The war on children
The most vulnerable people in Gaza are suffering the worst
acute mental and physical trauma as a result of Israel's
actions: almost half the population is under 15.
By John Pilger
Clearing House" -- --
Arthur Miller wrote, "Few of us can easily surrender our belief
that society must somehow make sense. The thought that the state
has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is
intolerable. And so the evidence has to be internally denied."
Miller's truth was a glimpsed reality on television on 9 June
when Israeli warships
fired on families picnicking on a Gaza beach, killing seven
people, including three children and three
generations. What that represents is a final solution, agreed by
the United States and Israel, to the problem of the
Palestinians. While the Israelis fire missiles at Palestinian
picnickers and homes in Gaza and the West Bank, the two
governments are to starve them. The victims will be mostly
This was approved on 23 May by the US House of Representatives,
which voted 361-37 to cut off aid to non-government
organisations that run a lifeline to occupied Palestine. Israel
is withholding Palestinian revenues and tax receipts amounting
to $60m a month.
Such collective punishment, identified as a crime against
humanity in the Geneva Conventions, evokes the Nazis'
strangulation of the Warsaw ghetto and the American economic
siege of Iraq in the 1990s. If the perpetrators have lost their
minds, as Miller suggested, they appear to understand their
barbarism and display their cynicism. "The idea is to put the
Palestinians on a diet," joked Dov Weisglass, an adviser to the
Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert.
This is the price Palestinians must pay for their democratic
elections in January. The majority voted for the "wrong" party,
Hamas, which the US and Israel, with their inimitable penchant
for pot-calling-the-kettle-black, describe as terrorist.
However, terrorism is not the reason for starving the
Palestinians, whose prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, had
reaffirmed Hamas's commitment to recognise the Jewish state,
proposing only that Israel obey international law and respect
the borders of 1967. Israel has refused because, with its
apartheid wall under construction, its intention is clear: to
take over more and more of Palestine, encircling whole villages
and eventually Jerusalem.
The sniper's wound
The reason Israel fears Hamas is that Hamas is unlikely to be a
trusted collaborator in subju- gating its own people on Israel's
behalf. Indeed, the vote for Hamas was actually a vote for
peace. Palestinians were fed up with the failures and corruption
of the Arafat era. According to the former US president Jimmy
Carter, whose Carter Centre verified the Hamas electoral
victory, "public opinion polls show that 80 per cent of
Palestinians want a peace agreement with Israel".
How ironic this is, considering that the rise of Hamas was due
in no small part to the secret support it received from Israel,
which, with the US and Britain, wanted Islamists to undermine
secular Arabism and its "moderate" dreams of freedom. Hamas
refused to play this Machiavellian game and in the face of
Israeli assaults maintained a ceasefire for 18 months. The
objective of the Israeli attack on the beach at Gaza was clearly
to sabotage the ceasefire. This is a time-honoured tactic.
Now, state terror in the form of a medieval siege is to be
applied to the most vulnerable. For the Palestinians, a war
against their children is hardly new. A 2004 field study
published in the British Medical Journal reported that, in the
previous four years, "Two-thirds of the 621 children . . .
killed [by the Israelis] at checkpoints . . . on the way to
school, in their homes, died from small arms fire, directed in
over half the cases to the head, neck and chest - the sniper's
wound." A quarter of Palestinian infants under the age of five
are acutely or chronically malnourished. The Israeli wall "will
isolate 97 primary health clinics and 11 hospitals from the
populations they serve."
The study described "a man in a now fenced-in village near
Qalqilya [who] approached the gate with his seriously ill
daughter in his arms and begged the soldiers on duty to let him
pass so that he could take her to hospital. The sol-diers
Gaza, now sealed like an open prison and terrorised by the sonic
boom of Israeli fighter aircraft, has a population of which
almost half is under 15. Dr Khalid Dahlan, a psychiatrist who
heads a children's community health project, told me, "The
statistic I personally find unbearable is that 99.4 per cent of
the children we studied suffer trauma . . . 99.2 per cent had
their homes bombarded; 97.5 per cent were exposed to tear gas;
96.6 per cent witnessed shooting; a third saw family members or
neighbours injured or killed."
