During 30 plus years I have been working in Middle East journalism, I have seen some tragic and pitiful photographs come across my desk. Photographs that, for the most part, we have chosen not to share with our readers because of their shock/horror value. If the written word offends, it is easy to stop reading but an image – once imprinted on the brain – is there forever.
This week I have built up a library of such photographs in my mind, images of dead and horribly injured Palestinian children in Gaza. Some of them so brutally battered by the force of the artillery that rained down upon them, they were pulled from the rubble looking more like dirty, broken, discarded dolls than anything that ever drew breath. Yet each of these babies was, perhaps only yesterday, loved and treasured. Today, they are – at least to the world outside Gaza – merely statistics.
More than 50% of the 1.7m people currently living in Gaza are under the age of 16 – anywhere else in the world they would be classified as children. Yet to Israel’s military forces they are legitimate targets. I have listened to the argument that Israel’s military action in Gaza is in defence of rocket attacks by Hamas and, while I sympathise with those Israelis under threat, the children of Gaza – who are being relentlessly fired upon and murdered – are not members of Hamas, many of them are not even of school age.
It is difficult to believe Prime Minister Netanyahu has defence on his mind as he authorises attack after murderous attack on densely populated areas of what has frequently been described as “the world’s largest open air prison” where, Israel has ensured with its heavily fortified walls, fences and check points, there really is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.
Gaza has no army, no navy, no airforce, no military. As well as the 60% of children who make up the population, there are their mothers, sisters, aunts and grandmothers. Just who is Mr Netanyahu targetting? Gazans have been incarcerated, deprived and ritually abused by Israel for generations. What we are seeing there now has nothing whatever to do with defence, it is slaughter.