Interview with George Abu Zulif, Defense for Children International, about Gaza
Q: Could you speak briefly on the effects of the latest Israeli attacks, the invasion into Gaza on children in Gaza?
A: I think Israel is using its heavy weapons and shelling in an indiscriminate way, and in an unproportional way according to the international humanitarian law, which resulted in the death of 31 children since the beginning of the Israeli attack in Gaza Strip. Besides this there are more than 100 injured children. This consists around 1/3 of the total deaths of children and injuries, which is very high usually, and children I believe are paying a heavy price of the Israeli attacks against Gaza, including other civilians, like women and elderly. Besides all of this, I believe children are highly affected in their psychological mental health. Children are traumatized and being internally displaced from areas under heavy Israeli fire, especially in Beit Hanoun, Khan Yunis and Rafah. Thousands of families were internally displaced because of the Israeli heavy shelling in residential areas. And most of them are living in schools now days after the Israeli destruction of many homes and houses in the area. These are the main direct impact of the Israeli invasion or attacks against Gaza. While there are other impacts, especially that when Israel attacked the infrastructure, like the electricity, tried to divide Gaza Strip, prevent the international humanitarian organizations of entering food and supplies and aid to Gaza civilians, this has a high impact on Gaza children, especially since children are consisting around 53% of the Palestinian community, including in Gaza, so children are paying the heavy price of the Israeli attacks against Gaza.
Q: Now the World Food Program estimated that 50% of the Palestinians in Gaza are unable to meet their food needs. What are some of the health results of being unable to meet the needs as far as food is concerned?
A: Yes, I think this is one of the main concerns, especially that children in their early childhood, which consists of around more than 30% of the Gaza population, between 0-6 years old, they are in a special need for special nutrition, including milk and other food supplies. The lack of access to adequate food has a high impact on child development and this direct impact will affect the children in their middle childhood and adolescence period of time. And we urge the international community to pressure the Israeli side to allow all the medical and food supplies to enter Gaza Strip and do not use this humanitarian need as a kind of pressure or a tool to achieve political goals. Civilians should be always away from the direct Israeli attacks as an occupying power against the Palestinians in Gaza Strip.
Q: And what about attacks on schools? I know that in the most recent attack on Al-Maghazi Refugee Camp, there was an elementary school that was hit. How are children’s access to education being affected by the Israeli invasion and air strikes?
A: You know currently it’s a summer holiday in Gaza Strip and most of the schools were planning to organize summer camps during this period of time, but unfortunately most of these summer camps were cancelled. Some of the schools were used as a shelter for Palestinian internally displaced people, while others are empty. Anyway, I believe that the destruction of educational institutions is another violation to the international law. Around three schools were documented to be attacked during this invasion by the Israeli forces. The three of them are UNRWA schools in refugee camps. And this is always, the Israelis always claim that Palestinians are using these places to attack Israeli targets, but I believe that the international community and all the human rights organizations believe that this is the indiscriminate use of force against civilian targets, including schools, electricity, supplies and other institutions like ministry and government institutions.
Q: Now some have accused Israel of using a form of collective punishment. Would you agree that this is a type of collective punishment for the Palestinians for the seizure of a soldier on June 25th?
A: Yeah, I completely agree with this. This is collective punishment, which they are trying to punish the whole population, exactly the same as what they are doing now in Lebanon. Attacking the infrastructures, civilian targets, the bridges, everything is a legitimate target for the Israeli forces. And this is unacceptable in any way, to target civilians, and this is a war crime according to the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel is doing great breaches to the international law in their attacks against Lebanon and against Gaza Strip. The collective punishment measures is not just attacking civilian targets, but also by imposing the closure around Gaza, by restricting the food and other humanitarian aid supplies to Gaza Strip, by dividing Gaza into three isolated pieces of land, and other collective punishment measures inside the West Bank, the check points, the restrictions on the freedom of movement to Palestinian civilians, the mass arrests and other destruction of homes. All of these I believe are collective punishment measures against the Palestinian civilians and I believe Israel is doing so because they believe that by causing this pressure on the Palestinian civilians and the Palestinian population, they try to pressure the resistance groups in the occupied territories, which is completely untrue and this not legitimate.
