Picture: Said Khatib / AFP / Taken on October 8, 2023 – Relatives carry the bodies of children killed in Israeli strikes on the Palestinian city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, during their funeral on October 8. “The children in Gaza have brought this upon themselves,” a Knesset (Israeli cabinet) member said, as Israel bombs up Gaza, killing unarmed civilians, mainly women and children.
By Abby Zimet
Sorry to those weary. But the horror in Gaza churns on, and we can’t look away. Israel’s emblematic killing of three of their own – pleading in Hebrew – is one awful sliver. Add killing 109 members of one extended family, a mother and daughter in a Catholic church, a 12-year-old being treated for an amputated leg; hospitals already a “bloodbath” stormed, bombed, its medical staff detained; hunger, hubris, lies; broken children pulling friends from rubble, and “human cruelties (too) intolerable to utter aloud”.
“There is nowhere for flesh to hide in Gaza; nothing with a pulse is spared,” writes one appalled observer. “Explosions merge into one another, and vibrant lives are burned, mangled and turned into unidentifiable carnage.” In this “war against defenceless civilians” whose death toll now creeps up to 20,000 – now 19,667, 70 percent women and children – it was perhaps foreseeable Israeli soldiers would eventually kill three captives “mistakenly identified as a threat”.
What made it shocking was the revelation that Yotam Haim, Samar Al Talalka and Alon Shamriz, men in their 20s from Kibbutz Kfar Azza and Hura, were deliberately shirtless to show they were unarmed, shouting “Help us” in Hebrew, and holding a makeshift white flag. They had even scrawled “SOS” and “Help, Three Hostages” in Hebrew on a nearby wall; ever-discriminating Israeli soldiers thought it was a Hamas trap.
In a rare move, Israel officials actually acknowledged their error. An IDF spokesperson expressed “deep remorse over the tragic incident”, said troops didn’t follow rules of engagement (but he “understood” the conditions that led to their act), declared a “comprehensive investigation (with) full responsibility and transparency”, and said “immediate lessons from the event had been learned”, if grievously belatedly and largely ignored.
Many remained unassuaged. Shamriz’ brother charged the IDF with “abandoning”, then “murdering” him (true); his father called his death “an execution – literally”. A CAIR spokesperson echoed many by noting the killing of unarmed, shirtless men waving a white flag “is deadly confirmation that Israeli troops are shooting anything that moves in Gaza”, while thousands of furious Israelis turned out to chant “Deal Now!” and call for a ceasefire.
A shameless Netanyahu said their deaths “broke the hearts of the nation” – “If only something had been different,” he bleated. “We were so close to embracing them” – before quickly pivoting to, “But this is war” and returning to the hollow vow to “continue until ‘victory’ ”. Israeli president Isaac Herzog similarly prattled, “We all embrace at this time the families whose worlds were destroyed” before declaring, “The righteousness of the way is clear and does not change for a moment”.
Again, many were sceptical. The UK’s former defence secretary argued that Israel’s “original legal authority of self-defence is being undermined by its own actions”, and in the wake of Netanyahu’s many failures, “if he thinks a killing rage will rectify matters, then he is very wrong”. Instead, he suggested, “His tactics will fuel the conflict for another 50 years.”
Hamas itself seemed to confirm that. After their armed wing posted a video on Telegram of three elderly Israeli hostages pleading they be spared death amidst Israeli air strikes – “We do not understand why we have been abandoned here” – a Hamas official held a news conference in Beirut following one by Israel’s and America’s defence chiefs vowing solidarity. “These are the invaders the sands of Gaza will swallow,” he said, pondering what “experience” the US is sharing with Israel. “Are we talking about the victories in Vietnam? Or their victory in Afghanistan after 20 years?
The only experience to be shared is killing women and children, and destroying hospitals, houses and schools.” They could have added Israel’s genocidal rhetoric on Gaza: “Just like mowing your front lawn, this is constant hard work. If you fail to do so, weeds grow wild and snakes begin to slither around in the brush.”
And so, to the unspeakable. In a clear but confoundingly ongoing war crime, Israel is targeting, bombing and dismantling the health system, where a handful of barely functioning hospitals survive in an enclave that once held 36. They are all at 200 percent capacity, with thousands of displaced people seeking shelter along with wounded patients; many lack electricity, food, water, pain medication; conditions are “unbearable”, over 300 medical staff have been killed; many more have been arrested or forced to evacuate.
