Eyeless in Gaza?


Tears tumbled down the flushed peach cheeks. The little boy legs went rigid, and his shining eyes cried out in desperate appeal. He was looking to me to make the fear go away.

The dentist looked at me and asked, “What do you want me to do?”

The tooth didn’t come out…

Seeing my little boy scared, bewildered, wondering why he had to go through this traumatic experience, made me think of the little child whose Israeli mother I’d heard on BBC Radio 4 that morning. I’d been able to end my child’s suffering quickly, instantly. Soon he was swigging a milkshake as if nothing had happened. That simple pleasure made everything right in his little world. How lucky we were.

I thought again of the little Israeli child, fearful, crying perhaps, cowering in the family’s shelter as the sirens blared again. No doubt her mother prayed that her country’s state-of-the-art air defence systems would protect them from the rockets that were raining haphazardly down. The Israeli Defence Force often fire two Tamir missiles from their billion dollar Iron Dome system to counter one of the Hamas rockets.

Tamir missiles cost somewhere between $20,000 and $100,000 each. That’s a big investment to stop one home-made, hundred dollar missile from a metalworking shop in Gaza. But who’s counting the cost? The US has deep pockets. In 2019, America disbursed to Israel $3.8 billion in military aid. And surely $20,000 or $100,000 is a price any of us would pay to stop the little Israeli child being killed or injured. What was her crime? She didn’t cause the half-century of illegal occupation…

No shelters for these children

I thought also of the children in Gaza, similarly cowering, terrified, no doubt, as the IDF’s artillery, naval guns and F-15s pounded them from the land, sea and air. It was impossible in my mind to distinguish between the fear of one child over another, whether Israeli or Palestinian. But there is a contrast, of course. The children in Gaza have no shelters.

There’s no Palestinian air defence system, and nowhere to escape to, because Israel will not let them leave. All those Palestinian children in Occupied Gaza can rely on for their protection is their parents’ fragile bodies, and perhaps God. If you believe in God. Personally, I prefer international law.

Of course, I suspect most of the children in Gaza are unaware of how international law categorises their condition. Even if they were distantly aware through the din of bombs, how much hope would they reasonably invest in international law? What good has it done them so far? Or their parents? Or their grandparents?

A young Palestinian boy looks over the wall dividing him from Israeli territory

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights has lasted for over fifty years. Maybe Hamas is right, after all? Maybe they are the only people who will ‘protect’ Palestinians, stand up for their dignity and their pride? That’s what all militias say, of course. Even ones that didn’t muster until twenty years after the occupation began.

Hamas isn’t the cause of this problem, but it certainly is not the solution either. Hamas sends the rockets and brings down the Israeli sledge-hammer upon the heads of ordinary Palestinians. Hamas harms Israeli civilians, and it harms Palestinians too. Far more than it protects the latter. And beyond the cauldron of conflict, it destroys the Palestinian cause abroad.

It provides Israel its fig leaf in the US media and in the UK. As soon as Hamas fired the first rocket during the present conflict, the default dialectic was lazily assembled in the media, and we didn’t have to reset our comfortable assumptions about the history or the context any more.

Uncomfortable questions not asked

Our political leaders didn’t have to answer uncomfortable questions about the hundreds of millions of pounds of British arms sales to Israel, about the British Army’s deepening relationship with the IDF, about political access and influence – what former Conservative MP, Alan Duncan describes in his latest book, The Thick Of It, as “Disgusting interference in our public life”.

Israeli police parading near the border crossing into Bethlehem on the West Bank

No. We don’t need to go there. We’re back to ‘Cowboys and Indians’ and perhaps we have an atavistic affinity for that conception of the world. Because luckily, we in Britain have always ridden with the ‘cowboys’, and the Israelis, I suppose, are an allied posse.

So, should we care about what’s happening in Palestine? If Palestinians want to make a fuss and upset the Israelis, it’s not our problem, is it? Should we count the cost? Should we know the truth from the propaganda? Should we know where our political representatives stand? Well, to answer my own questions, yes, we should. Emphatically, we should.

