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The innocent victims of war

Israel uses new and more damaging weapons against Gaza and Lebanon. The children must suffer for that. At least two out of five people killed in Lebanon are children. Israel uses the precision weapon Hellfire with Norwegian high explosives. Still, there are major civil losses in the war.

(PS. This article is machine-translated from Norwegian)

[weapon] At the Shifa hospital in Gaza City, an eleven-year-old boy is in a respirator with his body full of splinters. The family has not yet made the decision to disconnect from the machines that keep the small body alive. The boy is from Beit Lahiya, a village north of Gaza, surrounded by small vegetable gardens and strawberry fields that slopes down to the Mediterranean.

From Beit Lahiyas, homemade Qassam rockets have been fired at the nearby Israeli city of Askhelon. The Israelis have taken revenge. The boy's neighborhood became the target of an Israeli attack in early July. Now he is critically injured. The house the boy was in was attacked with an Apache helicopter, and probably hit by a precision-guided Hellfire rocket. The rockets have high explosive fuel from Dyno's factories on Hurum.

Splinter from the explosion hit the head, legs and arms of the boy. At the time the image (below) is taken, the boy lacks circulation in the brain.

The Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert has never seen such injuries as those now inflicted on the people of Gaza.

  • What we see is a combination of extremely high energy and powerful heat generation. There are many burns. We also find burns on internal organs, which indicate very high heat generation. Ambulance personnel also say they have become ill and have had breathing difficulties with on-site patients, which can be toxic, said Gilbert, who came to West Beirut with a crisis team from the Palestine Committee for the first time in July 1981.

The new injury picture is confirmed by senior Sobhi Skaik at Shifa Hospital.

  • The kids have all the damage you can imagine. There are burns on the face, abdominal region and sometimes the whole body is badly burned. They smell of phosphorus, says Skaik.

He also sees a number of splinter damage where they find metal bits and pieces of electronics inside their bodies.

  • The injuries are worse than the ones we have seen in the past.

Mads Gilbert is professor of emergency medicine and has written a textbook on war and mine damage treatment. He sees many similarities between what is happening now and what happened when Israel invaded the small neighboring country in 1982. Gilbert believes that Israel uses Gaza and Lebanon as a kind of test ground for new weapons.

  • The use of weapons in 1982 was the same as now, brutal attacks on civilian settlements and residential areas, including cluster munitions. In retrospect, we know that they tried out new weapons. We believe that new weapons are being used even now.

Israel has now admitted the use of the highly disputed cluster bombs, after the human rights group Human Rights Watch this week accused Israel of using such weapons against civilian targets in southern Lebanon.

The Palestinian Committee is now sending new health teams to Gaza, and hopes to enter Lebanon as well. The most important thing for Gilbert is that Israel stops using weapons that are clearly intended for military purposes.

  • When you stand with these patients in your hands, you understand the effects of the weapons. It is a gross political double standard not to intervene against a state like Israel, which engages in this type of state terrorism. It should be noted that the UN now says there may be grounds for investigating Israel for violations of human rights and the Geneva Convention, says Gilbert.

45 percent children

Because there are rules of warfare. The Geneva Convention states that all parties to a conflict must distinguish between civilian population and military, between civilian property and infrastructure and military installations. And the most vulnerable parts of a civilian population are the children.

  • Every war is a war against the child. In this serious conflict, we see that the attacks are particularly hard on the children, says assistant foreign director Eva Torill Jacobsen in Save the Children.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland has been one of several senior officials in recent weeks who has expressed strong concern over the civilian losses in both Gaza and Lebanon. On Sunday, July 23, he wandered in shock in the ruins of Beirut following Israel's massive airstrikes. And in particular, he expressed concern about the high number of children on the lists of killed and injured.

According to the UN, as many as every third victim of Israeli warfare have been children. Reports from the Red Cross and the Red Crescent may indicate that around a third of Lebanese victims are children. Save the Children, for its part, now operates with figures that as many as 45 percent of the 400 killed in Lebanon are children. Of the 500.000 people fleeing southern Lebanon, 40 percent of refugees are under the age of 18.

Brutal numbers

  • These are very high numbers. What is happening is completely unacceptable. Civilians must be protected in war. The most important thing now is that a ceasefire is ensured so that humanitarian aid arrives and those who are injured can get help, says Jacobsen in Save the Children.

Figures taken from the United Nations Coordination Office in the Palestinian Territories (OCHA) confirm that there are many children also among the Palestinian victims. The offensive against Gaza, Operation Summer Rain, began two weeks before the first bombs fell in Lebanon.

According to chief physician Sobhi Skaik at Shifa Hospital, who receives the most severely injured, 34 of the 85 children killed were under the age of 13.

  • Children are always vulnerable, because they do not understand what is happening before it happens, says Lieutenant Colonel Terje Torsteinson at the Armed Forces Staff School.

  • Weapons are not compatible with children and should not be used near children. But when a party to a conflict chooses to operate from places where there are children, the unintended damage becomes greater.

Accidental damage, or "collateral damage" as it is called in English, is the military designation of losses beyond what is to be attacked, ie military targets. In war, it is a moral question how much unintentional damage one can endure.