Q: Now you mentioned the Fourth Geneva Convention, how do the Israeli actions in the present invasion violate international law, particularly the convention of the rights of the child?
A: Yeah the convention on the rights of the child is part of the international human rights law. Israel signed this and ratified this convention in 1991 and it was clear by the committee on the rights of the child in their concluding observations in 2002 how Israel violates this international law, which Israel is a state party to. By first they mentioned exactly the mass arrest and detention of Palestinian children and using the military order, especially the military order 132, which discriminates in the definition of Palestinian children. Secondly, they use targeted killings and destruction of homes and the high number of children killed and injured since the beginning of this Intifada (Palestinian uprising). Besides this, I believe Israel is violating its obligations according to this convention on many other levels, especially the right to an adequate standard of living, freedom from torture and the right to liberty. Israel is violating the right to health, food and the right of the well being of the child, and the right to life and personal security. All of these rights, among others, are ongoing violations by the Israeli occupation forces. The international humanitarian law, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention, speaks mainly about the protection of civilians in times of war conflict, and since this is a war conflict Israel is not allowed to target any civilian targets. Israel should not make any action that has a direct or indirect impact on civilian populations, especially women and children. And the facts on the ground show that children and women are paying the heavy price of the Israeli attacks and not the militant groups that Israel is always claiming that they are attacking military targets.
Q: Israeli officials claim that they go to great lengths to avoid hitting civilian targets. What do you think about that Israeli claim?
A: The facts on the ground give the opposite unfortunately. Like Israel now is claiming that they don’t target civilians in Lebanon. And they always claim we don’t target civilians, we are very clear and very specific in choosing our targets in order to avoid civilian casualties. While yesterday, they targeted the UN, UNIFIL forces in South Lebanon and they apologized clearly today that this was a mistake. And always Israel claims that there are mistakes and sometimes civilians are victims of this war, as they call it “war against terror.” So Israel always tries to find justifications for its actions. And unfortunately, if Israel continues to be protected by the international community, especially by the United States, and given the green light to continue its attacks against innocent civilians, and attacking civilian targets and continues its practices. This is the unfortunate situation to what’s going on in Palestine and Lebanon now days. What is needed is more international pressure against Israel to abide by its obligations according to international law unless it will continue to violate these obligations and get support and protection by the big powers in this world.
Q: Israeli officials announced yesterday that they plan to create a buffer zone, or some are calling it a killing zone, in southern Lebanon, in which anything that moves will be shot. Now I know that in Rafah there was a similar buffer zone made, how were children affected by that buffer zone, especially in the case of Manal Hams and other children who were killed in that buffer zone?
A: Well since Israel began establishing this buffer zone in Rafah, until now more than 3,000 houses were destroyed in this area. In the process, some international organizations called it shaving. All these linked houses to each other have very intensified populations, were shaved, removed completely from the ground. And without caring or taking into consideration that they are destroying areas that are heavily inhabited by Palestinian civilian populations. And on the other side, after a while, or a few years of this, they discovered that even with this kind of destruction and punishment and actions against Palestinian civilians they cannot protect themselves by when the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier last month. I believe that the occupation cannot get protection while it continues to be an occupying power. If you want to be an occupying power, you have to be responsible of what you are doing. If you stop to act as an occupying power, then you will get peace and security. But you cannot be an occupying power to kill and to shoot and to attack civilian targets, to destroy houses on the other side to be safe and secure and live in peace. This equation will never happen. That’s why we believe that this cycle of violence cannot be stopped without ending the Israeli occupation. The shortest possible way of having a peaceful solution that gives the Palestinians their human rights and live in peace and dignity is to end the Israeli occupation, while destruction and creating these buffer zones will never be a solution in any time since it’s based on the big power trying to impose its conditions and its measures against other people.
