The horrors of war and conflict have been overwhelming this past week. Four boys, aged 9 to 12, all cousins, were killed in Israeli bombings in Gaza just minutes after they were playing on the beach, thinking that the sandy shores were safer than their streets.
Pictures captured by cameras show the boys playing with a ball, then running to find shelter as one shell lands on a shed. A few minutes later, rescuers carry twisted, mangled bodies of the four boys. Dead children of war.
An intifada that hasn’t ended after three generations. According to UNICEF, 59 Palestinian children 43 boys and 16 girls were killed in the first nine days of the conflict, before the Israeli ground assault began. Most were under the age of 12.
Palestinian children stand by damaged houses after an Israeli missile strike hit Gaza City on July 8. The Israeli air force launched dozens of raids on the Gaza Strip overnight after massive rocket fire from the enclave pounded southern Israel, leaving 17 people injured. Pic/AFP
Just two days after the Gaza boys were struck down, another tragedy, another picture. The body of a young child still strapped to his or her airline seat lying in a sunflower field, a transparent plastic sheet barely covering the child’s body with a flower placed by a passerby who must be aware that the child’s parent’s body must also be around nearby. Unfortunate victims of a war that did not even remotely concern them.
An undeclared war claiming innocent victims from far away lands. There were 80 children among the 298 passengers on the ill-fated Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, which was blown up allegedly by Ukrainian rebels using surface to air missiles.
Wars and conflicts are not regional anymore. They are global. They affect us all. In some way or the other. Fatally. Wars are no longer fought between armies, man to man, gun to gun, machine to machine. They are fought with drones, toys, and video games. Killing men is not enough. Kill children, women, and animals; destroy water bodies; blow up forests, schools, hospitals and markets. ‘Collateral damage’ is what they call it.
On the same day as the Gaza boys were killed on the beach, terrorists killed six boys in Hangu, Pakistan in a bizarre manner. Terrorists first triggered an explosion next to a road. The children of the nearby village rushed to see what the noise was. When they reached the site, the terrorists who were in range, with a remote control device, exploded the second bomb killing all six children aged 12 to15.
These six children will have no artwork dedicated to them like the Gaza boys, nor is there any global outrage. No Pakistani media and social media groups are praying for their souls. These boys were victims of terrorists born and bred in Pakistan, devouring its young and old.
Afghanistan fares as one of the worst places for a child. Nearly every day, women and children die of roadside bomb blasts. Children growing up in a country torn by war for decades such as Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Congo, Nigeria, Iraq and other conflict zones grow up with generational trauma. They carry their hurt, anger, and brokenness from one generation to the other in wars that never end.
In Kashmir, children of conflict still bear scars, whether they are doctors and authors who spent their early years in the camps in Jammu or the young boys who were told to throw stones at security forces. They cannot forget or move on from the traumatic phases of their lives when they lost their childhood friends, their homes, their way of life to a separatist movement.
Children of conflicts and wars are never ‘normal’. Their smiles mirror pain that can never be erased. Doctors term it as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that manifests itself as insecurity, bipolar disorder, nervous tension, bedwetting, anger and violent behaviour.
All of it as a result of lost innocence in a political struggle of grown-ups, an insecurity about the future, recurring nightmares that haunt adult life, of an education impacted adversely, of schools used as bunkers, of hiding from killers, from bombs.
But there are wars to be fought, battles to be won and children to be maimed and killed, because killing men is not enough, blowing up cities is not enough, burning fields and poisoning water bodies is not enough. Who cares for the ‘collateral damage’?
PS: While seeing pictures and sharing them on the Internet, always remember that doctoring of photos of children of war has been going on since the World Wars. They are a great source of propaganda, especially photographs of children with blood on their bodies. Check the veracity of the photograph before believing it.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash