People are not “Collateral Damage”

Amid all the finger-pointing over exactly who is to blame for the atrocities currently taking place in the Gaza Strip, one very important point is being largely ignored: more than a thousand civilians, including many women and children, have been killed.

The response from both sides, as well as many people reporting on the war from here in America is the same, that these casualties are collateral damage and part of the unavoidable cost of war.  This is unacceptable and also blatantly false.  Every single death in war is avoidable.  War itself is avoidable and to treat it as some sort of inevitability is to disrespect the lives of those whose lives are lost, both those who choose to fight and those who do not.

An infographic from the Washington Post details the casualties.  As of July 29th, they count a total of 1,170 deaths.  Of those, only 61 were Israelis (7 civilians among them).  The remaining 1,109 people killed were Palestinians, including 127 women and 232 children.  It can be hard to determine who among the rest of the dead were actually involved in the fighting, as rebels rarely wear uniforms or identify themselves as combatants.  But, the Post counts only 179 armed militants among the Palestinian casualties.  Even adding the 115 dead who had an “unknown role” brings the total to 294, a number dwarfed by the total of 815 identified as civilians.  And, as the fighting continues, these numbers will continue to grow.

Both sides, of course, blame the other for the terrible loss of life.  Hamas claims the fighting is provoked by the Israeli occupation of Gaza and their ongoing blockade, leaving Palestinians often without food, water, or electricity, and in constant fear of attacks from the air and on the ground.  Israel blames the rockets launched from Palestine into Israel, claiming that the Hamas must be destroyed and that their invasion and constant bombing and shelling is the only way to truly eliminate the rebel threat.  While both sides can be assigned blame, fairly or not, the fact remains that none of the resulting deaths were necessary.

Hamas is accused of keeping its weapons in houses, schools, and other places where civilians are assembled.  This means that these civilians are being drawn into a fight they may want no part of.  It must be remembered that it is Hamas, not Palestine as a whole, that is doing the fighting in Gaza.  Putting civilian lives at risk is deplorable.  And, to use those deaths as propaganda, as some have accused, is even worse.

Yet, Israel is still choosing to bomb these weapons caches, knowing that each bomb dropped or shell fired is likely killing innocents as it destroys weapons whose threat is questionable at best.  But, no one is forcing Israel’s hand.  Israel, and those whose fingers are on the triggers, can simply choose not to fire, not to slaughter civilians, not to perpetuate a fight that does not need to be happening.  They blame Hamas, but their own hands are stained red with the blood of a thousand people who did not need to die.

The fight in Gaza is rooted in thousands of years of history.  Israel is a small country fighting to maintain its identity in a world that is hostile to it.  Its people have been bullied, but they have been made strong by the support (both financially and militarily) of the United States.  Now, they are the bullies, keeping the Palestinians in a virtual prison in Gaza as vengeance for the injustices they have faced over the years.  They are two sides who cannot agree, and so they fight.  They fight over geography, over religion, over years of oppression.  But, none of those things are really worth killing or dying for.  And, they certainly do not justify the killing of people who want no part of the fight, and seek only to live their lives peacefully in a place they call home.

But, there is a solution, and it is a solution so simple that it is easily overlooked.  Just stop fighting.  That’s it.  It really is as simple as that.  Don’t shoot any missiles or drop any bombs.  Don’t kill any soldiers or women or children.  Just stop.  Too many people have died, and too many more will follow.  It’s so simple, even a child could see it.  But, in Gaza, children do not think of history, or geography, or religion, or even peace treaties.  They only think of staying alive as the bombs continue to fall around them, fired by their parents and fueled by the ghosts of their ancestors.  And so, the fighting continues, even if it doesn’t have to.

(The original posting of this cartoon, via Tom Tomorrow and The Nation, can be found here.)

End This Endless War

On March 11 , an American soldier walked into an Afghan village and slaughtered 17 innocent people, most of them women and children, and set their bodies on fire. This is tragic, but it is only one of countless senselessly violent acts that have been committed against civilians in the decade-long war in Afghanistan. Just as tragic is the fact that the war continues, meaning more deaths will follow.

It is time to end this war. Too many people have died, and too many more will die if our troops are not brought home.

Death is an inevitability of any war, but attacks against civilians fall well outside normal consequences, even in wartime, and are especially heinous considering these civilians have absolutely nothing to do with the reasons that American troops are in Afghanistan.

The War in Afghanistan began in October 2001 in response to the 9/11  attacks on the United States, with the stated goal of capturing Osama bin Laden and eliminating the threat of al-Qaeda. Bin Laden was killed in May 2011 and current estimates place al-Qaeda membership at fewer than 100 people in Afghanistan. Yet, the fighting continues.

Public opinion has turned against the war. Nearly 88 percent of Americans favored the war when it began, according to a Gallup poll. Recent polling by the Washington Post shows that support for the war has fallen to 35 percent. Afghans also initially favored American intervention, as they were eager to be rid of both al-Qaeda and its Taliban supporters. Polls suggest that fewer than 30 percent of Afghans now want American troops in their country.

Much of this swing in opinion is due to recent attacks against civilians. Just this year, American troops have committed numerous atrocities. In February, air strikes killed eight people who were believed to be enemy combatants. It was later discovered that they were innocent children. This came on the heels of a video surfacing showing American soldiers urinating on the dead bodies of Afghans. These, like March 11’s tragedy, are things that should not happen. Sadly, they will continue to happen as long as American troops remain in Afghanistan.

Nearly 2,000 American soldiers have been killed since the war began, a number dwarfed by the number of innocent Afghans killed during that time. Exact totals are difficult to determine, but estimates range as high as 17,000 civilian deaths directly related to the fighting, with another 20,000 estimated deaths from starvation, disease or displacement caused by the war.

American arrogance insists that the fighting should continue until the U.S. is victorious. But, this is not a war that can be won. Bin Laden is dead and al-Qaeda has been decimated. To think that anything beyond that can be accomplished is foolish. The only thing that can be achieved by continuing to fight is increasing the casualties on both sides. In that scenario, everyone loses.

President Barack Obama has vowed to withdraw  all American troops from Afghanistan by 2014. That is not good enough. American soldiers should be brought home immediately.