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Israel in a moral mess

Something is rotten in the state of Israel when a 14-year-old girl can be shot dead for unarmed protest against impoverished entrapment in a strip of blockaded land that strangles any dreams she might have had, by a defence force that sees an existentialist threat in a child with a wire-cutter.

Something’s also rotten in Hamas failing to protect her in a border area that functions as a free-fire zone for the IDF, but it wasn’t Hamas that killed Wesad Sheikh Khalil, a pretty, passionate fourteen-year old who loved to dance but needed to protest at the injustice of life in Gaza.

photo Sari Jamal

photo Sari Jamal, from the Guardian

Knesset Member Mossi Raz called the Gaza demonstrations, “a natural outcome of years of blockade.” This is an understatement – Gaza is desperate. The UN says it will be unlivable by 2020.  Israel disingenuously insists it has had no obligations to Gaza since occupation ended yet, according to documents exposed in 2010 by the human rights organisation Gisha, blockade policy is based on cynical calculations of the absolute minimal caloric intake required for survival. Israel is waging a war of attrition, and calling it self-defence.

Children are a majority in Gaza. The Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories say 718 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli security forces since 2009 – 626 in Gaza. 9 Israeli children have been killed, by Palestinians, in the West Bank in the same period, so this is not to claim that harm does not go both ways, nor to suggest that killing would be in some way more justified if the numbers killed on each side were more equal – of course it would not. However, Israel treats Palestinian children in the occupied territories as combatants. It prosecutes them (though not Israeli children) in military courts (the only country in the world to do so). Over 8,000 Palestinian children have been prosecuted in Israel’s military courts since 2000, most accused of throwing stones. They are usually taken from their beds late at night by heavily armed Israeli soldiers.  Three quarters allege physical violence. They are interrogated unchaperoned, sleep deprived, bruised and scared, and without legal representation, with verbal abuse, threats, intimidation and physical violence such as repeated slaps to sensitive parts of the face. One boy told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz he was forced into a “half-reclining” position, with his back hanging off the edge of the chair. “At some point, I couldn’t hold it anymore. I went down the rest of the way, like a bow, and everything started to hurt.” He said this went on for hours… “I screamed and wept from pain.” Most eventually ‘confess.’ Israeli military court judges allow evidence obtained this way, which they consider not torture but ‘special means.’

Multiple UN treaties protect children, but Israel claims that UN conventions it has signed do not apply to Palestinians under occupation. Yet UN conventions surely apply to all people. Was Wesad not, perhaps, considered a full, moral person in Israel’s eyes? Israel have announced no inquiry into her death. Imagine. No inquiry.

When you depersonalise a people, you depersonalise yourself. When you kill their dancing teenagers you make the world despise you. When you use your right to exist as reason to deny them theirs you annihilate the very values you think you stand for. Once children are on the battlefield, nobody can win.

lead photo AFP

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