By Etim Etim
It’s so hard to watch international news these days. The images from the Gaza Strip are heart-wrenching and distressing. Injured children crying and bodies of dead ones wrapped in white shrouds are too graphic to see. I have never seen so many corpses of little children in all of my life. As a parent, I can’t bear this any longer. I weep for the children of Gaza. The world has failed these innocent babies.
Since October 7, over 11,000 people have been killed in the Hamas-Israel war in Gaza, of which 70 per cent are children. According to WHO, a child is killed every 10 minutes in this war. It is comforting that some world leaders like Emmanuel Macron and Luiz Lula da Silva are beginning to speak out against the sad spectacles in Gaza. ‘’Much more needs to be done to protect civilians in this war. Far too many Palestinians have been killed. Far too many have suffered these past weeks’’, remarked US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres was even more vivid, describing Gaza as ‘’a graveyard for children’’.
As the corpses pile up in Gaza, the healthcare system in the territory has virtually collapsed. Gaza is facing the worst humanitarian crisis in its history and for Israel, it is a public relations nightmare of immense proportion. It is a war crime to attack hospitals, but Israel has excuse. Israeli Defence Force claims that Hamas fighters are hiding in underground tunnels below the hospitals and residential buildings; and so, the bombings will continue, even if it means destroying healthcare facilities. However, arrangements are being made to evacuate civilians safely. The human sufferings are huge and the children are dying in droves. Meanwhile, another terrorist group, Hezbollah, ensconced in Lebanon, is warming up to enter the fray. The Middle East may go up in flames once again. I fear for the children, the innocent ones.
War impacts children negatively in different ways. It disrupts their education and impedes supplies of food, healthcare and basic necessities to them, eventually depriving them of their physical, social-emotional and psychological development. As a child, I saw a bit of the Nigerian civil war and the images are seared permanently in my memory. Whenever I see those Gaza children on TV, I remember the untold sufferings of Biafran children. There were starvations, Kwashiorkor, malnutrition and many deaths.
Children have inherent trusts in adults. Naturally, they expect adults, especially their parents, to protect them from harm. That’s why a frightened toddler easily clings tenaciously to the parent or any adult around, seeking protection and succor. But in Gaza, the adults watching helplessly. The children cannot understand why they are too helpless to offer them protection. I see despair, hopelessness and anguish in their faces as they cry in hospitals and bombed out buildings. These are haunting images.
What kind of adults would these Gaza children grow into? Will they become another generation of bitter and angry fighters? According to experts, child traumatic stress can last well beyond childhood. Research has shown that child trauma survivors may experience learning problems; substance dependency and abuse; mental disorders; delinquency and long-term health problems, including diabetes and heart diseases. I cry for the Gaza children as I remember the Biafran children who are now adults. The scars are never gone.
Let me be clear. I support Israel’s war against Hamas. I fully understand the anger, grief and fear of the Israeli people following the horrific, barbaric and unprovoked attacks by Hamas on October 7. The terrorists invaded Israel early that Saturday morning; executed, burnt and murdered children, men and women, including the elderly and sick, in their homes and at a music festival. Over 1,400 Israeli citizens were slaughtered and 220 people of different nationalities, including children, taken hostage. Such barbarity has no place and excuse in modern civilization. In retaliation, Israel has been overwhelmed by fury and rage, and caught in the crossfires are the children and innocent civilians of Gaza. Israel wants the hostages freed before they could consider a ceasefire, but Hamas wants a ceasefire before the hostages are released. Meantime, the US, UN and the rest of the international community are watching the carnage in apparent helplessness. Nothing in the Middle East is ever straightforward.
As the bloodshed continues in Gaza, anti-Semitic threats and violence are spreading across the US and Europe. This is the most dangerous moment to be a Jew since the Holocaust; and coming exactly 85 years after Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass) on November 9-10 1938 when Nazi leaders unleashed a series of pogroms against Jewish population in Germany and Austria, Jews around the world are understandably nervous. Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues were vandalized and hundreds killed. Thousands of men were rounded up and deported to other countries on the orders of the Nazi regime. It was a taste of what was to come in the Holocaust a few years later when six million Jews were killed. You can now understand why Israel is taking the fight with Hamas so seriously.
No nation has been as beleaguered as the Jewish State and apart from Africans who were shipped in millions (some 12.5 million captured men, women and children) to Europe and the Americas in Atlantic Slave Trade between 1562 and 1867, no other group of persons has been as persecuted, humiliated and hated like the Jews. Only Africans have remained the most hated, exploited, discriminated against and colonized people on earth. Slave Trade and the Holocaust are therefore the only two evils of historical proportions committed against humanity. This explains why Africans easily feel the pains of Israel and the sufferings of Jewish people.
Can we learn some lessons in all these? One, war has never solved any problem. This is the time to work for peace in the Middle East – when this war is over and Hamas is removed. Two, every bomb dropped on the Palestinians will likely create a new generation of angry and desperate people who may take up arms and plan another attack. Three, if civilian death tolls continue to mount and babies continue to die, the world will turn against Israel. Civilians should be protected by all means. There is no alternative to the two-state solution. Israel and the Palestinians will have to live side-by-side in peace and security because, as I often say, you can never be in peace if your neighbours are not happy with you.