Innocents dying in ‘a tragedy of war’

A Palestinian child inside his home at the Jabalya refugee camp. — PHOTO

A bit of recent CNN footage on Gaza partially shows three children laid out on their back, their tiny legs and feet looking vulnerable. It takes only seconds—blink, and you miss it—but the fleeting footage of the small corpses is a graphic display of Israel’s relentless moves to wipe Hamas off the face of the earth, the same relentlessness that has marked Israel’s brutal occupation of Gaza and that has trapped Palestinians in an “open-air prison” on their own partitioned land.

CNN’s reportage on the Israeli air strike on Tuesday on the “densely populated” Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza, which killed “dozens,” including women and children, adds to the observer’s mounting anguish. The attack was condemned by B’Tselem, a human rights organization in Israel; a spokesperson of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) said it was a “tragedy of war” and had as target a ranking Hamas leader.

At this writing, the number of the dead in the weeks since Israel turned its full military might on Palestinians in retaliation for Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack that, per Israeli officials, resulted in 1,400 slaughtered and more than 200 taken hostage, is, per Gaza health authorities, 8,485, including women and children. It’s said that the number of children killed in the weeks of Israeli attacks is now more than the number in varying places of conflict in three years.

There appears no immediate stop to this calamity that is grinding ever forward (and that, along with Russia’s war on Ukraine, is keeping the West’s war industry flourishing). In the face of the killing, dislocation and suffering of civilians in Gaza—the bombings and ground operations exacerbating Israel’s blockade on food, water and fuel—Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected all calls for a ceasefire. It “will not happen,” he declared on Monday. 

CNN footage of Palestinians raiding a United Nations warehouse of food and other basic supplies indicates the level of despair among the civilian population. Only a trickle of trucks vis-a-vis the crippling need  has been allowed into Gaza through the Rafah crossing to deliver essential assistance, excluding fuel, of which overcrowded hospitals are reported to be running out.

“Hell on earth” is how Gaza is described in its current circumstances. 

Anguish over the apocalyptic developments in Israel and Palestine runs deep in Filipinos—or should. Four Filipinos are among the dead, three killed in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack and the fourth days later; two of those missing are believed to be among its hostages. There are Filipino Palestinians and their families in dire straits in Gaza and the West Bank. Filipinos in Tel Aviv and elsewhere in Israel are community pillars who serve as caregivers, from reports even over and beyond the call of duty.

As elsewhere on the planet in the course of the Philippines’ labor export policy that was established during Ferdinand Marcos Sr.s presidency, Filipinos have become entrenched in Israel, building a reputation as “efficient” and “loyal”caregivers. They give of themselves to a foreign country in a manner and method now lost to their motherland, spending their most productive years providing care and attention to that country’s elderly,  away from their own aging parents and their spouses and children—and, in the crunch, loath to wrench themselves from the area of conflict.

On ANC shortly after the Hamas attack, a Filipino caregiver in Israel said she was not particularly desperate to register for repatriation and would, if obligated to do so, seek assurance of hassle-free return. Many were conflicted but ultimately availed themselves of official efforts to pull them out, after the Department of Foreign Affairs finally raised Alert Level 4 (for mandatory evacuation and repatriation). Another caregiver, praised for having protected her elderly employer and herself by offering her own money to  the Hamas attackers, tearfully relayed to her anxious child the message that she was coming home. 

Their hesitation to leave Israel despite the war that threatens to spread in the region is not incomprehensible: Most of them found employment there that, despite their diligent efforts, they could not find at home—employment that has allowed them to put food on the table for the loved ones they left behind and, among other filial obligations, to put family members through school. In reports, the Israeli ambassador to the Philippines acknowledged the dead Filipinos’ contribution to his country and promised assistance to their grieving families. 

Still the conflict rages, with the IDF expanding its ground operations in Gaza to complement its bomb strikes, leading to the sight of rows of corpses wrapped in white sheets when the dust cleared in Jabalya. Unthinkable as it may seem, there will be more dead innocents in Palestinian territory—not that all Israeli civilians demand it—with Israel and its allies led by the United States rejecting late last month the UN General Assembly’s adoption of a resolution for an “urgent, durable and permanent humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.” The resolution drafted by 22 Arab countries was adopted by a vote of 120-14, with 45 nations including the Philippines abstaining.

This “neutral” stance may be perplexing for those who profess to abhor war and the killing of civilians, but it behooves Filipinos to be aware of the nuts and bolts of the Philippines’ alliances with Israel and the United States. 

Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, for example, recently offered specific figures concerning Filipino employment in Israel. “The Philippines risks losing some P7.4 billion in cash remittances from thousands of migrant Filipino workers, mostly caregivers and private duty nurses, in the event of an escalation in the war between Israel and the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas,” Pimentel’s office quoted him as saying. “Our best estimate is that Filipino workers in Israel send to their families in the Philippines around $131 million (or P7.4 billion) in cash transfers on an annual basis,” coursed through banks and other remittance channels.

And then, of course, the Philippines is now looking to the United States to back its newfound spine against China’s incursions in the West Philippine Sea, toward which the past administration exhibited the most benign tolerance.  

How long before the Philippines finds its true voice? How long before the war against humanity in Gaza ends?

See: End Israeli apartheid in the West Bank and Gaza, and free Palestine

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