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Leader comment: Yet more dead in Gaza

05 April 2024

IT WAS hardly worth reporting: seven more dead in Gaza after the reported deaths of 32,000 since the conflict began last October. And, of course, the shameful thing is that it would not have been reported, or only very locally, if those seven had been Palestinians, even if they had been aid workers. But five of the seven were foreign nationals, thus attracting reactions from their countries of origin and other international observers. Throughout the conflict, Israel has claimed not only that its cause is just — securing the release of its hostages and ensuring that Hamas is no longer in a position to carry out an attack similar to the one on 7 October — but also that its conduct has been just. Civilians have been warned to move before buildings have been bombed; hospitals have been occupied only because they were used as refuges by Hamas fighters; food and fuel imports have been restricted only because Hamas was hoarding supplies; and innocent people have been killed only because Hamas has chosen to fight from within heavily populated areas.

These accounts are now being questioned by many Israelis, who regularly take to the streets to argue that the military campaign has more to do with keeping Benjamin Netanyahu in power than with retrieving the remaining hostages. And, although the White House is loyally arguing that, to date, the State Department has not found any incidents in which the Israelis have violated international humanitarian law, there is growing evidence to the contrary. Set aside the accusations (denied by Israel) that border restrictions are bringing the population of Gaza to the brink of starvation, there is the tale told by the broken bodies of the children who are turning up in the remaining hospital wards or morgues. The Guardian heard from nine doctors working in Gaza hospitals, eight of them foreign nationals. Although most of the deaths and injuries suffered by children — one third of the total — were from shrapnel or the collapse of buildings, there were attested cases of children who had been shot in the head by sniper fire. It appears that, once an area in Gaza has been designated a “combat zone” by the Israel Defense Forces, then anyone found there is a potential threat and therefore a target — except that many of the victims were clearly not a threat. One Canadian doctor, Dr Fozia Alvi, said: “I saw even small children with direct sniper shot wounds to the head as well as in the chest. They were not combatants, they were small children.”

“It happens in war,” Mr Netanyahu said on Tuesday of the aid-convoy attack. And so it does. The IDF’s shooting dead of three escaped Israeli hostages, who were waving a white flag, in December, will not soon be forgotten. And other, more predictable things happen in war, not least the death and injury in combat of one’s own young soldiers. “Peace is never made with arms,” Pope Francis said on Easter Day. Now is the time for the leaders on both sides of the conflict to show that they want to make peace, not war.

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