The Children of Gaza

Photograph Source: – CC BY-SA 3.0

Why must children suffer as well? Will it be said that they bear in their flesh the sins of their parents, and are therefore complicit? Some may jest that the child will grow up and sin in their turn, when the time comes. But this 8-year-old boy did not have the chance to grow up; he was torn apart by dogs. No amount of future harmony will redeem a single tear shed by this child martyr. If the tears of children are necessary to perfect the sum of suffering that serves as ransom for the Truth, I categorically state that it does not deserve to be paid such a price.”

– Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

The Gaza Strip has been the target of four Israeli attacks since 2009: in 2009, 2012, 2014, and 2021. Since 2000, the Israeli armed forces have killed 7,759 Palestinians in Gaza, including 1,741 children and 572 women, according to the Israeli humanitarian organization B’Tselem. This fifth military israeli offensive since October 9, 2023, in retaliation for the killing of 1,400 Israelis, the vast majority of whom were civilians, and the kidnapping of 200 hostages of whom 30 children, by armed elements of Hamas from Gaza, more than 7 028 people have died, including 2,913 children and 1709 women, under Israel 7 000 bombs (up to October 26).

In just 18 days, Israeli bombings have killed more Palestinian children in Gaza than in the past 23 years. The hospitals of Gaza reported 18,484 wounded individuals. When will this macabre accounting come to an end?  Are Israeli and Palestinian children responsible for the current situation in Palestine? How come Palestinian children could be responsible for the military intervention carried out by the armed branch of the Hamas which is brandished by the Israeli authorities to justify the destruction of Gaza? For what purpose are these children being killed? Has the death of Palestinian children in previous Israeli bombings and attacks in Gaza, in any way, contributed to preserving the security of the Israeli state?

Otto Ohlendorf, one of the leaders of the Einsatzgruppen, admitted during the Nuremberg Trials to executing 90,000 people in Ukraine, including Jews and communists, without any military necessity, and not sparing children for fear that they would take revenge when they grew up. Justifying the execution of children, Ohlendorf stated:

“I believe that it is very easy to explain if one starts from the fact that this order was not only trying to ensure temporary security but permanent security. For this reason, these children would grow up, and with their parents having been killed, they would certainly represent as significant a danger as their parents did” (“Die jüdischen Kinder von heute unsere Gegner von morgen seien“)

In February 2008, Matan Vilnai, the Israeli Deputy Defense Minister, made a statement, saying, “The more Qassam rocket fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they will bring upon themselves a bigger ‘Shoa’ because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.[1]

In July 2014, Ayelet Shaked, a member of the Israeli parliament and Justice Minister, called for genocide against the mothers of the “snakes” during the Gaza conflict one week after the Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khadeir was snatched and burned alive by six Israeli Jewish youths: “Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, who support and enable their actions. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there”[2].

In August 2014, Moshe Feiglin, a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, called for the destruction of Gaza and proposed a detailed plan to relocate Palestinians to camps in the border area of the Sinai Desert. He stated, “The IDF will take control of the entire Gaza, using any means necessary to minimize harm to our soldiers, without any other considerations.[3]

On October 10, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant declared, “We are dealing with animals and will respond accordingly… We are sealing off Gaza. No electricity, no food, no water, no fuel.”

In the same conflict, the Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai expressed the desire to “send Gaza back to the Middle Ages.”

Benny Gantz, who commanded the Israeli forces during the 2014 offensive and later became the Defense Minister, declared, “Gaza will burn. There is no other equation.

Benjamin Netanyahu, referring to Gaza as the “City of Evil,” stated in a televised address, “We will turn all the places where Hamas takes cover into ruins.[4].”

These statements bear a resemblance to those made by SS-Brigadeführer Jürgen Stroop in front of the Warsaw Ghetto”. Are there significant differences between the Warsaw Ghetto and the Gaza Strip?

“The inhabitants of the ghetto had not only built bomb shelters but actual bunkers that communicated throughout the ghetto through underground corridors….. The buildings were burned, but it was constantly dema”nded before that people leave them” … “The children were killed because they ran with their parents into the fire” or because  “they jumped out of the burning buildings of their own accord.[5]

In a population of 2.3 million people, the overcrowding Gaza Strip comprises more than one million children and teens. How many orphans, how many widows, how many mourners will it take to recognize the current Israeli military’s intervention in Gaza as a genocide?

The infrastructure of Gaza – schools, hospitals, healthcare centers, businesses, water supply network, and urban housing – is the target of bombings. The Director of the UN Assistance Program for Palestinian Territories, Roberto Valent, estimated in an interview with the Associated Press correspondent that it would take at least 30 years to rebuild the buildings destroyed by the Israeli army since the previous offensive in 2014. Few buildings have been reconstructed since then, given the blockade on cement imports by Israel and, since the assumption of power by Marshal Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi, by Egypt.

“Gaza is a huge prison. Virtually all industrial activity has ceased,” according to Paz Fernandez, in charge of external relations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). The United States significantly reduced its funding for UNRWA during the Trump administration. The annual per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Gaza is less than $2,000, compared to nearly $40,000 in Israel. The Israeli blockade of Gaza since 2007 and the Israeli bombings have led to the virtual disappearance of the industrial and manufacturing base. In July 2015, the United Nations Development Conference estimated that the Gaza Strip would no longer be economically viable by 2030. What will be its situation after the current Israeli offensive?

What was the purpose of the conference held in Cairo in October 2014, during which international aid was decided to rebuild Gaza’s destroyed facilities, if these facilities, assuming they have been rebuilt, are destroyed again by Israel with impunity? One can remember the Gaza International Airport, the construction of which cost $90 million from international donors, inaugurated by Yasser Arafat and President Bill Clinton in November 1998, and destroyed in 2001 and 2002 by Israeli bombers and bulldozers. Not to mention the approximately 200 humanitarian centers built with funding from the European Union and destroyed by the Israeli army in 2013 and 2014, according to revelations from the United Nations Agency for Palestine, without any compensation ever being demanded from Tel Aviv.

All visitors–limited to journalists and members of non-governmental organizations and subject to the approval of Israeli authorities–who stay in the Gaza Strip return shocked and dismayed. The contrast between the affluent Israeli society and the Palestinian society, deprived of even the most basic infrastructure, is stark and unjust. Palestinian freedom of movement within their own territory is subject to the humiliating procedures of omnipresent Israeli checkpoints. In 2002, the Chief of the Israeli Defense Forces, Moshe Yaalon, publicly stated that Palestinians needed to “convince themselves deep in their hearts that they are a defeated people.”

Gaza has more than 2,000 orphans, according to UNICEF, and around 5,000 Palestinians are held in Israeli detention. Since the occupation began in 1967, the number of Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons has been estimated at 750,000 by the former UN Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian territories, Richard Falk, which represents nearly 40% of the male Palestinian population in Gaza and the West Bank. The UN Rapporteur was expelled from Israel in December 2008 and prohibited from entering Gaza[6].

Administrative detention in Israel allows incarceration for 6 months, renewable without charge. According to the Israeli humanitarian organization B’Tselem, 8,000 Palestinian minors were sentenced by Israeli courts between 2000 and 2015, primarily for throwing stones. On its website, the organization lists the names of Palestinian minors killed by Israeli army snipers for throwing stones at them. However, the Israeli justice system has prohibited them from mentioning the names and surnames of these young Palestinian victims on the radio.

In July 2014, the organization published a video in which a five-year-old child was arrested and detained by the Israeli military for throwing a stone. UNICEF released a harsh report in February 2013 on the ill-treatment of these Palestinian minors, described as “systematic, widespread, and institutionalized”.

In April 2012, Israel prevented 1,200 pacifist activists from traveling to the West Bank as part of a solidarity initiative to fund an international school in the city of Bethlehem, and dozens of them, including Israeli pacifists, were detained. This situation highlights, after the dramatic interception of the peaceful Turkish ship Mavi Marmara by the Israeli navy in international waters in May 2010, which was symbolically heading to Gaza, Israel’s determination to keep an isolated, humiliated, and perpetually quarantined population. Celso Amorim, who was the Brazilian Foreign Minister under President Lula, admitted in an interview with the Egyptian press in May 2012 that Brazil had never managed, despite a personal meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, to obtain authorization to finance and build a hospital in the Gaza Strip.

