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No children anymore

Contributed by Toine Van Teeffelen on 30.07.2014:

Toine van Teeffelen

Vethlehem

30 July 2014

While we hear the news about an UN school targeted in north Gaza with another 17 humans killed, a mail comes in from Jewish Voice for Peace quoting an American TV personality (Bob Schieffer, of CBS) who said that “the Palestinian people find themselves in the grip of a terrorist group that has embarked on a strategy to get its own children killed in order to build sympathy for its cause.” Jewish Voice for Peace calls readers to ask the TV network to fire him.

Yesterday I watched Hala Gorani of CNN speaking with Rifat Kassis, well-known from the Kairos Palestine document but since long also involved in Defence for Children International, Palestine section. More than half of the Gazan population is below 15 years. All children are traumatized, undergoing physical violence, watching violence in their family and surroundings, watching destruction of familiar neigbhorhoods, and this all in a situation in which basic needs like food, medicine, electricity and fuel are not sufficiently available.

Trauma can be worse than war itself. Since 2006 the Gazan population and children saw three or four major – how to call them – invasions, wars. Hala Gorani’s main interest was to what extent the wars would lead new generations to grow up with negative feelings toward the other, in turn leading to the perpetuation of new “cycles” of violence. Although she put the question in sensitive wording, I got the feeling that the children somehow were “framed” as future problems.

But Gazans are simply humans with their own human stories, and human names. In Israel the human rights organization Btselem asked Israeli radio for a paid ad in which five names of killed children of Gaza were to be mentioned. In the media we of course get used to see or hear counters with numbers of dead and wounded, adapted daily. Numbers distance. Israeli radio refused Btselem’s request, deeming it “controversial.” The organization went to the Israeli High Court. I remember this summer seeing at Yad Vashem, once again, the lit-up names of children killed in the Holocaust. Perhaps the most well-known attempt to humanize numbers by the display of names.

When I tell Mary that I try to write about the children of Gaza, she says: “They are not children anymore.” She and her family went Sunday to Mass in Nativity Church where the priest lately talked about the need to support the people of Gaza, Iraq and Syria. Yesterday Mary and many others in the area collected clothes for the Gaza children. An attempt to actively stay connected given the impossibility (since some 15 years) to visit Gaza.

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