The latest crisis in the Gaza Strip is, as it has always been, a polarizing issue. What gets lost in the rhetoric and finger pointing is basic perspective. Mainstream media have not done a good job of giving us a understanding of the situation in a way we can all understand and relate to. It’s easier to empathize with a population under siege if you have something to compare the situation to.
In terms of size, the Gaza Strip covers an area of 365 square kilometres. It is only 41 kilometres long with a width of between six and 12 kilometres. To put that into some perspective, 41 kilometres is one kilometre less than the distance of a marathon. In terms of area, the Gaza Strip is six square kilometres smaller than the combined area of Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, Coquitlam, and Port Coquitlam.
In terms of population, the area I just described has approximately one million people living in it. The Gaza Strip on the other hand has 1.8 million people who call it home. This results in an greater population density than we experience here at home. Gaza City for example has a population of more than half a million people living in 45 square kilometres. The city of Vancouver has 600,000 people living in 114 square kilometres. This makes Gaza City one of the most densely populated cities in the world.
The Gaza Strip is quite literally surrounded. With the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Egypt to the south, and Israel to the east and north, the civilian population of Gaza has nowhere to escape to, with both Israel and Egypt controlling the movement of goods and people across the borders.
Try to imagine what it must be like to experience thousands of air strikes and a ground invasion in such a small area while rockets are fired randomly practically out of your backyard. Imagine no power, no water, no food, and no freedom of movement. Imagine walking out your front door only to be in the sights of a unseen sniper. Think about what it means to have Hamas fighters using you as cover in a vain attempt to avoid Israeli bombs. Take a moment and think about what the daily struggle to survive in a war zone must be like. Try to comprehend the terror, horror, devastation, and insanity that the civilian population endures day after day.
This is a place where the United Nations cannot even prevent their own schools from being bombed and refugee camps offer no refuge from the shrapnel of bombs and tank rounds. Even a hospital, the place where people go to heal and be safe, is still a target. The lines between combatant and noncombatant are so blurry that the heavy civilian casualties we have seen are almost to be expected in such a hellish environment. Those of us who live here in safety must remember when a bomb explodes it does not discriminate.
Now imagine what it looks like through the eyes of the children. Children too young to hate, too young to comprehend, too young to lose their innocence, and too young to have their empathy drained by the evils of a world they didn’t ask to be born into. What does it say about what this world has become when a 13-year-old boy states his desire to join Hamas from his hospital bed. He was not born with hate—none of us are—it was put upon him by the world he sees everyday. A world he did not choose.
No matter how one looks at it, Hamas and the Israeli government have the blood of hundreds of children on their hands. The plight of those children should be the concern of the international community not the politics our leaders like to play with every conflict that pops up. Picking sides is not what we pay our elected officials to do.
Take a moment to walk in the shoes of the children of the Gaza Strip and know that no matter what horrific scenario your mind can conjure, the truth is a thousand times worse than any sane human being could possibly envision. They exist in an inferno that even Dante would find horrifying. I don’t care about Hamas or the Al-Qassam brigades, I don’t care about the Israeli government or the IDF. The only thing I care about are the innocent civilians, especially the children, who did not choose this.
In warfare there is no right or wrong, just different shades of hell on Earth. If you believe in a deity, thank them that you live here and not in any of the many war zones around our globe, and if you pray, then pray for the civilians in the Gaza Strip, that this war ends as soon as possible.