7 years old, three wars

By Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach

Mostafa is 7 years old and lives in Gaza. Last summer a missile from an F16 came through a window and damaged his home. Mostafa and other children tell their stories in a brief video put together by the Culture and Free Thought Association, an organization that provides creative programs for children, with support from Mennonite Central Committee.

Nabila, who works with the CFTA, says, “You can imagine, we are dealing with children who have lived through three wars.” Mostafa and his classmates have already experienced war in 2008, 2012 and 2014.

By all accounts, last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas was the most devastating. According to the United Nations, more than 2,100 Palestinians died, nearly 70 percent of them civilians. Sixty-six Israeli soldiers died, as did five Israeli civilians.

The war made daily life even more difficult in Gaza, a 139-square-mile strip of land already suffering from a blockade imposed by Israel since 2007. The blockade’s effects have been devastating.

  • The people of Gaza cannot fly, sail or drive away. Israel closed Gaza’s airport in 2000. Gaza has no operational seaports. Israel and Egypt have built walls along the entire land border of the Gaza Strip, with strict controls on who and what can cross.
  • There is virtually no clean drinking water. A staggering 95 percent of Gaza’s water supply is unfit for human consumption. Those who can afford to buy bottled water do. Those who cannot afford it drink contaminated water, which has caused all kinds of health problems.
  • Many don’t have homes. More than 19,000 homes were destroyed in last year’s war. Thanks to MCC support, a local organization has rebuilt about 80 homes that were partially destroyed. But none of the homes that were totally destroyed have been rebuilt, due primarily to Israel’s strict controls on importing construction materials that it considers “dual use” (civilian and military).
  • Gaza’s economy is in shambles. According to the World Bank, the unemployment rate in Gaza is 43 percent, one of the highest rates in the world.

God’s concern about suffering and injustice is clear in Scripture: “I will not revoke the punishment [on those] who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and push the afflicted out of the way” (Amos 2:6-7).

Israel says the blockade is necessary for security, in order to isolate Hamas, the Palestinian political party that leads Gaza. Israel and the United States consider Hamas a terrorist organization because it supports violence against Israel.

Without doubt, violence by Hamas and other militant Islamic groups in Gaza is wrong. But making Gaza’s entire population of 1.8 million people suffer — though many of them do not support Hamas — is also wrong. The U.S. government regularly and rightfully condemns Hamas’ use of violence. But the same outrage is not applied to Israel’s policies.

Mostafa’s generation has experienced Israel only through war and the blockade’s suffocating impact. Far from promoting security, this is a recipe for resentment and anger against Israelis for decades to come.

Rather than blockades and military action, the U.S. and Israel should pursue policies that respect the rights of all people in the region. This could help Mostafa see Israelis as more than just the pilots of F16s.

Learn more at washingtonmemo.org/gaza.

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