On the afternoon of Thursday 28 February, 2008, a group of Palestinian boys were playing football on some open ground near their homes in the Gaza Strip. At around 3.20pm, an Israeli aircraft fired a missile at the boys, killing four of them instantly and seriously injuring another three. The four dead boys were Omar Hussein Dardouna, aged 14, Dardouna Deib Dardouna, aged 12, Mohammed Na’im Hammouda, aged 9, and Ali Munir Dardouna who was just 8.
Palestinian human rights fieldworkers investigated the circumstances of this attack by Israeli forces. They concluded there was no Palestinian resistance in the area at the time and that the boys “must have been clearly visible to the [Israeli] aircraft that fired the missile.”
Similar cases abound. A new study by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reports that 68 children died in Gaza between June 2007 - June 2008 (PCHR press release, October 21, 2008). Over the same period, 12 children were killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank. The report highlights the “deliberate targeting of civilians, including children”. (Palestinian Council for Human Rights, ‘Blood on their hands. Child killings by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) in the Gaza Strip. June 2007 - June 2008’, October 22, 2008, p. 4)
Since the Second Intifada, which began in September 2000, Israeli forces have killed 859 children in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The child death toll rose dramatically during the first six months of 2008, mostly as the result of a large-scale Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip. The massive assault, code-named ‘Operation Winter Heat’, was launched on February 27. The Israeli military killed more children (47) in the Gaza Strip during the first four months of 2008 than during the whole of 2007 (32 children). A total of 110 civilians were killed during ‘Operation Winter Heat’ in February-March 2008. (See our earlier Media Alerts: ‘Israel’s Illegal Assault On The Gaza “Prison”’, March 3, 2008; and ‘Israeli Deaths Matter More’, March 11, 2008)
The website Remember These Children reports that 123 Israeli children have been killed by Palestinians and 1,050 Palestinian children have been killed by Israelis since September 29, 2000.
Most children killed in recent years in the Gaza Strip have died as a result of bombardment, surface-to-surface missiles, or missiles fired from aircraft. The Palestinian human rights investigation notes that Israel has “consistently bombed either inside or extremely close to densely populated residential areas, including schools and areas in close proximity to schools.” It uses “disproportionate and excessive force across the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories], without regard for civilian life, including the lives of children.”
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But the report is even more damning than that. It concludes that Israeli forces “deliberately target unarmed civilians, including children, as part of their policy of collective punishment of the entire Palestinian civilian population.”
The human rights investigation also concludes that:
“There is also strong and consistent evidence to suggest that [Israeli forces] deliberately kill Palestinian children in reprisal for the deaths of Israeli civilians or members of the [Israeli forces], which amounts to a war crime.” (PCHR, op. cit., p. 46)
According to international humanitarian law, children are to be afforded special protection during international armed conflicts. This includes military occupation such as exists in the Palestinian territories under Israel. Legal protection is provided by the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, as well as by the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Israel signed the CRC in 1991.
Protection was strengthened by the (CRC) Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. The Protocol reaffirms “that the rights of children require special protection” and condemns “the targeting of children in situations of armed conflict and direct attacks on objects protected under international law, including places that generally have a significant presence of children, such as schools and hospitals.” Israel signed the Optional Protocol on 14 November 2001 (PCHR, op. cit., p. 14), but it endlessly tramples the legal agreements to which it is a signatory.
Finally, the PCHR report notes that Israel has consistently failed to investigate Israeli killings of unarmed civilians, including children. On the rare occasions that official investigations are launched, these have been conducted by the Israeli forces themselves. The persistent result is a whitewash, and a travesty of justice.
And while Israel continues to kill unarmed civilians with impunity, the international community has failed to intervene effectively to exert pressure on Israel to stop killing Palestinian civilians, including children. These killings ought to be publicly condemned by the international community who, as High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, are obliged to act immediately in order to protect all unarmed civilians from Israeli attacks.
As the PCHR observes:
“The lives of Palestinian children are as sacred as the lives of children from Israel, Europe or anywhere else in the world.”
Minimal Response From A Protective Media
The report from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights was shocking. Guy Gabriel, an adviser to the London-based Arab Media Watch, told us that the group “is a credible organisation with a lot to commend it, and is better placed than many - in terms of location, resources and support - to inform the wider world about the situation in Gaza.” (Email, October 31, 2008). Journalist John Pilger commented: “The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights is, in my experience, a highly credible statistics gathering body.” (Email, October 27, 2008)
This credible human rights group, then, had produced compelling evidence of a persistent pattern of deliberate targeting of Palestinian civilians, +including children+, by the Israeli military. Surely this would have been headline news everywhere.