But let’s set aside pressing moral arguments and the emotional dimensions for a moment. Let’s not think of mere ‘right and wrong’ of underdogs or of the lives of foreigners’ children. Let’s just think about how it might affect us. And our children.

I think the most compelling reason to care about what happens in Palestine is that it directly affects you and me in Britain, in East Sussex. The Palestinian struggle for self-determination directly impacts upon the freedom and liberties that our children will inherit. Israel’s ongoing occupation and its regime of apartheid is shaping our children’s world. Because central to what’s going on in Israel-Palestine is international law and human rights.

And human rights are similar, in a way, to protection from pandemics and global warming, in that we all fail if we have protections in one place and not in another. Until everybody’s protected, nobody’s protected. An attack on human rights anywhere is an attack on human rights everywhere. These aren’t just Palestinian rights, they’re our rights. Our children’s rights. That’s why Palestine matters.

Image Credits: Guy Harris , Guy Harris .

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  1. An interesting and thought providing article Guy, it puts everything we are experiencing into perspective. With the ceasfire now agreed, lets hope it holds. Its the children who are all victims of circumstance, lets hope this truce isnt just a temporary ‘fix’ and that the suffering can stop.

  2. This is a great article and I agree we should all care about the suffering of children in Gaza, and in Israel too. Violence will never be the answer – only an end to the occupation, an end to the siege and an end to apartheid will bring about a just and lasting peace for all. For those who wish to express this and want to help put pressure on the government and on Israel to dismantle the occupation and give Palestinians equal rights then there is a rally tomorrow (Saturday 22 May) at 12 noon in Hastings, opposite Debenhams. The Facebook event can be found here: https://fb.me/e/1rQtzDLPf

  3. Thank you for a moving and thoughtful article. I received a quote on Face Book the other day: to have empathy with the children of Gaza (and indeed with those in Isreal/Palestine) is not to be pro-Hamas or anti-Isreal, and certainly not to be antisemitic – it is to be a human being.

  4. Very glad Guy that you wrote the article and hopefully readers will understand a little more the desperate situation ordinary Palestinian are experiencing on a daily bases.

    The past is very complicated and difficult for us in the West to unravel but what we can surely understand is that no human being should live under occupation, being watched all the time, no freedom of movement without being checked and maybe even refused to go to their olive groves, relatives in Jerusalem or to a hospital.

    There is a generation in Palestine growing up with anger and fear because of it and in Israel generations grow up believing it is the way to continue. Surely there must be a way to start with the young, Israeli’s and Palestinian’s, bring them together to change the mindset for a better future for the Palestinians

  5. An article worthy of Fleet St. Guy; but I doubt they’d be interested. How long will the media continue to ignore the oppression metered out to palestinians?
    PS. That mounted Israeli policemen reminds me a little of Eugène Terre’Blanche.

  6. As a sometime business visitor to the Gulf area I often interface with those (few but fortunate) expatriate Palestinian engineers who are able to exercise their profession freely and with relative dignity.

    When ‘Palestinian land for peace’ resolution was widely mooted some time ago we all had great hopes. The only land transfers since then have been away from the Palestinians to settlers and other scoundrels, it cannot therefore be a surprise that the opposite of peace has followed and the massively disproportionate flare-up events we have seen will inevitably resurface unless and until fair settlement is reached.

  7. I read the Rye News for news about Rye. If I wanted to read one-sided accounts of international affairs I would read the Guardian instead.

