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Women and children, barefoot, are seen evacuating along a street in Gaza City, seeking safety amidst the escalating Israeli airstrikes Image Credit: AFP

A war has no winners, notwithstanding western powers cheerleading from the side, violence begets violence and as it singes it inevitably takes down innocent civilians.

The deepest trauma in conflict zones is reserved for women who are sexualised and dehumanised as tools of war. Images of a young Israeli woman dancing freely one moment at a desert rave party and the next lying face down, stripped, in the back of a truck are a stark demonstration of how gender-based violence is a tool of war.

As hostilities break, along with women, children are the other vulnerable spot. The report of a child shot dead in front of her parents and other siblings is heartbreaking.

Smoke billows from the Gaza's Rafah border crossing with Egypt during an Israeli airstrike
On October 10, 2023, plumes of smoke rise from Rafah in Gaza during an Israeli airstrike Image Credit: AFP

No parent should have to see what has been done to Israel’s women and children in the past few days. No parent should have to see what has been done to Palestine’s women and children in the past decades.

While the developments in Israel are raw and unfolding, the violence needs outright and severe condemnation. An eye for an innocent eye only keeps the cycle of violence on boil, those defending the siege on Gaza are also viewing it from their own selfish prism. The truth is there are two realities, and while they far from co- exist, they do exist in this same moment.

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Retaliatory siege by Israel

In Hamas controlled Gaza Strip — the most densely populated area in the world often referred to as an open-air prison camp — the retaliatory siege by Israel is an existential crisis for 2.2 million people, half of them children who live cheek by jowl in a 41km land.

The closing of access to food, water, and electricity by Israel of people not their own, should trigger bells of a humanitarian crisis. How else is a war crime defined?

Gaza’s residents have for decades been starved of dignity of life and livelihood — it is also estimated that 4500 Palestinians are in Israeli jails. Who decides that the oppressed be denied a homeland?

Israelis mourn Ili Bar Sade, a soldier who was killed in an attack by Hamas militants, at his funeral in Tel Aviv, Israel, October 9, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

The hypocrisy of the western nations goes back in time when they gave land that was not theirs to give. For the uninitiated, the subjugation of Palestinian civilians began even before Hamas came into being.

In the past two decades it is reported that at least 2000 Palestinian children have perished. This does not account for the hundreds of minors who are arrested, imprisoned, and tried as adults.

In war zones women are considered easy targets. Dehumanising them is an even shorter road to one-upmanship, the modern version of the spoils of war. The United Nations has said that victims of sexual violence in Ukraine after the Russian invasion include children as young as 4 and adults older than 80.

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Relatives of Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes, react at a hospital in Gaza City. Image Credit: Reuters

Deliberate military strategy

Though each conflict has its own timeline, sexual violence is not the endgame. Instead it is more systematic, an organised crime.

The 20th century is littered with global reports of rape in war zones, from the ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, crimes during Bangladesh’s war from independence to the Rwanda genocide where rape became part of the process, an unwritten format for dominance by the oppressor.

Women’s bodies are part of the battleground, says an Amnesty International report. Rape and sexual violations are not just an offshoot of war but are used as a deliberate military strategy, it says.

Sexual abuse carries a global stigma. We saw how several rescued schoolgirls who were kidnapped by the Boko Haram in Nigeria left their village in shame.

Unless international criminal laws are implemented stringently through systemic changes, the men who survive hostilities will return as heroes while women will remain the forgotten people, withering away quietly into the sunset.