Sadly no. In the entire British press there was a giant, gaping hole in coverage.
The only exception we could find was a short, 400-word piece in the Guardian on the day of the report’s publication: Rory McCarthy, ‘Palestinian group says Israel killed 68 children in Gaza in year’, The Guardian, October 21, 2008.
As McCarthy pointed out:
“A prominent Palestinian human rights group says it has found evidence that 68 children were killed in the Gaza Strip in the 12 months to June this year as a result of ‘disproportionate and excessive lethal force’ by the Israeli military.”
This was welcome coverage. But, crucially, there was no mention of the military policy of deliberately targeting civilians, including children. In his report, McCarthy said he was unable to obtain any response to the study from an Israeli official (it was a Jewish religious holiday). He then inserted the standard Israeli disclaimer:
“[Israel] has in the past repeatedly defended its military actions in Gaza, saying it does not intentionally target civilians, and noting that Palestinian militants frequently fire from civilian areas.”
On October 27, 2008, we emailed McCarthy and praised him for reporting the publication of the study. We then pointed to the study’s central, repeated message - backed by multiple eye-witness testimony - that Israel deliberately targets civilians, including children. We asked why his Guardian article had omitted this core conclusion. McCarthy did not respond to our email, nor to a second sent on October 29.
As for the “balanced” and “impartial” BBC, the corporation appears to have performed its usual role of protecting the powerful. Judging by the PCHR report’s apparent absence from headline BBC news coverage and the BBC’s website, the corporation has buried the report’s findings. As far as we could determine, the same shameful silence characterised ITN and Channel 4 News.
By contrast, Al Jazeera aired a three-minute segment on the report that included a moving interview with a bereaved mother. There was also disturbing footage of injured and traumatised children, one of whom had seen his father killed by an Israeli missile (Al-Jazeera, October 22, 2008). In the Al Jazeera news piece, Hamdi Shokri of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights emphasised:
“We have clear evidence to suggest and to say that there were patterns of deliberate killing and deliberate targeting of children.”
We emailed Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East editor, on October 26, 2008. We asked him why the BBC had done so little, if anything, to bring this damning human rights report to the public's attention. Why had the BBC failed to expose a deliberate Israeli practice of targeting children? In short, why can’t the BBC do better in its coverage of the occupied territories? Bowen did not respond.
Greg Philo, of the world-renowned Glasgow Media Group, recently commissioned YouGov to ask a sample of 2,086 UK adults whether they thought that more news coverage should be given to the Israeli point of view, or more to the Palestinians, or equal for both. Nearly twice as many people thought that the Palestinians should have the most as compared with the Israelis, but the bulk of the replies (72%) were that both should have the same. A staggering 95% of the population were unhappy with the main news output of the broadcasters. (Philo, ‘More News, Less Views’, September 30, 2008)
Routine silences and omissions in coverage of the Middle East are symptoms of a deep-rooted bias that suppresses public awareness of the true gravity of Israel’s human rights abuses. Rarely, if ever, do we hear of the “indiscriminate beating, tear-gassing, and shooting of children”, as documented in a thousand-page study from Save the Children. The average age of the victims was ten years old; the majority of those shot were not even participating in stone throwing. In 80 per cent of cases where children were shot, the Israeli army prevented the victims from receiving medical attention. The report concluded that more than 50,000 children required medical attention for injuries including gunshot wounds, tear gas inhalation and multiple fractures.
In 1989, a bulletin from the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights, titled ‘Deliberate Murder’, reported the targeting of Palestinian children in leadership roles. Israeli army and snipers from “special units” had “carefully chosen” the children who were shot in the head or heart and died instantaneously. Other evidence, from Israeli human rights groups and the Israeli press, point to extensive use of torture, such as severe beating and electric shocks, against detainees including children. (Mike Berry and Greg Philo, ‘Israel and Palestine - Competing Histories’, Pluto Press, London, 2006, pp. 86-87)
Amnesty International has also reported that groups of Palestinian civilians, including children, appear, “on many occasions, to have been deliberately targeted”. Israeli soldiers themselves have admitted that they have deliberately shot and killed unarmed civilians including children (Ibid., p. 116). Indeed, for many years, Amnesty has documented and condemned Israeli violations of human rights against Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. Most of these violations are grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention and are therefore war crimes. (Ibid., pp. 60-61).
