On dead children in Gaza Strip and the villain(s) in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict

August 2, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.word press.com
Aug. 2, 2014

A major goal of Israel’s Gaza offensive, which showed indications Saturday of winding down, has been to destroy tunnels leading into Israelis territory — structures that I gather mainly have a military purpose. In fact, just days ago, one tunnel was used for an assault in which five Israeli soldiers (and one Hamas fighter) were killed.

Jeremy Bender and Armin Rosen of Business Insider published a post on Tuesday at Business Insider that excerpts some video that the assailants took during that attack. But what truly caught my eye about their article was the sentence at the start of the second paragraph, which casually mentioned that dozens of children died in the process of building the tunnels.

The BI article links to a long 2012 scholarly essay by Nicolas Pelham in the Journal of Palestine Studies. Pelham is mostly concerned with the economic impact of the tunnels in Gaza, which for years have been used to smuggle embargoed goods into the Strip. (If I understand correctly, most of the black-market commerce takes place along the Gaza-Egypt border, whereas tunnels into Israel are employed for hostile purposes.)

When Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, Pelham writes, it began regulating and taxing tunnel commerce. The true numbers may never be known, and they have fluctuated over the years, but tunnel trade probably generated more than $100 million in annual revenue for Hamas. In some years, the actual revenue may have been three times that number — and possibly far higher than that.

But the tunnels’ impacts go beyond finances. Here is the relevant paragraph, in which Pelham refers to Hamas as both a movement and a government (emphasis mine):

A similarly cavalier approach to child labor and tunnel fatalities damaged the movement’s standing with human-rights groups, despite government assurances dating back to 2008 that it was considering curbs. During a police patrol that the author was permitted to accompany in December 2011, nothing was done to impede the use of children in the tunnels, where, much as in Victorian coal mines, they are prized for their nimble bodies. At least 160 children have been killed in the tunnels, according to Hamas officials. Safety controls on imports appear similarly lax, although the TAC [Tunnel Affairs Commission] insists that a sixteen-man contingent carries out sporadic spot-checks.

This is frankly astonishing to me. According to Hamas itself, at least 160 children have died building commercial and military structures? Moreover, children seem to be regularly used as laborers in the tunnels?

That occurred, mind you, in a territory that from 2001 to 2010 had unemployment rates ranging from a low of 20 percent to a high of 50 percent. Why, in the name of all that is good, were child laborers used in a place in which at least a fifth of all adults were jobless?

Remember that, as of Friday, at least 286 Palestinian children have been killed by Israel’s war in Gaza — a toll that has (rightly) outraged those around the world. In the pursuit of building tunnels — which, again, are used for commerce and combat — more than half that number died. Where is the outrage over Palestinian human rights abuses of their own vulnerable youths?

This isn’t to wave off concerns about Israeli oppression, aggression and war crimes, for these can never be excused. But why haven’t more Palestinians and Palestinian allies called out this kind of self-inflicted needless bloodletting?

The conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis is not a Hollywood narrative in which one side embodies virtue and the other vice. Both Israelis and Palestinians played a role in creating this tragedy. Yes, in many ways, for many years, Israelis have been cruel, and have had more power than Palestinians, but that doesn’t negate the crucial fact that Palestinians have helped author their own misfortunes.

Not until Palestinians and Israelis — and, too, the world at large — acknowledge this truth will the two sides be able to begin resolving their differences peacefully.

One Response to “On dead children in Gaza Strip and the villain(s) in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict”

  1. Kip Says:

    There are no good guys in this mess.

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