The population of Gaza particularly suffered from the coup against the Egyptian President, Mohamed Morsi, on July 3, 2013. Before this date, it was estimated that around 1,200 people traveled daily between Egypt and Gaza through the Rafah border crossing. However, this number was reduced by four-fifths after the coup. More than 15,000 Palestinians are on a waiting list to enter Egypt, including doctors and students who have scholarships at foreign universities, according to the EuroMid Human Rights Observatory. It’s hard to believe that French diplomacy is now calling on Marshal Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi to mediate in the conflict between Israel and Gaza in the hope of securing the release of French hostages held by Hamas.

In February 2010, a directive on criminal policy was issued by Michèle Aliot-Marie, then France’s Minister of Justice, with the aim of prosecuting any activist who encouraged consumers to boycott goods and products made in the Israeli-occupied territories. This directive was renewed by the new Minister of Justice, Dupont-Moretti, in October 2020, despite the European Court of Human Rights condemning France in June 2020. The court considered this initiative an infringement on freedom of expression, protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In their ruling, the judges also cited a special report on freedom of religion or belief presented to the United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2019, which stated that “in international law, boycotting is considered a legitimate form of political expression, and non-violent expressions of support for boycotts are generally considered legitimate freedom of expression that should be protected”.

This text highlights the contrast between the treatment of individuals advocating for boycotting Israeli products in France and the authorization given to the Israeli Embassy, or taken by them, to organize recruitment events in the Grand Synagogue of La Victoire in Paris with officers from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). These events aim to enlist young French people, both Jewish and non-Jewish, to participate in the Mahal program, serving in the IDF in the occupied territories. The official website for this recruitment, “Lone Soldiers,” recorded 236 young French participants in 2013, and 40% of them took part in the Gaza offensive in 2014. One of them lost his life (Jordan Bensenhoum). On January 14, 2014, the Jerusalem Post reported the “congratulations” from the French Ambassador to Tel Aviv, Patrick Maisonnave, to “these courageous young French people engaged in the Israeli army.”

The question raised here is what constitutes a more legitimate commitment: that of a young French person, whether Muslim or not, standing with the Palestinians against the illegal expansion of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, condemned by the United Nations, or that of a young French person, regardless of their religious background, joining the armed forces of an occupying power, which has been deemed illegal by the United Nations?

General De Gaulle once lucidly observed: “Israel now organizes an occupation in the territories it has captured that can only be accompanied by oppression, repression and expulsion; and in turn it will qualify the resistance against it as terrorism. […] We witnessed the emergence of a warlike Israeli state resolute in its desire for expansion. And then the action it takes to double its population through immigration leads us to think that the territory acquired would not long suffice and it would be given to seizing every available opportunity to grow”[7]. Expansion of Israeli settlements : 5,000 Israeli settlers in 1981; 350,000 today in the occupied territories and 250,000 in East Jerusalem.

As for the European Union, it has lost all influence by refusing to recognize the electoral victory of Hamas in January 2006–a perfectly legal victory–and by rejecting any dialogue with its leaders, even when they seemed more open (the Mecca Agreement, the Riyadh Summit, a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders). The European Union, which should have tried to reconcile the Palestinians, bring Gaza and the West Bank closer, and engage more with local realities (including recognizing that Hamas, despite Israeli reprisals, remains particularly popular in the Gaza Strip), now only operates in the shadow of the United States, serving as a subcontractor for humanitarian aid.

The new measures adopted on June 28, 2013, aimed at preventing any funding from the European Union budget for cooperation or exchanges with Israeli institutions located in the occupied territories since 1967, are marginal compared to the trade with Israel, which amounts to 40 billion dollars, facilitated by an association agreement signed in 1995. This raises questions, especially considering that the European Union signed a generous research and innovation agreement with Israel in June 2014 (Horizon 2020 program) with a budget of around 70-80 billion dollars, benefiting defense and security industries that manufacture their components in the occupied territories (Motorola, Aeronautic Defense Systems, Israel Aerospace Industries).

