Reading The New York Times without developing chest pain can be challenging, but this morning I felt particularly provoked. First there was Matthew Rosenberg’s article, Pentagon Details Chain of Errors in Afghan Strike, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/30/world/asia/afghanistan-doctors-without-borders-hospital-strike.html?ref=todayspaper, which details a horrific bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan in 2015 that killed 42 people and injured many more. The article describes confusion over targets, medical staff begging American commanders in Afghanistan, the Pentagon, and the Afghan Interior Ministry to stop within 11 minutes of the strike, discussion amongst servicemen suggesting bombing a hospital might be okay if Taliban were present, and the solely “administrative punishment” handed down after the devastation. Interestingly the US general in charge claimed that the airstrike was not actually a war crime because it was an unintentional mistake, (as opposed to an intentional mistake?) although folks from Human Rights Watch made it clear that “recklessness or negligence does not necessarily absolve someone of criminal responsibility under the United States military code.” General Votel did admit that “American service members ‘failed to comply with the rules of engagement in the law of armed conflict.’”
A bit more context: on April 28, 2016 a hospital in Aleppo was attacked, two of the fourteen dead were doctors. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/29/aleppo-hospital-airstrike-un-syria. This article noted that attacks on medical facilities from Afghanistan to the Central African Republic to South Sudan to Yemen and Ukraine, have become commonplace, civilians and civil infrastructure are becoming acceptable targets. “Between 2012 and 2014, in just 11 countries, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) documented nearly 2,400 attacks against health workers, patients, medical facilities and transport.”
Now in case you are unclear on the concept, under international law and humanitarian law, health workers are supposed to be protected and allowed to provide care to civilians as well as combatants regardless of affiliation; this is their ethical obligation. As they say, “The doctor of your enemy is not your enemy.” In addition, when there are attacks on medical facilities and staff, an immediate impartial investigation is required.
So why the chest pain? The blooded staff, patients slaughtered in their beds, piles of rubble that were once operating rooms and pharmacies, and the endless suffering that ensues would really be enough for my cardiovascular system. But for me, there is a thunderous omission to this litany of criminal behavior and that is the behavior of the Israeli Defense Forces when it attacks Palestinians in their hospitals, clinics, schools, UN facilities, and other civilian infrastructure.
To share a particular example that I personally witnessed: On March 15, 2015 I visited El Wafa Rehabilitation Hospital in Gaza and interviewed administrative and medical staff. The only first-class modern rehabilitation hospital in this devastated strip of land six by twenty-six miles, was actually a huge pile of rubble and crumpled equipment and fragments of metal and stone nearby and we were camping out in a home for the aged now turned pieced-together hospital. On the third day of the 2014 Israeli assault, the hospital, which was well-known and clearly marked, was hit by artillery. The staff contacted responsible authorities, put out press releases in multiple languages, invited human shields to stay in the buildings, and documented the lack of militant activity. There were multiple communications back and forth, and yet, the Israeli military chose to bomb the 8,000 square meter facility to smithereens and in the massive flail of transferring patients and medicines and bits of equipment in the midst of a violent and aggressive war, refused to grant the Red Cross ambulances an escort to move patients without further danger of attack. https://alicerothchild.com/2015/03/march-30-2015-part-one-we-dont-hate-you-we-just-dont-understand-what-you-are-thinking-of-us/
This episode (and many more just like it) has been largely invisible in the Western press because the victims are Gazans and the perpetrators are Israelis and the Israeli propaganda machine controls the messaging with the help of our very unhelpful media and politicians. And this is a problem, because if there is no accountability, the war crimes will continue. (see the Goldstone Report) Snarfing around several websites for this blog, on the International Committee of the Red Cross site, I came across the essay: “Israel a role model for disaster medicine, says ICRC chief surgeon.” I couldn’t bear to read it, too much chest pain.
Then my eyes caught the NYT’s headline: As Attacks Surge, Boys and Girls Fill Israeli Jails, by Diaa Hadid, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/30/world/middleeast/surge-in-palestinian-youths-in-prison-tests-israels-justice-system.html?ref=todayspaper and I felt a moment of optimism, could this be an expose of the well documented practice of incarcerating Palestinian children in Israeli military jails, subjecting them to various forms of psychological and physical torture and forced confessions without adequate legal representation, the long-term trauma, bedwetting, psychological damage that these children and their families endure? Hadid did report that since October 1, the number of Palestinian prisoners under 18 has gone from 170 to 430 and 103 were 16 or younger. She did note that Israeli children are treated quite differently from their Palestinian counterparts. There was a brief mention of abuses in the prisons, but this was mostly a human interest/troubled youth/brainwashed by their leaders story, ie. Israeli hasbara.
So here is my question. Why doesn’t anyone ask why a child might (since I do not trust the Israeli military courts which deliver a conviction in 99% of cases against Palestinians according to the IDF) be driven to attack a soldier? Where is the mention of occupation, home demolitions, endless hours waiting at checkpoints, watching grandparents humiliated by 18 year old macho soldiers trained to think every civilian is a terrorist, Israeli tanks in the streets, refugee camps with no green space and no hope, brothers grabbed from their beds in the middle of the night by heavily armed Israeli soldiers, peers turned collaborators out of fear of retribution and further arrests, rising suicide rates, children whose only contact with a Jewish Israeli soldier is at the other end of a gun. Where is the context and where is the international outrage?
Not in The New York Times.