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Killing Children is Never Legitimate

After spending time with our 2-year old daughter Rosie this morning, I turned on my computer and learned that scores of children in Gaza had been killed by an Israeli airstrike near a U.N. school.  An AP photographer described the scene at a nearby hospital: “I saw women and men – parents – slapping their faces in grief, screaming, some of them collapsed to the floor. They knew their children were dead. In the morgue, most of the killed appeared to be children. In the hospital, there wasn’t enough space for the wounded.”


Since the invasion of Gaza began, more than 160 children have been killed according to Gaza medics, and hundreds more are seriously injured. Still more wounded children are suffering in homes lacking adequate food, heat and running water, with parents fearful that a trip to the hospital could be deadly. The organization Save the Children reports that 50,000 Gazan children were malnourished before the Israeli invasion, and that the crisis “endangers the lives of nearly every child in Gaza.”


“Conditions for parents and children in Gaza are dangerous and frightening,” said Maxwell Gaylard, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories. One Palestinian family lost five daughters.  “We are scared that we can die at any moment” said 11 year old Mohammed Ayyad. Children who survive physically will suffer long lasting psychological trauma.


Living so far away from the Middle East, it’s easy to tune out the raging violence. Here in the U.S., there are thousands of distractions competing for our attention.  But imagine, just for a moment, that you were in the shoes of a Gaza parent. How would you feel?  What would you feel toward those who just fired the gun or dropped the bomb that killed your child?  


Could you imagine a rationale that would somehow justify the killing of your child to achieve a political objective?  Of course not.  Yet at the end of the day, when the blaming, posturing, and justification stop, this is what war and terrorism produce: the wholesale death of innocent people, most tragically the most innocent of all – children. 


It doesn’t take a PHD in military science to conclude that killing and maiming children and other innocents in the quest to stop the actions of the militant few is not only immoral, it is counter-productive.  A Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, was quoted on Jan. 4 as saying that "The Zionists have legitimized the killing of their children by killing our children.” Such is the twisted, pathological psychology of war and terrorism. In this case the twisted rationale of revenge is used to justify the continued terrorizing of innocent Israelis with indiscriminately fired rockets, fueling the cycle of violence at the expense of the most vulnerable on both sides.


Two war crimes don’t make a right; and killing children is never legitimate, no matter what. Yet we the people of the United States have also been lured by the rationale of revenge into accepting with painful silence the bombing in our names of Afgan wedding parties and Iraqi neighborhoods that have enraged the local population and the Arab world.  It is the rationale of the Mumbai terrorists, who left 2 year old Moshe Holtzberg wailing over the bodies of his slain Israeli parents, wounding hearts across the globe. 


The words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who would have turned 80 this January 15, continue to speak to this madness: “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral….instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you murder the hater, but you can’t murder the hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate…returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars….hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”


How much more productive an approach might it be for the U.S. and Israel to offer food and medicine rather than bombs and bullets to the Palestinian, Iraqi and Afghan children who are hanging on to life on a thin thread? Would not such a pro-child approach win the enduring appreciation, rather than enmity, of the parents of those children, and the sympathies of the larger Arab world?


Waking from the dark night of war, terrorism and violence that destroys the lives of children won’t be easy.  But if we start by demanding that all children be treated as if they were our own, things would have to change dramatically.


During his campaign, President-elect Barack Obama told the Des Moines Register, “When I read about children who are suffering in any part of the world, I can put myself in the shoes of their parents and think about those children in the way I think about my own children. Which is why, for example, expanding our foreign aid and making sure that all children have food, shelter, clothing and safety is so important to me.”

 Imagine having a foreign policy driven by the well-being of all children. Then take action to make it so, starting with an immediate cease-fire in Gaza.

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John Friedrich

John Friedrich lives in South Lake Tahoe, CA. He is a member of Climate Parents, an organization working to confront climate change for the sake of all children.


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