John Pilger: In Palestine, a War on Children


Richard Moore


June 15, 2006
In Palestine, a War on Children
by John Pilger

Arthur Miller wrote, "Few of us can easily 
surrender our belief that society must somehow 
make sense. The thought that the state has lost 
its mind and is punishing so many innocent people 
is intolerable. And so the evidence has to be 
internally denied."

Miller's truth was a glimpsed reality on 
television on June 9 when Israeli warships fired 
on families picnicking on a Gaza beach, killing 
seven people, including three children and three 
generations. What that represents is a final 
solution, agreed by the United States and Israel, 
to the problem of the Palestinians. While the 
Israelis fire missiles at Palestinian picnickers 
and homes in Gaza and the West Bank, the two 
governments are to starve them. The victims will 
be mostly children.

This was approved on May 23 by the U.S. House of 
Representatives, which voted 361-37 to cut off 
aid to non-government organizations that run a 
lifeline to occupied Palestine. Israel is 
withholding Palestinian revenues and tax receipts 
amounting to $60 million a month. Such collective 
punishment, identified as a crime against 
humanity in the Geneva Conventions, evokes the 
Nazis' strangulation of the Warsaw ghetto and the 
American economic siege of Iraq in the 1990s. If 
the perpetrators have lost their minds, as Miller 
suggested, they appear to understand their 
barbarism and display their cynicism. "The idea 
is to put the Palestinians on a diet," joked Dov 
Weisglass, an adviser to the Israeli prime 
minister, Ehud Olmert.

This is the price Palestinians must pay for their 
democratic elections in January. The majority 
voted for the "wrong" party, Hamas, which the 
U.S. and Israel, with their inimitable penchant 
for pot-calling-the-kettle-black, describe as 
terrorist. However, terrorism is not the reason 
for starving the Palestinians, whose prime 
minister, Ismail Haniyeh, had reaffirmed Hamas's 
commitment to recognize the Jewish state, 
proposing only that Israel obey international law 
and respect the borders of 1967. Israel has 
refused because, with its apartheid wall under 
construction, its intention is clear: to take 
over more and more of Palestine, encircling whole 
villages and eventually Jerusalem.

The reason Israel fears Hamas is that Hamas is 
unlikely to be a trusted collaborator in 
subjugating its own people on Israel's behalf. 
Indeed, the vote for Hamas was actually a vote 
for peace. Palestinians were fed up with the 
failures and corruption of the Arafat era. 
According to the former U.S. president Jimmy 
Carter, whose Carter Center verified the Hamas 
electoral victory, "public opinion polls show 
that 80 percent of Palestinians want a peace 
agreement with Israel."

How ironic this is, considering that the rise of 
Hamas was due in no small part to the secret 
support it received from Israel, which, with the 
U.S. and Britain, wanted Islamists to undermine 
secular Arabism and its "moderate" dreams of 
freedom. Hamas refused to play this Machiavellian 
game and in the face of Israeli assaults 
maintained a cease-fire for 18 months. The 
objective of the Israeli attack on the beach at 
Gaza was clearly to sabotage the cease-fire. This 
is a time-honored tactic.

Now, state terror in the form of a medieval siege 
is to be applied to the most vulnerable. For the 
Palestinians, a war against their children is 
hardly new. A 2004 field study published in the 
British Medical Journal reported that, in the 
previous four years, "Two-thirds of the 621 
children Š killed [by the Israelis] at 
checkpoints Š on the way to school, in their 
homes, died from small arms fire, directed in 
over half the cases to the head, neck, and chest 
- the sniper's wound." A quarter of Palestinian 
infants under the age of five are acutely or 
chronically malnourished. The Israeli wall "will 
isolate 97 primary health clinics and 11 
hospitals from the populations they serve."

The study described "a man in a now fenced-in 
village near Qalqilya [who] approached the gate 
with his seriously ill daughter in his arms and 
begged the soldiers on duty to let him pass so 
that he could take her to hospital. The soldiers 

Gaza, now sealed like an open prison and 
terrorized by the sonic boom of Israeli fighter 
aircraft, has a population of which almost half 
is under 15. Dr. Khalid Dahlan, a psychiatrist 
who heads a children's community health project, 
told me, "The statistic I personally find 
unbearable is that 99.4 percent of the children 
we studied suffer trauma Š 99.2 percent had their 
homes bombarded; 97.5 percent were exposed to 
tear gas; 96.6 percent witnessed shooting; a 
third saw family members or neighbors injured or 

These children suffer unrelenting nightmares and 
"night terrors" and the dichotomy of having to 
cope with these conditions. On the one hand, they 
dream about becoming doctors and nurses "so they 
can help others"; on the other, this is then 
overtaken by an apocalyptic vision of themselves 
as the next generation of suicide bombers. They 
experience this invariably after attacks by the 
Israelis. For some boys, their heroes are no 
longer football players, but a confusion of 
Palestinian "martyrs" and even the enemy, 
"because Israeli soldiers are the strongest and 
have Apache gunships."

