The following article first featured in The Review, our weekly Substack newsletter. Read more and subscribe here.
The Israel-Gaza conflict has been on the minds of many people including Re: News journalist Caitlin McGee.
Once upon a time in the late 1990s, I was sitting on my parents’ couch watching the Grammy Music Awards when a US country artist called Shawn Colvin walked onto stage to accept the award for Song of the Year.
Remember that great hit? Me neither. But what I do remember, is how she was interrupted by an iconic hip hop artist called Ol’ Dirty Bastard who took the stage to give a speech of his own:
“...I don’t know how y’all see it, but when it comes to the children, Wu-Tang is for the children…”
ODB was a member of the Wu Tang Clan who had lost rap album of the year that night and the mighty Wu were none too pleased.
I’m not sure why this random memory has managed to survive in my brain alongside all the wacky, wonderful, and not-so-wonderful experiences in my life, but over the past four weeks, the words of the ODB rose out from the depths of my subconscious and I’ve thought about it a lot.
“When it comes to the children, Wu Tang is for the children”.
Kia ora, I’m Caitlin McGee, I’m a journalist for Re: News and a mum of two small children under five years old.
This week marks a month since Hamas launched its unprecedented attack, killing at least 1400 Israelis and taking hundreds more hostage.
Children were among those killed, some were sleeping in their beds, while the parents and families of other children who are still captive are pleading for their release.
Thomas Hand’s eight-year-old daughter Emily was at a sleepover and initially he had been told she’d been killed in the Hamas attack, now he’s been told she might still be alive. Forensic teams didn’t find her body or traces of her DNA.
“I had already started grieving, now I have to go back into the nightmare of not knowing exactly where she is,” he said in an interview with CBS.
Emily is believed to be one of at least three dozen children who were taken by Hamas and when her dad was asked to give a message to those who took her, he said: “At least let the children go”.
The response by Israel’s government to relentlessly bomb the Gaza strip has resulted in at least 10,000 people killed in just over four weeks. Most of the dead are women and children.
Human rights organisation Save the Children says a child is being killed every 10 minutes in Gaza and the UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called it a “graveyard for children”.
“If I may be very clear, those are the most unpleasant deaths that these children could have died,” said executive director for Médecins Sans Frontières Jennifer Tierney while speaking to Australia’s Q+A.
“They are being crushed in their homes and losing their limbs…”
Then there are the ones who survive.
Dr Tanya Haj-Hassan, a paediatric intensive care doctor for Médecins Sans Frontières, has seen a lot of trauma and suffering in her career but she says the scenes coming out of Gaza were enough to make her faint.
Children arriving with fingers melting off and most of their body covered in burns.
She described to CNN how the health system in Gaza collapsed two weeks ago and there’s no adequate supplies to treat these kids.
“That is an extreme and exquisitely painful injury. And if you don’t have adequate pain control for it, that child is going to suffer. If you do not have dressings, you cannot appropriately clean those wounds so that they remain clean. And if you don’t have appropriate anaesthetics, every single time you do the dressing changes, the child is going to wail in pain and experience levels of pain that are completely inhumane.”
Last week, she also told the BBC a new acronym has been created that’s unique to the Gaza strip, WCNSF: Wounded Child No Surviving Family.
“I’m going to paint a picture for you of the degree of suffering that we’re seeing…there has been indiscriminate bombardment and I don’t even know if indiscriminate is the right term because it’s targeting healthcare facilities, ambulances, churches, mosques, schools, refugee camps, densely populated refugee camps and wiping out entire families.
“There are 4,000 children who have been killed and identified, excluding about 1,000 who are still trapped under the rubble. Some of them may be alive for a long period before they ultimately die…”
I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling truly heartbroken by the harrowing scenes coming out of Gaza combined with the anguish from hostages’ families and it is no exaggeration to say I’ve found myself weeping most days.
There are so many words to describe it – and also none.
In 2018, my work sent me to the town of Potočari in Bosnia-Herzegovina to report on the commemorations taking place to mark the 1995 Srebrenica genocide.
Every year EU officials and other dignitaries come to the Srebrenica Memorial Center and Cemetery there, which was created to honour the nearly eight thousand mostly Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) men and boys who were rounded up by Bosnian Serb forces and murdered.
There were Dutch UN Peacekeepers stationed there at the time, but they didn’t stop the killings.
There’s heaps I can’t remember, but I do remember the town felt frozen in time. Buildings were still marked with bullet holes and we interviewed a young couple who had fallen in love but it was controversial because she was Bosnian Serb and he was Bosnian Muslim.
The cemetery was beautiful and sad. It sits near the town’s entrance and the tombstones are laid out within a design to replicate the white flower of Srebrenica. Bosnian Serb forces deliberately used bulldozers to scatter the bodies and spread the remains over a big area so the identification process of the victims would be long and difficult. It worked: the process of identifying the victims’ remains is still ongoing even decades later and more victims are laid to rest in the ceremony every year.
(Camera operator Dzevad Arnautovic, correspondent Caitlin McGee and field producer Aksel Zaimovic at the Srebrenica Memorial Cemetary in Potočari, Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2018)
The mayor at the time I was there was a Bosnian Serb, who was what’s known as a genocide denier. He acknowledged there had been some killings but openly talked about it not being as bad as the international community had made it out to be. So, it’s probably not a surprise when I say there was still a fraught relationship between Bosnian Serbs, Bosniaks and their history hanging over the town.
I am not an expert in international law so am not qualified to draw comparisons between what happened in Srebrenica and what’s happening now in Gaza and Israel, nor would I feel comfortable doing so.
But, despite the persistent problems I mentioned above, most of the Srebrenica crimes have been addressed in an international court of law. The atrocities carried out against the people of Pōtocari and Srebrenica were established beyond reasonable doubt and the people responsible for committing those crimes, at least at the top level, were put to trial and sentenced.
Refik Hodiz is a transitional justice expert from Bosnia and was affected by the genocide. And he said:
“In a way, dignity has been returned to Bosnian victims of genocide and other crimes against humanity through these processes.”
It’s hard to imagine a similar level of justice being meted out in an international court of law for the victims of violence in Gaza and Israel, especially the children.
The children who have no political affiliations and yet have been forced to suffer the most.
On Tuesday night, a group of kids sheltering at Al Shifa hospital in Gaza held their own news conference in an attempt to bring more global attention to the children who are being killed.
Among many things, the boy leading it said in English:
“We come now to shout and invite you to protect us. We want to live. We want peace. We want to judge the killers of children. We want medicine, food and education and we want to live as other children live.”
To live as other children live. If only.