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November 19, 2019

Gaza's children


November 19, 2019

In the last few days, as Israel intensified its military operation on Gaza, all I could think of was my one-year-old niece Ela'a, who is living with other members of my family in a refugee camp there.

Although she is just a toddler, she has already learned to hurry and hide behind a chair or under a table whenever she hears an explosion caused by an Israeli air raid.

She, like other children in Gaza, starts her childhood at a time and in a place where Israel regularly commits war crimes with brazen impunity.

At the end of this last military assault on Gaza, the Israeli government declared triumphantly that it had carried out "surgical strikes" in Gaza and had killed "terrorists". Once again, its leadership declared that the Zionist state did so because it has the "right to defend itself" and the world nodded.

But let us take a closer look at Israel's actions.

The so-called "target killing" of Islamic Jihad Commander Bahaa Abu al-Ata and his wife, Asmaa, was followed by the bombardment of several other areas around the Gaza Strip. In other words, the "assassination" of Abu al-Ata and Asmaa, as we call it in Palestine, was just the beginning. As of Friday morning, Israel's "surgical strikes" have killed a total of 34 Palestinians, almost half of them civilians, including eight children and three women.

Surely there is nothing "surgical" about bombings that kill not only accused militants – without a judge, jury and trial – but also their wives, children and various bystanders. A surgeon does not kill en masse, a war criminal does.

And yet, the so-called "international community" refused once again to condemn what effectively was a series of extrajudicial killings and the reckless use of deadly bombs in densely populated civilian areas.

Avi Berkowitz, Deputy Assistant to US President Donald Trump and the latest leading member of his so-called "Middle East Peace Team" tweeted: "The US fully supports our partner & ally Israel in their fight against terrorism and the terrorist group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad."

The European Union, meanwhile, focused its outrage on the rockets that were fired from the Gaza Strip on Israel in response to Abu al-Ata's assassination and effectively remained silent on the killing of Palestinian civilians.

"This morning, Israel conducted an operation inside Gaza targeting a senior leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. In response, rockets were fired from Gaza on southern and central Israel," a statement from the EU foreign service said. "The firing of rockets on civilian populations is totally unacceptable and must immediately stop."

I wish I could say I found these reactions shocking. But we, the people of Gaza, are used to the world's silence in the face of Israel's brutal assaults on us. For the past 20 years, even the most sympathetic statements coming from Europe only expressed worry about so-called "escalations" and completely ignored the ongoing collective punishment, repression and silencing of the Palestinians. And the "post-colonial" governments across the world proved that they learned nothing from their own history by remaining silent about the injustices Palestinians are facing at the hands of the Israeli settler colony.

I grew up in Gaza's Jabalia Refugee Camp. I was a stateless refugee child, living with my parents, my four uncles, their wives and children, and grandparents in a total of five rooms.

I lived through the first intifada. I lived through the constant fear of soldiers raiding our home and arresting my father and uncles because of their political activities. I lived through a shooting near my kindergarten. I lived through my primary school being shot at. I lived through my prep school being bombarded with illegal white phosphorus munitions. Then I experienced the brutality of Israel's response to the second intifada. As I grew into a teenager and then an adult, I lived through countless other assaults, invasions and massacres.

Then I became a journalist, humanitarian aid worker and human rights defender.

I did so because I wanted to help my people and document Israel's horrific war crimes for the world to see. In January 2014, as I was organising protests close to the buffer zone in the east of Gaza with other youth groups, I was shot in the leg with a live bullet. At the time of the attack we were only peacefully planting lemon and olive trees. I always pushed for peaceful popular resistance in Gaza. Unfortunately, Israel rarely allows the situation to remain "peaceful" on the strip, as we have been witnessing on a weekly basis since the start of the Great March of Return in March 2018.

I was lucky to survive and get an opportunity to leave Gaza in the following months. I was traumatised because of what I happened to me, but I did not have the time to focus on how I felt. With the start of Operation Protective Edge, my people, my family came under attack once again. I had to report, tell stories and campaign while spending every second of every day worrying about my family. I embarked on a speaking tour across Europe, telling people of the plight of Gazans to the best of my ability. Soon I started an MPhil (Master of Philosophy) in peace studies and conflict transformation in Norway. I am now settled in Berlin.

I may now be safe in Europe, but thousands of children including my niece Ela'a, are trying to survive the same abominable conditions I once did back home in Gaza. I fear that Ela'a is going to have a miserable childhood like the one I had, if not worse. If things do not change, and change fast, she is going to spend most of her childhood hiding from Israeli bombs behind chairs and under tables. And even during the times of "peace" she will have to endure horrendous conditions in a place characterised as "uninhabitable" by the United Nations.

Excerpted from: 'I fear for Gaza's