Torsteinson emphasizes that this is not just a problem for Israelis in Gaza and Lebanon.

  • This is a problem with all modern warfare. It is no longer fought on the battlefield between the military. Now we see wars where one party mixes with the civilian population, and it entails large – and in most people's opinion – far too large civilian losses, he says.

  • These are very brutal numbers, says Mads Gilbert.

The Norwegian points out that children in Gaza and Lebanon are particularly vulnerable during rocket attacks.

  • The attacks on Gaza are taking place in very densely populated areas. The kids have nowhere else to be. When something slams, they come running to see what happens. Then it's shot again. In the villages of Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanoun north of the Gaza Strip, which Israel has attacked extensively, there is no warning system or place to hide. This is a completely exposed civilian population. And the most vulnerable are children and the elderly due to undeveloped or reduced sensory apparatus.

The doctor points out that children have less experience of what they hear or see than adults, and they cannot interpret signals that make them seek shelter when grenades arrive.

  • The loss figures are proof of how deadly hit-safe Israel is in its war against the civilian population. The people of Gaza have neither air defense sirens nor bomb shelters, attacks come completely unannounced, says Gilbert.

He responds to the evacuation that has taken western citizens to safe areas.

  • What is outrageous is this, one might well call it an almost racist evacuation of the whites. No one has called for a similar evacuation of Lebanese children, let alone casualties from Gaza. This is extremely uncomfortable. Enormous resources are put into evacuating Western citizens, while children are not sacrificed a thought. The massive evacuation shows that the resources exist, Gilbert believes.

Save the Children is concerned about the psychological damage the attacks have on children.

  • They have trouble sleeping, they have nightmares, they get wet, they dare not go out, they cling to their parents. The children live in a kind of constant defensive position. And what makes it extra bad is that this is the third generation of children growing up in war. This does something to a population, says assistant foreign director Jacobsen, who fears that more children may eventually die of secondary causes.

  • What we do know is that when humanitarian aid with food and medicine does not arrive, clean water disappears, hygienic conditions become poor and there is a lack of electricity to keep food cold, then the extent of diseases increases. We are already seeing an increase in bloody diarrhea in children, says Jacobsen.

Colonel Torsteinson at the Defense Staff School emphasizes that it is the responsibility of all parties not to jeopardize the civilian population. In northern Israel, too, children have been killed by the random rain of Katyusha rockets.

  • When Hezbollah places Katyusha rockets at a residential building, they make the area a military target. Not a good goal, but a legitimate goal. Then there is the question of how cynical the Israelis are, whether they choose to be restrained or whether they take it out, he says.

There are several rules for conflict. Under international law, countries that are attacked have the right to defend themselves. This is what Israel is referring to. Israel also believes that the targets they are attacking are legitimate, and that they are doing what they can to limit civilian losses.

A statement recently issued by the Israeli Army (IDF) states: "For their own safety, the civilians should stay away from the combat zone." But where is the combat zone? Torsteinson believes it is not so easy to identify a military counterpart to Israel. The weapons used against the country have questionable military effect.

  • Katyusha has little military effect and is very imprecise. Homemade Qassams have no military effect. It's like walking around blindfolded and shooting a rifle, says the lieutenant colonel.

But he emphasizes that the use of such imprecise rockets is obviously not aimed at legitimate military targets, and thus is also a violation of international law.

But when Israel says that they want to reduce civilian losses, and yet so many are hit, is it so that Israelis fall short of their targets?

  • When ordinary free-fall bombs are used, there is a great chance of making a mistake. But the Israelis are nowhere near using weapons as inaccurate as their counterparts. Israel has greater precision. They hit 90 percent of what they aim for. The threat to their own aircraft is virtually non-existent. The weather is fine and they can fly during the day. In southern Beirut, the probability of missing the target is greater; there are many tall houses. But in Gaza, where many of the houses are on a few floors, it is very likely that they will hit what they are aiming for. Israel also has better intelligence information about Gaza, Torsteinsom believes.

Norwegian fuel

He also comes in with a special weapon that is widely used in Gaza. It is the Hellfire rockets that get their fuel produced by Dyno at Hurum here in Norway.

  • In Gaza, much more precision bombing is taking place. Precision weapons such as Hellfire are ideal for use in Gaza. It sounds brutal, but that's how it is,

says Torsteinson.

But despite Israel's superiority in the air, Torsteinson doubts whether the operation currently underway in Gaza and Lebanon is appropriate to secure Israel from Qassam or Katyu


  • You can beat Hezbollah militarily. But as long as the ideology lives on, an Israeli victory will only mean that Hezbollah will become an even bigger problem in ten years. This is a zero-sum conflict. What we have seen is that extreme movements have emerged as a result of military force. You have to turn Lebanon into a parking lot, you must end this, says the lieutenant colonel at the Armed Forces Staff College.

For the little boy at Shifa Hospital, the suffering came to an end. On July 10 – the day after the photo was taken of him – the respirator at Shifa Hospital in Gaza was disconnected. He thus became one of the first victims of the Israeli Operation Summer Rain.

Two days later, the storm hit Lebanon. There are several UN observers and hundreds of children already killed.

By: Maren Sæbø


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