armed forces bombed a house and killed the al-Dalou family, all ten members that were present and two neighbors. When the dust and fires settled, it became clear that amongst the dead were five children and five women. Among them was Mohammed Jamal al-Dalou, 29, who his neighbors said worked at a grocery store. The Israeli military (IDF) said at the time that there was an error: either its ground operatives failed to laser-paint the correct target or its munitions misfired (as reported by Gili Cohen at Ha’aretz). Hamdi Shaqqura of the Palestine Centre for Human Rights in Gaza noted, “There is now a complete disregard for human life, shown by the attack on the Dalou family home in the middle of a residential area. This was not the home of a militant.”

Now, with the ceasefire in place, the Israeli military’s spokesperson Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich has reversed the IDF view. “There was no mistake from the IDF,” she noted. “It’s tragic when a terror operative is hiding among civilians but unfortunately it is part of Hamas and Islamic Jihad tactics.” The Israelis now say that al-Dalou was a member of the police unit of Hamas charged with the security detail for high-level officials. In other words, al-Dalou sounds like a functionary of the Hamas organization. The Israelis are not saying that he was part of the military wing, let alone was part of any unit that had either done or planned to undertake any kind of operations in Israel. At most, al-Dalou was a Hamas bodyguard and driver. His terror level is even lower than that of Salim Hamdan, Osama Bin Laden’s driver who was acquitted by a US appeals court in mid-October.

It is contrary to the customs of war to bomb civilian areas. The jargon of warfare (Proportionality and Distinction) makes it clear that the threshold for prevention of civilian casualties must be very high and the imminent threat from the person being targeted must be demonstrable. The attack on the Dalou home meets none of these tests. Mohammed al-Dalou was at home, not “hiding among civilians,” as the IDF spokesperson put it. The IDF bombed his home, knowing that his family would be inside. To have bombed a family as they cowered in their home is reminiscent of the IDF’s Dahiya Doctrine, so baldly enunciated by Israel’s General Gadi Eisenkott, “What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on. We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases. This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved.” To bomb civilian areas, then, is part of the Israeli government’s plan – and it is a violation of the international rules of war.

Why did the IDF kill and injure so many children during this bombing run? Seventy-five percent of the population of Gaza is under 25. This means that if the IDF attacks civilians, it is more likely to kill or maim children than adults. IDF officials conceded by the fourth day of the bombing that there was a “decline in the number of quality targets available to Israeli intelligence and Israel Air Force” (as reported by Avi Issacharoff in Ha’aretz). The IDF took to “bombing real estate” – empty Hamas facilities – and bombing secondary and tertiary targets, which included residential areas and UN facilities (the Palestine Chamber of Commerce estimates that the damage amounts of $300 million, a fortune in the impoverished Strip). In congested Gaza no amount of “precision” bombing is going to prevent the “flattening” of the civilian population and its infrastructure. Whether Mohammed al-Dalou is a member of Hamas or not, Israel was prepared to attack his home in a residential area. This was not a “quality target.”

Among the “secondary targets” were the media center, which was bombed because of the presence of a Hamas media unit in the building, and it bombed a car owned by the Hama-run al-Aqsa television channel (Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama, cameramen for al-Aqsa, died in this attack). Lt. Col. Leibovich said, “The targets are people who have relevance to terror activity.” The al-Aqsa car also had Mohamed Abu Aisha, director of al-Quds Educational Radio, and the car in front of them was carrying the New York Times’ translator. IDF did not care for freedom of speech and the freedom of journalists to travel in war zones. It sent out a tweet, “Advice to reporters in #Gaza. For your own safety, stay away from #Hamas positions and operatives.” In other words, the IDF declared it a terrorist act to talk to Hamas during its bombardment. One of those who made the mistake was Omar Misharawi, age 11, son of Jihad Mishrawai, a BBC cameraman. Their house in Gaza City drifted too close to IDF positions.

Concern for the human rights of the Palestinians is minimal. No wonder that Raji Sourani, the director of the Palestine Centre for Human Rights in Gaza, came on Democracy Now and said quite plainly that Palestinians are entitled to protection, that “Geneva Conventions are not for the intellectuals or academics; it’s for civilians to have it on their skin, to be protected at the time of war, not peace.” To have rights on the skin is a decisive image: it is on the skin that the bombs begin their intrusion into the world of the civilian. Impunity delivered to Israel from one callous US administration after another provides the bombs with permission to break the skin of the Palestinians. “We are the targets of this war,” said Sourani, meaning that it is civilians, and children, who carried the weight of the cynicism from the Israeli and US governments.

The noise, the stress and the danger of the war take its toll on children. UNICEF’s Communications officer in Gaza, Sajy Elmughanni says, “My one year old son Kamal has not been the same since the air strikes started. He used to be a happy baby, but now he sits and stares blankly. It makes me feel powerless.” Meanwhile, in a classroom in Gaza, children gather for their first day. Desks have been left empty for the dead. One desk has a sign. It reads: The Dear Martyr Sarah al-Dalou. She came too close to a terrorist.

Vijay Prashad’s most recent book is Arab Spring, Libyan Winter (AK Press). On December 8, in Boston, he will moderate the first ever meeting of Angela Davis and Noam Chomsky. For more info, http://criticalresistance.org/angela-davis-and-noam-chomsky-in-conversation-for-the-first-time-ever/.