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Israel needs to figure out how to reduce children casualties

Kamotho Waiganjo
 Israeli troops conducting ground operations in Gaza. [Xinhua]

The war in Gaza entered its second month this week, with casualties climbing above 12,000. The saddest part about this war is not just the absolute numbers, it is more about the disproportionate number of civilians, especially children, who have been victims of this war.

When Hamas invaded Israel on November 7, their targets were indiscriminate. Children, women, the aged, even the disabled were not spared. Indeed, the situation was so dire that of the Israeli hostages taken into Gaza, 30 are minors, some as young as four years. In the last week it is reported that one woman has given birth in captivity, a strain of unimaginable proportions.

But Israel’s war on Gaza has also not spared the vulnerable. Data from both the Hamas Health Ministry and independent sources point to deaths of at least 4,500 children. In the last week, pictures of newborn babies being removed from incubators due to lack of electricity are enough to break the hardest of hearts.

Israel points to the difference between it and Hamas in that it does not deliberately target children. It contends that those caught in the crossfire are unfortunate victims. Israel’s position is that Hamas deliberately puts children on the frontline and refuses them a chance to leave danger zones so that it can harvest from the outpouring of anger and sympathy that naturally accompanies the deaths of innocent babies. On the overwhelming numbers of health facilities bombed by Israel, including the latest one at Al-Shifa, Israel blames Hamas, arguing that the said health facilities are used by Hamas as command centers and that under them exist elaborate tunnels in which Hamas plans its terror attacks including those on Israel.

It is conceivable, though vehemently denied, that Hamas can construct tunnels and operate command centers from civilian areas, including hospitals. That would not be the first-time tactics like that have been applied in war. It is also true that Hamas has the capacity to sacrifice Palestinian lives to achieve its ultimate goal, winning the sympathy war against Israel, which is the first step towards an actual win.

In a world where sympathy for Israel, courtesy of the historical tragedies they have gone through, including the Holocaust, is instinctive, showing the country as barbaric abusers of human rights and slaughterers of innocent children is the easiest way to win over the hearts of those who support this nation.

Caught between these contending versions of ‘the truth’ is the wisdom of Aeschylus, the father of Greek tragedy, who first made the assertion that the first casualty of war is truth. One must therefore take all assertions by war protagonists with a pinch of salt. Many wars have been fought based on a lie. Who can forget the infamous ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that justified the invasion of Iraq and toppling of Saddam Hussein?

Truth be told, however, it does not really matter who is wrong or right when innocent babies become the victims of war. Even instinctive supporters of Israel wince when watching little children crying desperately as bombs hit their homes, killing their parents and siblings. Israel must remember that while Hamas is an acknowledged terrorist organisation for whom expectations of compliance with basic human rights are low, Israel is a first world nation from whom compliance with the highest standards of human rights is expected. Furthermore, for a country that has endured so much terror on its innocent, it behooves Israel to be at the forefront of protecting innocent human lives, even when they belong to the enemy.

Finally, Israel has one of the globe’s most sophisticated intelligence-gathering systems and war infrastructure. Surely there must be a way in which it can use these capacities to wage its war in a manner that reduces the toll on innocent human lives. I say this recognising that at times, short-term extraordinary measures are required for the sake of long-term peace. Israel believes that long-term peace can only be guaranteed by destroying Hamas, which unfortunately will cost innocent lives. That may be true generally, but once the innocents are largely babies, a limit can be easily reached, that is indefensible. I believe Israel is quickly approaching that limit, if it already hasn’t already reached it.

The writer is an advocate of the High Court

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