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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Gaza's Children Don't Play

Gaza kids don't play

Child Warriors

Photo: AFP
Children in Gaza don't play hide 'n seek

According to army, children killed by IDF are part of Palestinian war machine

Roy Peled

Published: 10.03.07, 14:05 / Israel Opinion

In the official website for commemorating IDF casualties, one can find the following entry about Nissim Gini: "He volunteered just like dozens of his young friends to defend his town and homeland, and demanded to play a role…he was tasked with being the liaison between posts, and filled this role with the responsibility and loyalty of an adult, amid a hail of bullets and thundering explosions…after one of the posts was overtaken by the enemy, he was severely wounded and died after suffering much pain…he was 10 years old at the time of his death, the youngest of Israel's war casualties."

The story of Nissim Gini was recounted when we were in elementary school, during a day-trip tracing the footsteps of warriors in the War of Independence. It was recounted as a story of bravery, without anybody daring to say anything to condemn the heroes of the War of Independence who enlisted a 10-year-old boy.

I recalled the story recently when I read a pile of clichés coming from the IDF Spokesperson's Unit in response to the killing of children in Gaza.

The IDF spokesman uttered slogans aimed at making it easier for us to cope with the terrible results of our attacks on Gaza. We are talking about genuine concern for the public's feelings, for fear that citizens more aware of the suffering caused in their name may proceed to ask questions regarding IDF activity in Gaza and demand answers.

Of all the slogans and lies, the most outrageous are the ones related to harming the civilian population.

"Regrettably, the Palestinians are deliberately acting from the midst of the civilian population" – this is the cliché used every time the Air Force fires a missile at a passing vehicle in the center of a crowded market and kills civilians.

The IDF of course makes sure that its officers only travel on inter-city roads and far from civilians. They do not sleep at their homes in civilian communities. IDF commanders in the Strip do not rent rooms at area kibbutzim. Luckily, we moved the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv away from population centers.

When children are killed in what the IDF refers to as "Qassam-launching sites," the explanation is that "the Palestinians are well aware that those are areas they must not enter."

Yet "forbidden areas" have been arbitrarily defined by Israel and attributed to dozens of square kilometers in the Gaza Strip. Contrary to common perception, many Palestinians have no idea where these border lines are. Children who walk around the sand dunes in the afternoon certainly have no idea.

We cannot always control our children

Based on the IDF logic, Palestinian children never just walk around fields for the hell of it, just like Israeli kids for example never play with shell duds, as everyone knows that shells are dangerous. They also never play with guns, because everyone knows guns are dangerous. Yet when such a tragic accident takes place in Israel, everyone focuses on the tragedy and forgets to blame the child.

"The Palestinians make cynical use of children" – according to the IDF, the children killed in Gaza this past week arrived at the scene for one of two reasons: Either they were part of a particularly young terror cell, or they were sent there by terror groups as human shields.

Palestinian children are not made up of the same fabric as Israeli children, who at times walk around for fun and at times look for dangerous adventures, mostly due to boredom. When a Palestinian child is killed by the IDF, he certainly did something very wrong. Too bad they don't learn from the Jews in Hebron how to raise wonderful girls.

IDF clichés contradict reality and the logic of any person who was once a child. Our personal experience taught us that we cannot always control our children. Our national experience taught us that a people engaged in a struggle enlists all its forces.

If we look at the Defense Ministry site, it turns out that at least when it comes to the people of Israel, there were those amongst us who did not hesitate to recruit children, and our defense heritage custodians are boasting it to this day.

These clichés are accepted by Israeli society and journalists whose sense of criticism has gone silent, because we need them so badly. Life is much easier when Palestinian children are yet another screw in the sophisticated war machine threatening us.

In the eyes of a young Israeli in 2007, those who allowed 10-year-old Nisim Gini to become a soldier committed a despicable act. The same is true for those who do not keep Palestinian or Israeli children away from areas of immediate and genuine danger. I can understand that during days of a life or death struggle, things look differently, both in the Jewish quarter during the War of Independence and in Gaza these days.

I learned this from the Defense Ministry's website, which boasts of Jewish children who died in war. It's a pity that the IDF spokesman doesn't check out this site more often.

And an update: As this article was being published, the IDF investigation showed that the three Palestinian kids who were killed were playing catch. Imagine that. Palestinians? Catch? Children? The surprises just never end.

The writer is a member of the Meretz directorate


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