Sunday, September 02, 2007

Children of war

By Gideon Levy

Again children. Five children killed in Gaza in eight days. The public indifference to their killing - the last three, for example, were accorded only a short item on the margins of page 11 in Yedioth Ahronoth, a sickening matter in itself - cannot blur the fact that the IDF is waging a war against children. A year ago, a fifth of those killed in the "Summer Rain" operation in Gaza were children; during the past two weeks, they comprised a quarter of the 21 killed. If, heaven forbid, children are hurt in Sderot, we will have to remember this before we begin raising hell.

The IDF explains that the Palestinians make a practice of sending children to collect the Qassam launchers. However, in this case, the children killed were not collecting launchers. The first two were killed while collecting carob fruit and the next three - according to the IDF's own investigation - were playing tag. But even if we accept the IDF's claim that there is a general trend of sending children to collect launchers (which has not been proven), that should have brought about an immediate halt to firing at launcher collectors.

But the IDF does not care whether its victims are liable to be children. The fact is that it shoots at figures it considers suspicious, with full knowledge - according to its own contention - that they are liable to be children. Therefore, an IDF that fires at launcher collectors is an army that kills children, without any intention of preventing this. This then is not a series of unfortunate mistakes, as it is being portrayed, but rather reflects the army's contempt for the lives of Palestinian children and its terrifying indifference to their fate.

A society that holds ethical considerations in high regard would at least ask itself: Is it permissible to shoot at anyone who is approaching the launchers, even if we know that some of these people may be small children, lacking in judgment, and thus not punishable? Or are we lifting all restraints on our war operations? Even if we accept the IDF's claims that its sophisticated vision devices do not enable them to distinguish between a 10-year-old boy and an adult, the IDF cannot evade its responsibility for this criminal action. Even if we assumed a completely distorted assumption that anyone who goes near the launchers is subject to death, the fact that children are involved should have changed the rules. Add to this the fact that the firing at launcher collectors has halted the Qassams, or even reduce their number, and you arrive at another chilling conclusion: The IDF shoots at children to wreak vengeance and punish.

No child in Sderot is more secure as a result of this killing. On the contrary.

Anyone who takes an honest look at the progression of events during the past two months will discover that the Qassams have a context: They are almost always fired after an IDF assassination operation, and there have been many of these. The question of who started it is not a childish question in this context. The IDF has returned to liquidations, and in a big way. And in their wake there has been an increase in Qassam firings.

That is the truth, and they are hiding it from us. When Gabi Ashkenazi and Ehud Barak assumed their positions, the reins were loosened. If Barak were a representative of the political right, perhaps a public outcry would have already been sounded against the IDF's wild actions in Gaza. But everything is permitted to Barak, and even the fact that the victims are children does not matter - not to him and not to the Israeli public.

Yes, the children of Gaza gather around the Qassams. It is practically the only diversion they have in their lives. It is their amusement park. Those who arrogantly preach to their parents "to watch over them" have never visited Beit Hanoun. There is nothing there, except for the filthy alleys and meager homes. Even if it is true that those launching the Qassams are taking advantage of these miserable children (which has yet to be proven), this should not shape our moral portrait. Yes, it is permissible to exercise restraint and caution. Yes, it is not always necessary to respond, especially when the response ends up killing children.

The way to stop the firing of Qassams is not through indiscriminate killing. Every launcher can be replaced. The start of the school year bodes ill, for us and for them. Anyone who truly seeks to stop the firing of Qassams should reach a cease-fire agreement with the current government in Gaza. That is the only way and it is possible. The liquidations, the shelling and the killing of children will work in exactly the opposite direction of what is intended. In the meantime, look what is happening to us and to our army.

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