That these children are now to be punished 
further may be beyond human comprehension, but 
there is a logic. Over the years, the 
Palestinians have avoided falling into the abyss 
of an all-out civil war, knowing this is what the 
Israelis want. Destroying their elected 
government while attempting to build a parallel 
administration around the collusive Palestinian 
president, Mahmoud Abbas, may well produce, as 
the Oxford academic Karma Nabulsi wrote, "a 
Hobbesian vision of an anarchic society Š ruled 
by disparate militias, gangs, religious 
ideologues and broken into ethnic and religious 
tribalism, and co-opted collaborationists. Look 
to the Iraq of today: that is what [Ariel Sharon] 
had in store for us."

The struggle in Palestine is an American war, 
waged from America's most heavily armed foreign 
military base, Israel. In the West, we are 
conditioned not to think of the 
Israeli-Palestinian "conflict" in those terms, 
just as we are conditioned to think of the 
Israelis as victims, not illegal and brutal 
occupiers. This is not to underestimate the 
ruthless initiatives of the Israeli state, but 
without F-16s and Apaches and billions of 
American taxpayers' dollars, Israel would have 
made peace with the Palestinians long ago. Since 
the Second World War, the U.S. has given Israel 
some $140 billion, much of it as armaments. 
According to the Congressional Research Service, 
the same "aid" budget was to include $28 million 
"to help [Palestinian] children deal with the 
current conflict situation" and to provide "basic 
first aid." That has now been vetoed.

Karma Nabulsi's comparison with Iraq is apposite, 
for the same "policy" applies there. The capture 
of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a wonderful media 
event: what the philosopher Hannah Arendt called 
"action as propaganda," and having little bearing 
on reality. The Americans and those who act as 
their bullhorn have their demon - even a video 
game of his house being blown up. The truth is 
that Zarqawi was largely their creation. His 
apparent killing serves an important propaganda 
purpose, distracting us in the west from the 
American goal of converting Iraq, like Palestine, 
into a powerless society of ethnic and religious 
tribalism. Death squads, formed and trained by 
veterans of the CIA's "counterinsurgency" in 
central America, are critical to this. The 
Special Police Commandos, a CIA creation led by 
former senior intelligence officers in Saddam 
Hussein's Ba'ath Party, are perhaps the most 
brutal. The Zarqawi killing and the myths about 
his importance also deflect from routine 
massacres by U.S. soldiers, such as the one at 
Haditha. Even the puppet Prime Minister Nouri 
al-Maliki complains that murderous behavior of 
U.S. troops is "a daily occurrence." As I learned 
in Vietnam, a form of serial killing, then known 
officially as "body count," is the way the 
Americans fight their colonial wars.

This is known as "pacification." The asymmetry of 
a pacified Iraq and a pacified Palestine is 
clear. As in Palestine, the war in Iraq is 
against civilians, mostly children. According to 
UNICEF, Iraq once had one of the highest 
indicators for the well-being of children. Today, 
a quarter of children between the ages of six 
months and five years suffer acute or chronic 
malnutrition, worse than during the years of 
sanctions. Poverty and disease have risen with 
each day of the occupation.

In April, in British-occupied Basra, the European 
aid agency Saving Children from War reported: 
"The mortality of young children had increased by 
30 percent compared with the Saddam Hussein era." 
They die because the hospitals have no 
ventilators and the water supply, which the 
British were meant to have fixed, is more 
polluted than ever. Children fall victim to 
unexploded U.S. and British cluster bombs. They 
play in areas contaminated by depleted uranium; 
by contrast, British army survey teams venture 
there only in full-body radiation suits, face 
masks, and gloves. Unlike the children they came 
to "liberate," British troops are given what the 
Ministry of Defense calls "full biological 

Was Arthur Miller right? Do we "internally deny" 
all this, or do we listen to distant voices? On 
my last trip to Palestine, I was rewarded, on 
leaving Gaza, with a spectacle of Palestinian 
flags fluttering from inside the walled 
compounds. Children are responsible for this. No 
one tells them to do it. They make flagpoles out 
of sticks tied together, and one or two climb on 
to a wall and hold the flag between them, 
silently. They do it, believing they will tell 
the world.

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