Q: So you would agree with the statement by Savr Shallalah today in the Daily Star that civilians, particularly children, have become pawns in a political game in which Israel is trying to gain increased territory and power in the Middle East.
A: Yeah unfortunately this is true. I completely agree with this. Children are used; children are targeted and used as a kind of bargain in this political game. Children are paying a heavy price, they are targeted in order to cause more pressure to the both conflict sides and putting children in the middle of this conflict is a grave breach to international law and children should always be out, but unfortunately this is not happening and children will continue to pay a heavy price as a result of this conflict. We hope that this will not last for long. We stop immediately, children to be protected and away from the impact of this conflict. The international community is also accountable for the acts in order to stop the suffering and the daily suffering of Palestinian children and to find an end to this occupation.
Q: Do you think international intervention will help in this situation and what kind of international intervention could take place in the Gaza Strip?
A: Yeah of course, I believe international protection to Palestinian people, especially the children is needed now. If we want also to compare again: Now Israel wants an international force to come to South Lebanon to protect the Israeli civilians from Hezbollah attacks. While we were under the Israeli heavy attacks since six years and we were asking we need international protection. We need an international peace keeping force to protect the Palestinian civilians as an intermediate phase. Still we get our independence and freedom as Palestinian people, but nobody was listening to us. But now, today, in Rome, in the international conference in Rome, everybody is speaking about an international force in South Lebanon. Why does nobody listen to the Palestinian people demand or request since several years, and even before this Intifada, that we, as Palestinian people, we need protection. The international community should find a way to protect us, either to force Israel to stop its violations to our human rights or to come here to protect us. The international community failed to achieve this goal, but we are happy that there are grassroots movements all over the world. The internationalists and the international solidarity movement come to Palestine as part of a big movement, it’s called the Grassroots International Protection to the Palestinian People, GIPP. Those international groups who come to Palestine and try within their body, their non-violent resistance to Israeli occupation, to offer this kind of protection to Palestinian people.
Q: So the person-to-person diplomacy where individual citizens from abroad are coming has in some ways been more effective than the political leaders in their diplomacy in protecting the Palestinians?
A: Yes, of course. What did the international community do for us? Nothing. Just lots of statements by the Human Rights Commission or other special reporters by the United Nations bodies, etc. some statements which doesn’t mean anything to our people who die on a daily basis. What we need, we need action on the ground and this action was done just by the solidarity movements from all over the world. Those who come to Palestine and try to confront the building of the wall with their bodies, try to prevent house demolitions by sitting on the ground in every house that is threatened to be demolished by the Israeli forces, by putting their bodies as a way to protect the Palestinian civilians and the Palestinian houses and lands. This is highly appreciated by the way, by the Palestinian community here and by the Palestinian people by these groups who come in thousands by the way each year to Palestine to do this kind of action. Other groups who come to do monitoring, just to monitor the situation and observe the Israeli practices and go to reporters and their people in their countries about the Israeli violations to raise the awareness of the international community and the people abroad of what’s going on here, encourage people to take action to try to protest and do something. This is I believe succeeded to achieve good impact and practical support to the Palestinian people. And recently the Israelis, maybe you heard about this, even the American citizens who come here, to Palestine, to do these kinds of activities are prevented from entering the occupied territories these days and many of them were not allowed access or entrance to Palestine and Israel by the Israeli border police and border areas.
Q: Yes, in fact I have first hand experience with it, thanks very much. I’ve been speaking with George Abu Zulif, is there anything you’d like to add?
A: I’d like to thank you for this interview. I hope that one day peace will prevail in this Holy Land and we will get our basic human rights as people like any other people in this world and our children will live in their normal life in happiness and dignity and respect for their basic rights as every child in this world.
– Well let’s hope so.
Zulif: Thank you so much.
– Alright, thank you and this is Jenka speaking with George Abu Zulif from Defense for Children International. Thank you.
Interview conducted by the International Middle East Media Center www.imemc.org
Transcribed by Jacque Shoen