The unexpected arrival and statements in Tel Aviv by Ursula Von der Leyen without a mandate from the twenty-seven European countries, and the unilateral decision, later contradicted, by European Commissioner Olivér Várhely to suspend aid to Palestine in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks, reflect the absence of a coherent European policy. It took five hours of discussion in Brussels for the leaders of the European Union to express their “deep concern” on October 26, 2023, about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and to find a semantic compromise between “pause“, “access” and “humanitarian corridor,” with several EU countries rejecting the “ceasefire” requested by the United Nations.

The President of the European Council had the audacity to tweet, “Unity is our strength. Agreement on the #EUCO conclusions on the situation in the Middle East”. And while UNICEF counted 3,000 children killed in Israeli bombings on the night of October 26, the statement repeated the now familiar refrain of American authorities,  “Israel has the right to defend itself in accordance with international humanitarian law”. China ‘s Foreign Minister Wang Yi described Israel’s bombardment of civilians in Gaza as actions that have gone “beyond the scope of self defense”  and called Israel’s retaliation “collective punishment” of Palestinian civilians.

Hamas has an efficient network of charitable associations within a humiliated and desperate population. Its victory in the 2006 elections is inseparable from the radicalization of Palestinian society in the face of Israeli occupation and blockade, just as its creation in December 1987 was during the first Intifada. Ahmed Yassin, a co-founder of Hamas, was its spiritual leader–a paraplegic since childhood and nearly blind–until his assassination by Israel on March 22, 2004. His assassination was condemned by the United Nations Security Council, but the United States vetoed the resolution. His successor, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, was also assassinated.

The current leader, Khaled Meschal, was a victim of poisoning by Israeli agents in Jordan in 1977 and was saved only due to the vigorous reaction of King Hussein and President Clinton, who demanded the antidote from Tel Aviv. Salah Shahade, one of the leaders of Hamas’s armed wing (Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades), succumbed to an Israeli targeted killing on July 22, 2002, when his house in Gaza was attacked, resulting in the deaths of 15 family members, including 7 children, and 150 injuries in the vicinity.

Hamas’s number two, Adnan Al Ghoul, was assassinated by an Israeli drone in Gaza in October 2004, following the killing of his two sons. Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a prominent leader of the movement, was assassinated on June 14, 2010, in a Dubai hotel by Mossad agents holding forged European passports belonging to dual Israeli nationals. Ahmed al-Jabari, a senior Hamas official, who had been held in Israeli prisons for 13 years and was engaged in negotiations with the Israeli administration with the help of the Israeli pacifist Gershon Baskin, was assassinated in November 2012. Mohammed Deif, the leader of Hamas’s military wing, fell victim to a targeted killing in August 2014, along with his wife, 8-month-old child, and three other children with their mother. His successor, Bassem Issa, was killed on May 11 last year, along with other Hamas leaders during targeted airstrikes. The former Israeli Air Force commander (2000-2004), Dan Halutz, boasted to the press of having overseen between 80 and 100 extrajudicial targeted assassinations with a “success rate of 90%”.

The massive arms sales in the region, American military aid to Israel (the world’s largest recipient with $38 billion for the 2019-2028 decade), and the summary executions of Hamas leaders are clearly not conducive to peace. Only freezing arms contracts and engaging Hamas in exploratory talks would create the necessary conditions for negotiation. After all, Zionist organizations like Irgun Zvaï led by Menahem Begin and Eitan Livni, and Lehi led by Avraham Stern and Yitzhak Shamir, the African National Congress of Nelson Mandela, the Provisional Irish Republican Army of Martin Mc Guiness and Gerry Adams, Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, and groups like the Tupamaros, notably José Mujica, who spent fourteen years in Uruguayan military prisons and later became the elected President of Uruguay from 2010 to 2014, were all initially labeled as terrorist organizations before being recognized as indispensable negotiating partners. While some countries and entities, including Israel and the United States, have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization, others, including some Arab nations, China, Iran, and most South American countries do not. The status of Hamas is a complex and politically charged issue, and there is no single universally accepted classification.

