A child stands in the rubble of a destroyed building following an Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip yesterday, amid a delay in the implementation of a temporary truce. (Photo by Mohammed Abed/AFP)
When you are reading this column today, in the Gaza Strip, the people will be experiencing the bliss of a respite from bombs and missiles that have been raining on them since October 7. It will be so, but only if Israel decides to say, ‘Enough killing children, enough killing civilians for the time being’.
If the hardline Benjamin Netanyahu government decides today to implement the limited truce to facilitate a hostage-prisoner swap and the flow of the aid convoys, the Gazan people’s hearts will start beating normally for the first time in more than five weeks, during which they came under relentless Israeli bombardment in wave after wave. They were living one day, nay, one second at a time.
But reports yesterday said that disagreements over details are causing a delay in the implementation of the truce. If a temporary truce comes into force and aid flows in, it does not mean everything will be hunky-dory and the Palestinians could eat today their favourite Maqluba, khubz with Hummus, and the Zatar-pasted bread. It does not mean that they can even eat their staple food, fish, served either grilled or fried after being marinated with spices and lemon and stuffed with coriander leaves, garlic, pepper, and cumin seeds.
Since October 7, food production in Gaza has dropped to zero. The United Nations food aid that fed nearly half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population was over within weeks, while the sea remained a no-go zone. With Israel not permitting food convoys to reach the besieged enclave, most of the Gaza people were surviving on half a khubz (roti), which they managed to buy or get after spending four to five hours in queues that pass through overflowing sewers. For some, an eggplant and unpurified water are all that they eat and drink for a day.
If the truce holds, Gaza children may not be in a mental state to play games. Their innocence is bloodied; most will wonder where the friends they played with are. The elders will tell them they are with Allah.
Some children experienced an attack of this horrendous scale for the first time. They may ask their parents, if they are lucky to have one, or an elderly relative, why they are being killed, starved, and deprived of a life enjoyed by children they see in movies that Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks Animation, and others produce.
Gaza now has more orphans. Before the war, the Gaza Strip had 26,000 orphans. Since October 7, Israel has added several thousand to their population. Some children have been orphaned twice; they have lost their parents and then lost close relatives who brought them under their care.
A few days ago, a Gaza doctor was forced to amputate his child, who was wounded in an Israeli attack. He did it without anaesthetics because the hospital had run out of them. The boy died, unable to bear the pain.
Then there was another boy whom the Al Jazeera television channel featured on November 20, the International Day for Children. The boy was a keen football player and wanted to be a professional. His dream was shattered when he was wounded in the Israeli bombing and had to undergo amputation without anesthesia. He moves about in a refugee camp in a wheelchair today.
The truce is temporary, insists the Israeli government, which includes those who call for the total annihilation of the Palestinians. Some want Gaza to be nuked. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich says there is no such thing as Palestine. Delightful at the Gaza genocide is Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu.
The Israeli war cabinet approved the truce for four days, albeit reluctantly and after heated arguments with the families of the hostages.
Netanyahu said the war against Hamas would resume after the truce ends. The truce will initially last four days, during which 50 hostages in Hamas custody will be released in batches. Thereafter, Israel will extend the truce by a day for every ten hostages released. Provided all 239 hostages are released, this would mean the truce may last three weeks. Given the fact that some of the hostages are held by Palestinian groups that were not parties to the hostage-release negotiations, the war could resume earlier than expected, with more problems cropping up.
Netanyahu, tainted by corruption charges and fighting a political battle at home, told his cabinet, “We will continue the war until we achieve all our goals.” This means the war will go on until Hamas is eliminated. But Hamas is not the problem, though Israel began its war on Gaza after the October 7 Hamas attack on Israeli military and civilian targets. Some 1200 people died in the Hamas attack and subsequent firing by Israeli troops.
The real problem is Israel’s occupation. Israel claims that in 2005, it withdrew from the Gaza Strip in keeping with the 1993 Oslo Accord. But missing from its narration is the fact that it did not allow the Palestinians in Gaza to develop the territory. Israel fenced off Gaza, built watch towers, and controlled the Gaza Strip’s three exist-entry points. Be it food, medicine, fuel, cement, paint, or nails, nothing can come in or go out without Israeli permission.
No exports, no imports without an Israeli nod. Israel controls the import and export trade of the Gaza Strip through the Karem Abu Salem crossing. In September this year, Israel imposed a ban on all exports from the Gaza Strip, claiming there was an attempt to smuggle explosives.
Given the tight cordon, October 7 is still a big enigma or a major intelligence and security failure for which Netanyahu should take responsibility.
While last-minute issues delayed the truce yesterday, Israel did not fail to visit Gaza with death and devastation, while shocked peace-loving people asked how Israel could continue to kill children in full view of the world.
Truce or no truce, pause or no pause in Israel’s merciless killing spree, the death toll will continue to rise. When the truce was announced on Wednesday by Qatar, which worked behind the scenes tirelessly, the death toll stood at 14,000; about 6,000 of them were children, 70 percent of them women and children. The figures put out by the Gaza Health Ministry are contested by Israel and its sympathisers, though they tally with the UN count. The actual figure could be much more, with close to 36,000 people injured.
We cannot ignore the plight of some 30 Israeli children taken as hostages by Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups on October 7. Truce or no truce, these children, as innocent as the Palestinian children, should be released unconditionally. There are hundreds of Palestinian children languishing in Israeli jails, with some facing 20-year jail terms for throwing a stone at the Israeli occupation force. Spare the children. Show mercy to them.
Blessed are the hearts that are filled with mercy, say the scriptures. Hearts that are devoid of mercy and compassion and instead filled with hatred and a murderous thirst for the tender blood of the children are rocks—nay, more hardened than rocks.
Disclaimer: Truce or no truce in Gaza: Show mercy to children - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view