These children suffer unrelenting nightmares and "night terrors"
and the dichotomy of hav-ing to cope with these conditions. On
the one hand, they dream about becoming doctors and nurses "so
they can help others"; on the other, this is then overtaken by
an apocalyptic vision of themselves as the next generation of
suicide bombers. They experience this invariably after attacks
by the Israelis. For some boys, their heroes are no longer
football players, but a confusion of Palestinian "martyrs" and
even the enemy, "because Israeli soldiers are the strongest and
have Apache gunships".
That these children are now to be punished further may be beyond
human comprehension, but there is a logic. Over the years, the
Palestinians have avoided falling into the abyss of an all-out
civil war, knowing this is what the Israelis want. Destroying
their elected government while attempting to build a parallel
administration around the collusive Palestinian president,
Mahmoud Abbas, may well produce, as the Oxford academic Karma
Nabulsi wrote, "a Hobbesian vision of an anarchic society . . .
ruled by disparate militias, gangs, religious ideologues and
broken into ethnic and religious tribalism, and co-opted
collaborationists. Look to the Iraq of today: that is what
[Ariel Sharon] had in store for us."
The new "body count"
The struggle in Palestine is an American war, waged from
America's most heavily armed foreign military base, Israel. In
the west, we are conditioned not to think of the
Israeli-Palestinian "conflict" in those terms, just as we are
conditioned to think of the Israelis as victims, not illegal and
brutal occupiers. This is not to underestimate the initiative of
the Israeli state, but without F-16s and Apaches and billions of
American taxpayers' dollars, Israel would have made peace with
the Palestinians long ago. Since the Second World War, the US
has given Israel some $140bn, much of it as armaments. According
to the Congressional Research Service, the same "aid" budget was
to include $28m "to help [Palestinian] children deal with the
current conflict situation" and to provide "basic first aid".
That has now been vetoed.
Karma Nabulsi's comparison with Iraq is apposite, for the same
"policy" applies there. The capture of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was
a wonderful media event: what the philosopher Hannah Arendt
called "action as propaganda", and hav-ing little bearing on
reality. The Americans and those who act as their bullhorn have
their demon - even a video game of his house being blown up. The
truth is that Zarqawi was largely their creation. His apparent
killing serves an important propaganda purpose, distracting us
in the west from the American goal of converting Iraq, like
Palestine, into a powerless society of ethnic and religious
tribalism. Death squads, formed and trained by veterans of the
CIA's "counter-insurgency" in central America, are critical to
this. The Special Police Commandos, a CIA creation led by former
senior intelligence officers in Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party,
are perhaps the most brutal. The Zarqawi killing and the myths
about his importance also deflect from routine massacres by US
soldiers, such as the one at Haditha. Even the puppet prime
minister Nouri al-Maliki complains that murderous behaviour of
US troops is "a daily occurrence". As I learned in Vietnam, a
form of serial killing, then known officially as "body count",
is the way the Americans fight their colonial wars.
Put out more flags
This is known as "pacification". The asymmetry of a pacified
Iraq and a pacified Palestine is clear. As in Palestine, the war
in Iraq is against civilians, mostly children. According to
Unicef, Iraq once had one of the highest indicators for the
well- being of children. Today, a quarter of children between
the ages of six months and five years suffer acute or chronic
malnutrition, worse than during the years of sanctions. Poverty
and disease have risen with each day of the occupation.
In April, in British-occupied Basra, the European aid agency
Saving Children from War reported: "The mortality of young
children had increased by 30 per cent compared with the Saddam
Hussein era." They die because the hospitals have no ventilators
and the water supply, which the British were meant to have
fixed, is more polluted than ever. Children fall victim to
unexploded US and British cluster bombs. They play in areas
contaminated by depleted uranium; by contrast, British army
survey teams venture there only in full-body radiation suits,
face masks and gloves. Unlike the children they came to
"liberate", British troops are given what the Ministry of
Defence calls "full biological testing".
Was Arthur Miller right? Do we "internally deny" all this, or do
we listen to distant voices? On my last trip to Palestine, I was
rewarded, on leaving Gaza, with a spectacle of Palestinian flags
fluttering from inside the walled compounds. Children are
responsible for this. No one tells them to do it. They make
flagpoles out of sticks tied together, and one or two climb on
to a wall and hold the flag between them, silently. They do it,
believing they will tell the world.
John Pilger's new book, "Freedom
Next Time ", is published by Bantam Press. His website is [
This article first appeared in the New Statesman.
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