Israeli Terror: Not Terror, By Definition
In his 2002 documentary, ‘Palestine Is Still The Issue’, John Pilger interviewed Dori Gold, then Senior Adviser to the Israeli Prime Minister. Pilger asked why Israel fails to condemn its own leaders for their terrorist acts in the same way that they condemn terrorist acts against Israel:
John Pilger (JP): When those Israelis, who are now famous names [Menachem Begin, Yitzak Shamir and Ariel Sharon], committed acts of terrorism just before the birth of Israel, you could have said to them, nothing justifies what you've done, ripping apart all those lives. And they would say it did justify it. What's the difference?
Dori Gold (DG): I think we have now, as an international community, come to a new understanding. I think after September 11th the world got a wake-up call. Because terrorism today is no longer the mad bomber, the anarchist who throws in an explosive device into a crowd to make a point. Terrorism is going to move from the present situation to non-conventional terrorism, to nuclear terrorism. And before we reach that point, we have to remove this scourge from the Earth. And therefore, whether you're talking about the struggle here between Israelis and Palestinians, the struggle in Northern Ireland, the struggle in Sri Lanka, or any of the places where terrorism has been used, we must make a global commitment of all free democracies to eliminate this threat from the world. Period.
JP: Does that include state terrorism?
DG: No country has the right to deliberately target civilians, as no organisation has a right to deliberately target civilians.
JP: What about Israeli terrorism now?
DG: The language of terrorism, you have to be very careful with. Terrorism means deliberately targeting civilians, in a kind of warfare. That's what the terrorism against Israeli schools, coffee shops, malls, has been all about. Israel specifically targets, to the best of its ability, Palestinian terrorist organisations.
JP: All right, when an Israeli sniper shoots an old lady with a cane, trying to get into a hospital for her chemotherapy treatment, in front of a lot of the world's press for one, and frankly we'd be here all day with other examples, isn't that terrorism?
DG: I don't know the case you're speaking about, but I can be convinced of one thing. An Israeli who takes aim - even an Israeli sniper - is taking aim at those engaged in terrorism. Unfortunately, in every kind of warfare, there are cases of civilians who are accidentally killed. Terrorism means putting the crosshairs of the sniper's rifle on a civilian deliberately.
JP: Well that's - that's what I've just described.
DG: That is what - no. I can tell you that did not happen.
JP: It did happen. And - and I think that's where some people have a problem with the argument that terrorism exists on - on one side. Your definition is absolutely correct, about civilians. And those suicide bombers are terrorists.
DG: If you mix terrorism and counter-terrorism, if you create some kind of moral obfuscation, you will bring about not just a problem for Israel, but you will bring ab - bring about a problem for the entire western alliance. Because we are all facing this threat.
As John Pilger concluded:
“It's hard to see the difference between what the Israelis call ‘counter-terrorism’ and terrorism. Whatever the target, both involve the killing of innocent people.” (John Pilger, ‘Israeli Terror’, ‘Palestine Is Still The Issue’ documentary can be viewed here. Dori Gold interview starts at around 34 mins:32 secs)
Today, Dori Gold “spends his time traveling around the world raising awareness about the situation going [sic] in Israel and the fight over Jerusalem [and] is available for speaking engagements, fundraisers and corporate events.”
We asked John Pilger for his response to the new study from the Palestinian human rights group and the report’s effective burial by the corporate media. He told us:
“That this shocking report has been virtually ignored across the mainstream media, with the exception of the Guardian, is a striking example of the media's two classes of humanity in Palestine. There is first class humanity, worthy of meticulous, often emotive coverage; these are the Israelis, including those guilty of great crimes, such as Ariel Sharon. And there is second class humanity, unworthy of even acknowledgement of their brutalising let alone the epic injustice done to them; these are the Palestinians. No, 'second class' is too high. They are third and fourth class victims, for not even the suffering and murder of their children is considered human enough to warrant reporting.” (Email, October 27, 2008)
We are reminded of British historian Mark Curtis’s term, “Unpeople”, to describe those on the receiving end of the West’s policies, actions and massive firepower. For those unfortunate individuals in the crosshairs of Western violence, their human aspirations, hopes, dreams, loves and lives are simply of no value.
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