Bitter childhood in conflict zone

As Israel continues its offensive in Gaza, the number of civilian casualties among Palestinians is increasing. There are now over 1000 Palestinians dead: a third of which are children.

Israeli children themselves have also fallen victim to the conflict.

Five years ago Ahmed Samir left his home and didn’t come back, but the news that he had been shot by Israeli soldiers did. There are two versions to this story: his mother, Amal Samir, says he went to buy bread.

“On that day I sent him to the shop. He saw a tank in the road and like a small kid was fascinated by it. But when he turned around and started to run away from it, the soldiers started shooting at him,” Amal recalls.

The Israeli army, though, says Ahmed and other children were throwing stones at soldiers.

It doesn’t matter whose version is right, today Ahmed is paralysed.

“Nothing can happen to a tank from stones. But after the tank opened fire, 14 children were hurt and two were dead. We raise our children with love. We really care about them. When trouble comes, we stand in front of them and try to protect them. I think Israeli soldiers shoot at children on purpose because they’re afraid of how they will be when they grow up,” says Amal Samir.

The war in Gaza has thrown up the dilemma of children in combat zones. Many in the world accuse Israel of war crimes and of not doing enough to protect the civilian population in Gaza, but Israelis say these children are used as human shields and for propaganda.

The Israeli army has released pictures shot from the air, which show how Israeli pilots divert missiles so as not to shoot at civilians. The army also explains to journalists just how tricky the enemy is.

“As a father myself, it’s difficult for me to see how young children have been wounded during the fighting in Gaza. But I have seen personally how Hamas fighters, when they are running away on the street, pick up some little boy and put him close to their body as a human shield,” says Israel Engineering Forces Lieutenant Colonel Avi Open.

“They know we find it very difficult to shoot children. It’s not a secret that they also put booby traps and weapons inside schools, and fire at us from there. We are then forced to shoot at schools because they have become military targets,” he adds.

However, watch groups aren’t impressed with the Israeli army’s argument.

Adam Keller, spokesperson for the Israeli peace activism group ‘The Peace Bloc’, says military action is incompatible with the protection of civilians:

“I don’t think it is doing enough and frankly I don’t think it is possible to prevent the killing of civilians in the kind of fighting the Israeli army is doing. They might honestly be trying to prevent the killing of civilians, I assume that at least some of the soldiers on the spot are trying,” he says.

So far in Gaza 300 children have been killed – and some 1,500 injured, according to the United Nations.

Yet just on the other side of the fence, it’s again children who are the victims. Young Israelis too are being used for propaganda.

A nursery school in the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon was hit by a Grad missile just a few days ago. The teacher Yaffa is still recovering from those life-shattering moments.

“It was terrifying. The missile fell in the garden of the school. I didn’t believe that it could happen, but a few minutes before, I got a bad feeling and told all the children to go inside. We are so lucky that nobody was hurt,” she says.

Israeli leaders wasted no time in getting political points from the incident. Within an hour the school was visited by an army of journalists close on the heels of opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu.

In the refugee camp of Tulkaram, Ahmed can never again play football with his friends.
He is handicapped not only in his body, but also in his soul. From the second his story stopped being a headline, he was forgotten by everyone – except his mother.