Israel has long tried to evade the Palestinian issue, as illustrated by the fallacious slogan “a land without a people, for a people without a land” (in 1948, 750,000 Palestinians were expelled, and 500 villages were destroyed). Israel has long attempted to deny the existence of a Palestinian national movement, labeling it as a terrorist organization. The best guarantee for Israel’s security is the restored dignity of the Palestinian population.

On October 25, 2023, the Secretary-General of the United Nations expressed what most European chancelleries dare not say publicly: “It is important to also recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum. The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation. They have seen their land steadily devoured by settlements and plagued by violence; their economy stifled; their people displaced and their homes demolished”.

The resolution of the Palestinian issue goes far beyond the scope of the Israeli-Arab conflict alone: Islamist terrorism largely stems from and feeds on the Palestinian issue. It concerns all nations. It is “the mother of all evils,” as expressed by the French-American professor Scott Atran. It would be advisable for French authorities to be aware of this in a country where 10 to 15% of the population is of Muslim faith and where the percentage of Muslims in the prison system is reportedly four times higher.

The banning of solidarity demonstrations in Paris and major provincial cities in support of the Palestinians during the recent Israeli military offensive in Gaza, decreed by the French Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin, citing the “anti-Semitic nature” of these protests, demonstrates how the Palestinian issue is still being swept aside, even though it is present in each of us and, without a doubt, in our mosques and urban peripheries. There are 15% of Muslims in London and Paris, 25% in Brussels, 30% in Birmingham. In some French suburbs, this proportion can go up to 50%. A proportion that should encourage governments to adopt a more objective approach to the Palestinian issue.

The procession of Western leaders indecently visiting Tel Aviv during a full Israeli offensive in Gaza is remarkable. We can understand and warmly support the Eiffel Tower being lit in the colors of Israel as a sign of solidarity after the killings by Hamas militants on October 7. It is less understandable, given the deaths of three thousand Palestinian children in Israeli bombardments, that the Eiffel Tower is not also lit in the colors of Palestine. As for the ban on any pro-Palestinian demonstrations by the Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin, that’s where the limits of French democracy become apparent as the Islamophobia among French elites.

We must not confuse cause and effect. Anti-Semitism in its most violent expressions primarily originated in Europe within the Church and far-right movements, including the Inquisition, expulsions, pogroms, and the enormous tragedy of the Holocaust, which is the most striking example of that abject evil. It is now primarily the result of young immigrants or children of immigrants who are now French citizens, typically from North Africa and Islamic lands, as evidenced by recent tragedies and attacks in France since 2006. Is it inseparable from the repression suffered by Palestinian populations for over half a century, the daily humiliation, contempt, and grief that these populations endure on their native land, from which they are militarily excluded or marginalized?

Will the Gazaouis, in the face of these massacres of which they are victims, resign themselves? Or will a new monster be born from the ashes and ruins of Gaza? The monster mentioned by Nietzsche[8].


[1] “Israeli minister warns of Palestinian ‘holocaust”, The Guardian, February 29, 2008.

[2] Mira Bar Hillel, “Why I´m on the brink of burning my Israeli passport”, Independent, July 11, 2014

[3] Moshe Feiglin, “My outline for a solution in Gaza”,Arutz Sheve, August 15, 2014.

[4] Netanyahu: “We will target Hamas everywhere it operates; Gazans should ‘get out now’”, The Times of Israel, October 9, 2023

[5] Excerpts from the trial transcript, Le Monde Juif, 1978 n°90 p 59-87  (

[6] My expulsion from Israel, Richard Falk, The Guardian, December 19, 2008

[7] Charles de Gaulle, Discours et Messages, volume 5, January 1966-April 1969, Plon, Paris, 1970.

[8] « Anyone who fights with monsters should take care not to become a monster. And if you look into an abyss for a long time, the abyss also looks into you (Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird. Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein)Friedrich Nietzsche, «“Jenseits von Gut und Böse”(Beyond good and evil)

Patrick Howlett-Martin is a career diplomat living in Paris. His new book is La Mémoire Profanée. Les Spoliations Nazies. Le vol du Patrimoine culturel et la question de sa restitution (The Profaned Memory. Nazis Spoliations. The Theft of Cultural Heritage and the Issue of its Restitution), L’Harmattan, Paris, October 2023.