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January 1, 2013

Killing of children is wrong anywhere

By Stephen Zunes

Like many of other parents, I've shed tears over the photos of the young schoolchildren murdered in Connecticut, in large part because they remind me so much of my children when they were that age.

I've spent enough time in the Middle East to recognize that parents in Palestine, Israel, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and other countries love their children just as much. And the deaths of children in those countries are just as tragic.

I continue to be amazed, then, there are those who continue to defend the killing of Middle Eastern children.

During the recent fighting between Hamas forces and Israeli forces--as with the even deadlier 2008-2009 conflict--investigations by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations and others found that both sides appeared to have committed war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law. However, partisans of both Hamas and Israel defended attacks on civilian population centers as somehow constituting legitimate "self-defense."

For example, Sentinel columnist Laina Farhat-Holzman recently defended Israel's killing of over 100 civilians in the Gaza Strip in last month's conflict, which included over 30 children, because that "wretched neighborhood" wants to "obliterate" Israel. Like the Hamas terrorists and their supporters, Farhat-Holzman apparently believes that the policies of a government somehow make civilians under their jurisdiction fair game.

However, despite the Israeli blockade, the bombings, the assassinations, and other provocations by the Israeli government against the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip, Hamas has no right to lob rockets into civilian-populated areas of Israel.

And, despite these rocket attacks, the extremist ideology of Hamas, the terrorism, and other provocations, Israel has no right to bomb and shell civilian-populated areas of the Gaza Strip.

This is why Amnesty International and other human rights groups have called on the world's countries to suspend arms shipments to both Hamas and Israel. Unfortunately, the Obama administration--backed by Reps. Sam Farr and Anna Eshoo and Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein -- have ignored such calls and have instead insisted on increasing military aid to Israel's right-wing government.

During the fighting between the forces of Israel and the radical Lebanese Hezbollah militia in 2006, both sides also engaged in war crimes. Amnesty International, for example reported that Israeli forces "carried out indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on a large scale," including "those on civilian infrastructure" and "direct attacks on civilian objects."

Farr, Eshoo, Boxer and Feinstein, however, voted in favor of a resolution praising Israel for "minimizing civilian loss" and avoiding civilian casualties. The resolution even claimed that the Lebanese civilian deaths--which numbered over 800, including at least 250 children--were because Hezbollah used these civilians as "human shields." However, investigations by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the U.S. Army War College, and others--while criticizing Hezbollah for other war crimes--did not find a single death resulting from Hezbollah using civilians as human shields. (Investigations of similar charges against Hamas have found no evidence to support claims involving their alleged use of human shields, either.)

When Farr's office was challenged to provide evidence backing clauses in the resolution contradicting these findings or to explain why Farr apparently believed he knew more about what happened in Lebanon than the empirical data gathered on the ground by expert investigators, his chief of staff told us to "stop harassing" them. Just as those of us who spoke out against the killing of civilians by U.S.-backed regimes in Central America in the 1980s were falsely labeled as "pro-Communist" or "anti-American," those of us who speak out against the killing of civilians by U.S.-backed governments in the Middle East are often falsely labeled as "pro-terrorist" or "anti-Israel."

Despite such name-calling, however, we must speak out anyway, because it is never okay to kill children.

Stephen Zunes, a Santa Cruz resident, is a professor of Politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco.