Call to Action: Why We Should Be Questioning the Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza

Dylann Hanrahan ’25

Staff Writer

Human Rights Watch has accused the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), with verified footage and sources, of using white phosphorus munitions in its strikes against Gaza and at two rural locations along the Israel-Lebanon border. “Israel has been using white phosphorus in military operations in Gaza and Lebanon, putting civilians at unnecessary risk in what amounts to a breach of international humanitarian law,” says Human Rights Watch. White phosphorus is extremely toxic and lethal to humans. The ATSDR explains that “exposure to white phosphorus may cause burns and irritation, liver, kidney, heart, lung, or bone damage, and death.” While white phosphorus munitions are not banned under international law, their use is highly regulated and, according to the 1980 UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, they should not be used in densely populated areas. White phosphorus ignites by contact with the air due to its interaction with oxygen. With its wax like quality, it sticks to surfaces, like clothing and skin, making it extremely difficult to wipe off or extinguish. Sahara Reporters writes “it is known to cause deep burns as far as the bone, while the remnants of the substance contained in human tissue can potentially reignite after initial treatment when it makes contact with air again.” Israel’s use of this type of chemical weaponry is not new. Israel’s army was heavily criticized for its use of the chemical in the past, specifically in 2008-2009, with “evidence of war crimes” described by the UN.

Now, why is this such a problem for future generations of Gaza? “Any time that white phosphorus is used in crowded civilian areas, it poses a high risk of excruciating burns and lifelong suffering,” says Lama Fakih, HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director. America used this same chemical to kill Iraqis. In April 2004, it was reported that US forces used white phosphorus during the First Battle of Fallujah while “never knowing what the targets were or what damage the resulting explosions caused.” Two years after the US operation in Fallujah, Doctor Samira Alani began logging birth defect statistics after a surge in new cases. In September 2009, 170 children were born at Fallujah General Hospital, 24% of whom died within seven days; 75% exhibited deformities including children born with two heads, no head, a single eye, or missing limbs. There is no confirmation that white phosphorus leads to birth defects as little research has been done and there are conflicting reports. A report by International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in 2012 concluded that there is “a strong correlation [between] birth defects [in] newborns and parent’s exposure to attacks with white phosphorus.” Children under 18 years old make up about half of the population of Gaza.

There is no humanity in people’s statements calling for a collective punishment of the people in Gaza. Many put their hands in regions across the world, escalating conflicts so the politicians and stock shareholders can continue to see dollar signs as their stock values increase. If you’re curious about where our politicians stand on the issue of war, I challenge you to look up what corporate boards they sit on, who funds their campaigns and what stocks they invest in. It’s all public knowledge. One politician was quoted last week, regarding the people in Gaza, stating “finish them!” This particular presidential candidate went from an average income to a small fortune from defense contracting and war advocacy ties. Do not let the war machine fool you; war causes suffering for all sides. The use of this chemical is inhumane and demands the attention of the international community. The legacy of war is not only toxic to the mind and soul but to the body itself. The consequences of this warfare will last for generations. Steve Sosebee, the president of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund exclaims, “The impact of kids someday going back to school — where schools are partially damaged or damaged, and being unable to concentrate with the high level of PTSD that the majority of children suffer from — is incomprehensible…And in the health sector itself, you have huge overflowing and influx of trauma patients who need to be treated.”

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