    “Rye News reports on the activities, opinions and lives of those who live in Rye and the surrounding area who live, work, shop or come here for services – including doctors, dentists, vaccinations, schools, etc. And that includes a wide range of societies, activities, beliefs and interests, including two very recent rallies in Hastings about what was happening in Jerusalem and Gaza – and “outsiders” impact on our lives here, whether they are refugees from global conflicts in tiny boats crossing the Channel, or thousands of visitors arriving by car or train over a sunny Bank Holiday weekend. Charlie Harkness, Editor”

  8. Hi, Terry, thanks for taking a moment to comment.
    I’m sorry you perceive the article as one sided. However, given there’s consideration of both Israeli victims and Palestinian victims, I can only assume you’ve not yet had time to read it. I also note that you read Rye News for news about Rye. I’m delighted to advise, therefore, that the article is very much for you, as it suggests the conflict could not be more relevant to our lives in Rye.
    Hope this finds you well, Terry, and thanks again. If you have time, I hope you’ll be able to read the article and let me know your thoughts. Cheers, Guy

  9. Guy
    If you will forgive me, it seems a little patronising or uncharitable to assume that if I disagree with you it can only be because I have not read your piece.
    I now have re-read your piece and while you argue that there are victims on both sides and (particularly welcome) criticise Hamas, the conclusion nevertheless seems to be that the blame lies on Israel alone. I am not an Israeli or have any affiliations with Israel, but their position seems perfectly understandable – however regrettable. As the inheritors of two thousand years persecution, the Holocaust, invasions, and facing an Iran (soon to nuclear armed?) committed to Israel’s destruction, I would probably arrive at the same conclusion as the leaders of Israel. These would be hard-won lessons.
    I am also puzzled why, in a world full of appalling regimes, Israel seems to be singled out for popular condemnation.

  10. Hi, Terry
    No, actually, I don’t think the blame for the fifty-four year occupation lies with Israel alone. Israel has administered the occupation with vigour, and entrenched it. It has also transformed the occupation into a defacto annexation, contrary to international law. But Israel has had a great deal of support, political, military and financial. So no, it’s not entirely to ‘blame’, but it does bear direct responsibility for the occupation. Creating circumstances which infringe international law and human rights will result in occupied people resisting, and it will result in Israel being criticised. So when weighing these circumstances, I think it is necessary to bear in mind the context.
    Finally, whilst I’m not a supporter of the Iranian regime, I will point out that Iran has no nuclear weapons, even if it may or may not desire them. Israel, on the other hand has a considerable nuclear arsenal which is not subject to any international regulation, so it’s a rather moot point as to how a nuclear-armed regional super power with the US at its back can genuinely be facing existential threat. Just to reiterate, Israel: up to 400 warheads; Iran: 0.
    Finally, this assertion that it’s only ever Israel which is criticised doesn’t really ring true. We’ve just had sanctions imposed very rapidly on Belorus, there’s endless criticism of China, and even our chums the Saudis come in for stick when they dismember journalists. So it’s not just Israel. However, given the 54 year occupation, the litany of human rights abuses and the fact that Israel’s own citizens are describing their government as an Apartheid regime, I think possibly a little criticism is perhaps justified. And rest assured, Israel’s big enough and strong enough to take it.
    Cheers, Terry. Hope you had a nice weekend.

  11. Unlike Terry,I thought this was a very balanced article. And, as Harvey Gillman says: ‘to have empathy with the children of Gaza (and indeed with those in Isreal/Palestine) is not to be pro-Hamas or anti-Israel, and certainly not to be antisemitic – it is to be a human being.’

  12. Guy
    Thanks you for your detailed reply. I am not as sanguine as you are in relation to the regime in Iran and its capabilities and intentions. Nor am I entirely persuaded that US support will be unwavering in the event of another conflict. I found it quite striking that the former, normally bellicose, President seemed to shrug off what I assume was an Iranian inspired attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities.
    In context, there is an inevitably bitter, decades long, propaganda war going on here in which the Palestinian cause now seems to be in the ascendant. So, if I seem to find the Israeli view understandable perhaps I am in a minority.
    Of course I had China in mind as a comparative case. While people seem to be waking up to the mass abuse of the Uighur population there seems to be little evidence of popular sympathy with their cause in this country – or at least anything comparable with that for the Palestinians. Even if there were, we know that it would have little effect and that we need Chinese investment anyway. In short, China is not susceptible to pressure to the extent that Israel is. So, underneath the debates about morality and immorality it is actually a matter of Realpolitik.
    (Having said that, I am both surprised and gratified that the present Government is committed to honour its obligations to the people of Hong Kong.)


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