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Gaza/Israel: children are never our enemy

Justin Forsyth visits a project in the West Bank, Occupied Palestinian Territory, October 2011 (Mouhssine Ennaimi/Save the Children)

This article was written as a response to Tim Montgomerie’s article, You Don’t Save Children By Arming Terrorists, in The Times on 27 August but The Times chose not to run it so we are publishing it online ourselves to set the record straight. Instead, The Times have taken a shorter letter published today.

 

Eglantyne Jebb founded the Save the Children Fund nearly 100 years ago to help children starving in Germany and Austria as a result of the post-war blockade.

She did so not out of political posturing, propaganda or campaigning but to protect thousands of innocent children and to stand up for their rights: the foundations of everything Save the Children stands for and does today. She was, as we were last week on Gaza, criticised in The Times for supporting the children of our enemy.

She retorted that children are never our enemy.

One of the world’s most polarising conflicts

The situation in Gaza and Israel is different from World War I.  But this too is undoubtedly one of the world’s most polarised conflicts. As an impartial humanitarian organisation, Save the Children has not, and never will, take sides in this war, or any other conflict that we are responding to worldwide.

Like Tim Montgomerie, both Save the Children and I thoroughly condemn Hamas for their indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel. But I also don’t believe the children of Gaza should suffer due to the actions of militants.

Save the Children’s sole focus is the plight of children and this has remained true throughout our response to the appalling situation in Gaza and Israel.  Our mission compels us to deliver direct support to children in need and to speak out when children are killed and harmed.

Calling for a permanent ceasefire 

We have consistently called for a permanent ceasefire from both sides, particularly for an end to the use of explosive weapons in populated areas due to the harm caused to children in both Gaza and Israel.

This includes the rockets and mortars fired by militants that have killed one child in Israel, sought to kill many more, and caused huge psychological damage.  This also includes the bombing and shelling of Gaza that has caused the death of at least 495 children and has resulted in life-changing disabilities for thousands more.

I have personally condemned the killing of the three teenage Israeli boys that some believe sparked this conflict, and publicly deplored the impact on Israeli children and civilians of rocket fire from Gaza. Equally, I condemn the revenge killing of a young Palestinian boy in reaction to those other deaths. 

A consistent position

Save the Children’s position has been consistent: that children in Israel as well as Gaza are paying the price of political failure, and that everyone involved, and the international community, have a responsibility to protect children on both sides of the conflict by using all diplomatic means to reach a permanent ceasefire.

Our call to lift the blockade on Gaza is not a fringe left-wing position but is a position shared by the UN and by many world leaders, including our own.

David Cameron said, “Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp”; former Foreign Secretary, William Hague, tweeted “…blockade of Gaza is counterproductive & should be lifted”; the EU has called for “immediate, sustained and unconditional opening or crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from the Gaza strip”; the UN’s Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for an end to “the 47-year-old occupation and chokehold on Gaza”; the International Committee of the Red Cross has said that the only sustainable solution to the hardship faced by Gaza’s 1.5 million people is to “lift the closure”.

Collective punishment

Save the Children calls for the end of the blockade of Gaza because it is causing severe hardships and impacting on the wellbeing of all children and their families. It is collective punishment.

The extensive restrictions placed on the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza have a real and negative impact on the lives and health of Gaza’s children.

Even before this latest outbreak of violence, 80% of people in Gaza relied on humanitarian aid.  We are concerned that supplies of food, medicine and fuel – essentials that were already scarce – are running out in the blockaded enclave and that this will inevitably affect children.

Consequences of the blockade

We deal with the consequences of the blockade on a daily basis: malnutrition levels are very high and medical supplies for pregnant mothers are limited.

And the truth is that the blockade does not work in its objective to improve Israel’s security – thousands of rockets have been fired in the last few weeks alone.

If the blockade was meant to stop rockets it is a failure, as the last weeks have shown. In short, the blockade doesn’t stop rockets but it does hurt children.

It is moderate impartial organisations in Gaza and the staff who work for them that are the frontline bulwark offering some hope for the future. They need our support.

Save the Children is politically neutral – we would never side with a political party.  This is of the utmost importance to our values as a charity, and a personal priority for me.

As a children’s organisation, we help children wherever they are in need and speak out for their rights, including here in Britain where we work to ensure children can fulfil their potential and break out of poverty.

To suggest we only promote the expansion of the welfare state and neglect fundamental issues like the labour market and education policy is a misrepresentation.

We’ve been working to prevent children suffering since 1919 and I’m proud that we’re continuing in the tradition, vision and principles of Eglantyne Jebb.

 

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