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Alex Borg poses for a photo with an accordion on Soldiers and Sailors Lawn.
Alex Borg: Her accordion anchors a ‘no-man Jimmy Buffett band’
By Patrick Swain, Culture Editor • April 12, 2024
Opinion | CPCs, get off our campus
By India Krug, Senior Staff Columnist • April 12, 2024

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Alex Borg poses for a photo with an accordion on Soldiers and Sailors Lawn.
Alex Borg: Her accordion anchors a ‘no-man Jimmy Buffett band’
By Patrick Swain, Culture Editor • April 12, 2024
Opinion | CPCs, get off our campus
By India Krug, Senior Staff Columnist • April 12, 2024

Opinion | The safety of children is the world’s responsibility

Palestinians+check+destruction+after+an+Israeli+strike+in+Rafah%2C+Gaza+Strip%2C+on+Feb.+21.
AP Photo/Fatima Shbair
Palestinians check destruction after an Israeli strike in Rafah, Gaza Strip, on Feb. 21.

In the name of “self-defense,” the Israeli Defense Force has killed approximately 10,000 children in less than five months. One Palestinian child dies every 15 minutes in Gaza. 

By now, we know that Israel has killed over 29,000 Palestinians. We have watched the Israeli Defense Force stream their war crimes, watched them plunder houses and even steal possessions. At any given time, we can go on our phones and see footage of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza and Lebanon. Yesterday, I saw a photo of two boys, brothers, lying dead in the street, draped over each other after a sniper shot them. One was 20, the other 13. Their names were Ramez and Nahedh Barbakh. The 13-year-old, Nahedh, went out in the street with a white flag. The sniper shot him multiple times anyway. That is a grown adult, with a government salary, whose job it is to identify and “eliminate” targets, who knowingly killed two boys. 

Very often, I think of a poem by Khaled Juma, “Oh Rascal Children of Gaza.” Since I cannot think of a new way to say that Palestinian children have every right to live, I’ll share Juma’s words here. 

“Oh rascal children of Gaza,

You who constantly disturbed me with your screams under my

window,

You who filled every morning with rush and chaos,

You who broke my vase and stole the lonely flower on my

balcony,

Come back —

And scream as you want,

And break all the vases,

Steal all the flowers,

Come back,

Just come back…”

He wrote this in 2014. Almost a decade later, and Gaza’s children now live in even more fear than before. How can a poem about missing the laughter and the mischief of children whose bodies are shattered by bombs possibly remain relevant and urgent? How should we live with our apathy, with our financial complicity, with our mounting disinterest? 

I think about these children every single day. I don’t know how any of us ever stop thinking about them. 

Hind Rajab was six years old when she cried on the phone with Palestinian emergency services for three hours. She was in a car with her family, and the IDF had them under gunfire. She was brave enough to call for help while trapped in a car with the dead bodies of her family members. The IDF killed the emergency workers who went out to save her, and they killed her. Six years old, trapped in a car for days with the bodies of her loved ones. Six years old, deliberately killed by people who had lived long enough to willingly dedicate their lives to killing others. What would Hind have done with her life if she were allowed to keep living it? What about 13-year-old Nahedh, braving snipers to go out with a white flag?

There is so much forced absence that comes with military occupation. On Nov. 3, X user @freelancerdoaa posted a photo of her smiling daughter, Sham, holding up a cake with a number five on it. “Finally managed to do a ‘birthday party’ for my daughter despite everything. Her happiness was worth the world.” Months later, I think constantly about the effort it must have taken for this woman, Doaa, to make the arrangements to celebrate her daughter under direct military attack. The amount of resilience and love that we have seen from Palestinians is almost incomprehensible. 

Reports have circulated that Doaa and her daughter were killed shortly after Sham’s makeshift birthday celebration.

Months later, I cannot believe that a woman can take the time to create a moment of joy for her child from almost nothing, in the midst of brutality of this magnitude, and still, there will be those advocating for their deaths because the issue is “complicated.” Still, there are those that would call Doaa and her beautiful daughter “animals.”

“Everyone over the age of four is a Hamas supporter,” said Rami Igra, the former captain of Mossad’s Captive and Missing Division. I wonder if the bigotry that has so clearly rotted Igra’s heart down to practically nothing makes him turn his head when he passes children in the street. I wonder if he ever walks past a primary school and hears them singing, and if he consciously distinguishes between those five-year-olds and the “Hamas supporters.” May he and the other supporters of this massacre never again hear the song of a child without thinking of the children they condemned to die.

When someone is killed in an indiscriminate attack — because that is what Israel does, attack with the intention to kill as many as possible — it is not just their physical body that dies. Every thought, every silly fight they ever had, every song they loved, every act of profound kindness, where do they all go? Once there are over 29,000 lives to grieve, where do the memories of the dead go? Who is going to remember Sham’s next birthday, now that she and her mother are both gone? If Israel continues killing, who is going to remember what Hind’s favorite color was, or what made her happy? Who is going to remember the sound of Nahedh’s laughter?

When we say that children deserve safety, comfort, joy and hope, that is not merely an objection to their killing. By now, the videos of parents carrying their children in pieces, their mangled remains in plastic bags, are everywhere. The videos of toddlers screaming for their missing limbs are everywhere. Over 10,000 children are dead, and nothing will ever excuse that, not in this lifetime or anything that may come after it. And how many children has the IDF maimed? How many are blind? How many thousands will never walk again, never run, never dance, never play like children again? 

How many of them have, like little Hind, watched their families killed in front of them? How many of them have lost their parents, their grandparents, their aunts and uncles, their cousins and their siblings? How many Palestinian children have lost everyone who ever made them feel safe? 

To kill a child’s loved ones is to harm that child for the rest of their life. Do not let these figures wash over your head. 10,000 children killed. At least another 19,000 adult Palestinians who were just as deserving of life, just as loving, complex and hopeful are gone. Each of those adults loved a child deeply, and to deny that is to deny their humanity. To insist that the majority of the dead were “Hamas supporters” is to deny logic. And to insinuate, in any way, that a state has the “right” to carry out a massacre is to condemn yourself to a lifetime of fealty to sanctioned violence, or to a lifetime of regret. 

As I write this, Kamala Harris is visiting Pittsburgh. When she and other politicians fail to call this situation what it is — a genocide — and fail to call for a ceasefire, they are endorsing the killing of children with impunity. There is no other way to say it. We cannot go on like this in this country, participating in spineless electoral theater that suggests that we are choosing between “good and evil” when both parties seemingly offer virtually no difference in their levels of warmongering. We cannot allow the politicians who have funded this massacre to wash their hands of it, and pretend like they represent our interests in any way. 

Again, at a loss for how to make the case that children deserve to have all their limbs, all their loved ones with them and to live long and eventful lives, I turn to the words of someone much wiser. In 1980, James Baldwin said, “the children are always ours, every single one of them, all over the globe; and I am beginning to suspect that whoever is incapable of recognizing this may be incapable of morality.”

Every adult in the world is responsible for the safety of children. As it stands, there is no greater threat to that safety than the military-industrial complex and the settler-colonial projects we are witnessing. Do not forget these children. Do not forget that those who perform empathy to get your votes are the ones who have paid their killers.

Sofia Uriagereka-Herburger writes about politics and international and domestic social movements. Write to her at [email protected]

About the Contributor
Sofia Uriagereka-Herburger, Senior Staff Columnist
Sofia Uriagereka is a senior majoring in Anthropology. She writes primarily about politics, both domestic and international.