When UN workers recently got into Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital to deliver supplies, they described “a bloodbath” and “horror scene”, with so many trauma and other critical patients being treated on the floor health workers must step around them: “They’re basically just bleeding on the floor.” Monday, the head of Shifa’s emergency department was killed in an air strike with his wife and 5 children.
Israeli drones just hit Kamal Adwan Hospital in the north, home to 3,000 displaced people, 100 staff, 65 patients and 12 children in intensive care; then soldiers stormed inside, forcing out those sheltering, arresting over half its staff and its director, now missing. At Al-Ahli Hospital, they attacked, rounded up wounded patients, arrested most of the staff and two doctors.
Tanks shelled Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, killing 12-year-old Donia Abu Mohsen, getting treatment for a leg amputated after being hit in an earlier airstrike that killed her parents and siblings. At besieged al-Awda Hospital, staff reported an Israeli sniper “who kills everyone who moves”, including a nurse and pregnant woman with her sister-in-law; its medical staff were stripped, detained, interrogated; its hospital director was the third to be arrested and taken to an unknown location.
Meanwhile, renewed shelling is killing hundreds more Palestinians. They include veteran Al Jazeera cameraman Samer Abudaga, 45, hit by a strike on a UN school in Khan Younis and left to bleed out for five hours while IDF soldiers fired on medics trying to reach him; Al Jazeera is reporting his murder to the ICC. Mass deaths were also reported in strikes on Jabalia and Nuseirat refugee camps.
An IDF sniper killed a mother and daughter inside Gaza’s Holy Family Parish, where Christian families have sought refuge; one was killed as she tried to carry the other to safety; seven more were wounded as they protected others in the church. Earlier, IDF rocket fire targeted the Convent of the Sisters of Mother Theresa, home to 54 now-homeless disabled people, and destroyed their generator, solar panels, water tanks. The Pope finally lamented that “unarmed civilians are targets for bombs and gunfire”.
Another mass grave – adding to 122 so far – was uncovered at the Fahmi al-Jarjawi School with the remains of dozens of civilians. The IDF is detaining Palestinian children as young as 12 and adults as old as 70; hundreds are held handcuffed, blindfolded, shirtless in a facility near Beersheba. The UNRWA chief warns that, for the first time, Gazans “could start dying of hunger … We are now going into starvation”.
The head of an Israeli local council called for Gaza to be “flattened completely, just like Auschwitz”, with Gazans “loaded” on ships and taken to camps elsewhere “so the whole world will learn what Israel can do”. Israel’s Air Force insists they use only “high-precision” bombs and don’t “need to change our principles”. The UN Security Council postponed a vote after the US rejected a call for a “cessation of hostilities” but said it might accept a “suspension of hostilities”.
A drone strike near Nuseirat Refugee Camp killed five children, ages 8 to 13, playing outside their home. A young woman described an air strike she survived with, “The night was horrible. The bombing was everywhere. We are scared.” A woman whose children were all killed asked, “Are we not human?” A father searched for four days to bring his daughter some bread.
Nearby children cried for water. A mother pined for death to join her children. A child who survived too many – any – airstrikes said, “We have aged beyond our years.” A Knesset member proclaimed, “The children in Gaza have brought this upon themselves.” And a Palestinian academic charged Zionism’s cynical “weaponising of collective Jewish trauma to justify cruelties committed against others” has created the “hellscape” that is Gaza – for children, “the waking nightmare that has encapsulated their entire lives”.
“Children in Gaza close their eyes and see nothing but devastation. They open their eyes to the same,” writes Dina Elmuti, a trauma clinician living in Chicago, of a land where childhood is perennially disrupted and “horror stories rest beneath every square inch of debris”. “They distinguish between the sounds of Israel’s weaponised aerial drones and warplanes,” she writes.
“Children write their names on their limbs to be identified should they be dismembered or separated from their family following bombardments. These are the soul-shattering lessons that no child should ever have to learn, but children in Gaza learn them alongside the alphabet. … In Gaza, children grow up fluent in a language of grief and trauma,” she says. “The images of mutilated corpses, the odour of decaying bodies, will stay with them … This is what it means to be unspeakable.” One weeps.
Abby Zimet has written Common Dreams’s Further Column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, she moved to the Maine woods in the early 70s, where she spent a dozen years building a house, hauling water and writing before moving to Portland. Having come of political age during the Vietnam War, she has long been involved in women’s, labour, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was first published on Common Dreams