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Great article


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A really good article that goes beyond the rhetoric and absolutist assertions of some on this board. What we know about this conflict is from the convenience of our own keyboards and the internet.



Children Fill Ledger of Death, No Matter How, or How Many



Published: May 21, 2004



AFAH REFUGEE CAMP, Gaza Strip, May 20 ? Set in fields of white, pink and red carnations, the giant cooler here, which usually holds vegetables or flowers for sale to an Israeli company, has been turned over to the dead.


It was to this cooler that, inevitably, the Palestinian doctor came Wednesday morning, when, just as inevitably, the latest Israeli Army raid touched off a parallel struggle to define reality. Were there, in fact, children among the dead, as the Palestinians claimed? How many? Did they die from Israeli sniper fire or from militants' explosives?


The doctor, Ahmed Abu Nikera, had had enough of these questions. In the dank, shadowy room, he yanked and pulled to open the bloodstained white cloth wrapping one of the bodies as tightly as a mummy.


"This is a child," he said, after he revealed the pale gray face of Ibrahim al Qun, 14. "This is the exit wound." He pointed at the ragged, softball-sized black hole where the boy's left eye had been. A sniper's bullet entered at the back of the boy's head, he said.


Still, in the icy book of accounts that one carries to follow this conflict day after day, something else also had to be noted: During the fighting Tuesday night, Dr. Ali Moussa of Al Najar hospital had said there were seven people under the age of 18 among the dead; a list of names and ages compiled by Palestinian hospital officials Wednesday morning showed four people under 18.


Along with the chaos of gunshots, tank shells, planted bombs and armored bulldozers that accompanies life here, there is a dense fog of war. There is also a war of fog, of often fuzzily presented but always sharply conflicting versions of reality.


Like so many characteristics of this conflict, the tension over competing truths is shared across the desert, in Iraq. There, American soldiers and insurgents are not only fighting very different kinds of battles, but also describing very different ones. In the end, it seems that the contest of descriptions matters more, at least to the leaders and to the analysts who guide them.


Whether the casualties on any given day are on one side or the other or both, there is also, in a dark space somewhere, a reality. There is a dead child; there is an exit wound.


How many dead children is too many is a question often asked by Palestinians and Israelis, but it shows no hint of being resolved.


A couple of hours after the visit to the cooler, life here took another cruel and bewildering twist. On Wednesday afternoon, an Israeli helicopter gunship and a tank opened fire as demonstrators approached a neighborhood on Rafah's outskirts that the Israelis seized Tuesday.


Men with agony in their faces ran carrying little boys who bled from many shrapnel wounds. It was bedlam, panic, a vertiginous glimpse of hell.


There were dead and there were wounded, covering the beds and even the floors of Al Najar hospital. Television reports were of more than 20 killed. But one had to ask, hovering ghoulishly with pen in hand and account book at the ready: Where were the bodies?


Palestinian health officials said at least 10 were killed. But Dr. Moussa acknowledged Wednesday night that he could not "guarantee" that number. He said that some families had taken their dead for burial before the bodies reached the hospital.


Muslims bury their dead as swiftly as possible. The bodies of 14 Palestinians were in the flower cooler only because their families were trapped under Israeli curfew and unable to bury them.


Dr. Moussa's uncertainty contrasted with Israelis' precision in gathering their own dead. A few days ago, Israeli soldiers on their knees formed a line in the sand not far from here, to sift for tiny fragments of comrades killed when militants blew up an armored vehicle.


Israeli officials did not publicly contest the sum of Palestinian dead on Wednesday. They generated a different kind of fog.


In a statement by the army, and in disciplined remarks by many officials, the Israeli government expressed sorrow for any deaths of civilians. It called the incident very grave. It said that the incident might have been caused by tank fire. It also suggested that the cause might have been explosives planted by militants. The helicopter and tank fire was legitimate, the government said, because there were gunmen in the crowd of protesters.


Many witnesses said there were no gunmen. The matter is under investigation, the army said.


Some things here are what they seem, and some are not. Israeli soldiers have camouflaged themselves in Palestinian vehicles. Militants have hidden smuggling tunnels in the basements of houses. Each side plays on what it considers the other's habit of deception to cast doubt on claims about the killing.


On Tuesday night, Palestinian officials reported that Israeli snipers had killed two other children while they were taking in laundry on the family's roof. They were Asma al-Moghair, 16, and her brother, Ahmad, 13.


But an Israeli officer leading the operation, whom the army would identify only as Colonel Erez, said an initial army investigation of the deaths was inconclusive. He noted that Palestinians had planted many bombs in hopes of killing soldiers.


"We don't rule out the possibility that these youngsters were killed by the bombs," he said. "I can say unequivocally that no one in our unit put this boy and girl in his cross hairs with the aim of killing them."


Colonel Erez said that Israel had asked that the bodies be turned over for the investigation.


Asma's body was in the morgue of Al Najar hospital, which, with a capacity of only six corpses, had quickly filled.


Dr. Nikara untied a cord binding the cloth around the child's neck, then pulled back Asma's hair to reveal a hole the size of a half dollar over her left ear ? an exit wound. She had no sign of shrapnel wounds.


"This is what the Israelis call an accident," the doctor said.


Ahmad lay in the flower cooler. He had a similar hole in his head, above his right ear, and he did not have shrapnel wounds.


Last week, two Israeli soldiers were shot dead as they guarded the search for body parts of five other Israeli troops killed when Palestinian militants destroyed their armored vehicle.


Many of these differing accounts will never be balanced. Each side prefers its version of the facts. The violence continues, and the accounting can seem beside the point.


As the tumult quieted in Al Najar hospital after the wounded were rushed in Wednesday, an exhausted doctor dropped into a chair, his blue tie loose around his neck.


"It doesn't make any difference," he said of the casualties. "Life equals death, for all of us."


He asked that his name not be published; he was worried that Israel might deny him a permit to travel out of Gaza. In the hallways outside, workers with buckets of water were washing the blood off the crushed-gravel tiles.

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My anger is at an all-time high. I'm usually a mild mannered person, but for this to be happening to people with my money is driving me insane. Before, when people would try to justify the war I would give them the benefit of the doubt, but now I just don't understand.

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