Continuing offensive in Gaza killing hopes of peace
Haya Al Hussein calls on both sides to end the despairing rise in death toll
Like many, my family and I have watched with horror the escalating violence in the Gaza Strip over the last two weeks. Missiles, shells and artillery of every shape and size have rained down mercilessly in Israel's latest onslaught, from warships, jets and tanks. They have torn through defenceless homes, hospitals, mosques and schools where countless families take shelter.
In just minutes this week, entire families have been cut down.
The four Bakr boys playing on the beach had no chance to outrun or hide from the relentless shelling. Journalists filmed the last moments of those boys dressed in shorts and T-shirts as they clutched their bleeding stomachs and chests, crying from the pain. All of them were under the age of 12.
Just a day before, the Shabier family buried three children, killed on their roof as they fed pet pigeons in their cages. The oldest was eight, the youngest just six.
The list goes on and on.
As I wrote this, Israeli attacks had killed more than 800 Palestinians, including nearly 200 children. According to the United Nations, roughly 70 per cent of the victims were civilians.
By the time this goes to print, the death toll will no doubt have increased. More families, more mothers and fathers will have suffered the unimaginable task of putting the children they have loved, nurtured and protected against so many odds in Gaza, into their graves.
While I deplore Hamas' rocket attacks against Israeli towns and civilians, the heavy-handed collective punishment now being meted out on all of Gaza by the Israeli government is inexcusable and deserves global condemnation.
Israeli government spokespeople insist the army is working to contain the civilian death toll - and yet they are raining bombs on one of the most densely populated cities on earth.
Collective punishment is not new to Palestinians. Israel unleashed its fury on the 1.8 million inhabitants of Gaza most recently in November 2012, killing more than 100 people.
In the months that followed, Israeli restrictions on building supplies impeded the reconstruction of homes, hospitals and schools.
The military occupation of Gaza and the eight-year-old siege that has deprived Gazans of basic supplies, including medicine, have also left an increasing number of families dependent on foreign agencies for food donations.
Sewage poisons their water supply and severe fuel shortages cause daily power outages. Unemployment is estimated at 40 per cent. Only those in need of urgent medical care have any hope of obtaining the travel permits to leave.
Even when Israel isn't firing rockets into Gaza, it is slowly strangling the life out of this once bustling fishing town and those unlucky enough to have been born there.
What is especially disturbing is that civilians have been denied any route to escape the carnage in Gaza. They are simply trapped.
How can one say one is trying to avoid civilian casualties when no one is allowed to escape the ongoing fire? In nearly every recent conflict - Syria, Iraq, South Sudan - civilian refugees have been allowed to flee the conflict zone. But in Gaza the borders are closed and women and children have to take their chances with each barrage of artillery.
As a United Nations Messenger of Peace, I implore both Hamas and the Israeli government to put an end to the violence.
As a mother, I fear that Israel might have buried any chance for peace along with its smallest victims. After all, how could any parent, any sibling, any aunt or uncle or cousin, forgive and move forward in good faith when all they receive in return is more indiscriminate terror?
Princess Haya Al Hussein, the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan, has been a UN Messenger of Peace since 2007