Two days ago I was visiting a friend of mine and as we walked down the old city, we more than once came across Hebrew-speaking tourists, a language I would recognize immediately. I thought they are most probably Israeli tourists since it was holiday time there. There were two elderly women who were posing in front of the nearby river and taking photos of each other. They were laughing and speaking in a loud voice. I couldn’t help thinking about the elderly women in Palestine who have seen so much suffering on the hands of the Israeli occupiers, mothers who didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to their children before being carried to their final resting place or before being dragged and locked in a dirty prison cell. As my friend and I sat on a bench under the trees chatting and watching people coming and going, another of these tourist groups passed by and again I recognized their nationality from their language. This time it was a young family. The mother was trying to convince her teenager son to keep still and listen to the tour guide, but it was obvious the boy wasn’t interested and started protesting. I suppose a typical reaction for boys who just want to run loose. Again I couldn’t help thinking of Palestinian children. Sitting here on a bench in a European town, I wonder why is it that European and Israeli children have the right to live freely but Palestinian children aren’t allowed to enjoy that right? We had no part in the holocaust or any of the atrocities committed during WWII, and beside the fact that children are not to be punished for the crimes of their parents, why is it that Palestinian children have to pay for the crimes committed by others?
Do the Israelis know that while their children are allowed to travel all over the world, Palestinian children have sometimes to wait for hours at a checkpoint before they are allowed to reach their schools? Do they know that sick Palestinian children need permits from the Israeli military so they can reach hospitals and get the urgently needed and in many cases life-saving treatment? Did they ever hear of the many children who died because the Israeli occupation forces refused to give them the needed permits and thus weren’t allowed to leave Gaza to get treatment?
In the course of decades of Israeli military occupation, Palestinian children have been subjected to all forms of physical and mental violence caused by the occupation. They have often been on the receiving end since they are the weakest of the occupied population and thus the easiest to intimidate. Schools have often been closed, besieged, shot at and even bombarded. One of the earliest memories I have of the Israeli occupation is when I was a little child staying at my grandparents house in Dheisheh refugee camp. It was land day (Yawm il Ard) and pupils went to the streets to commemorate the day and to demonstrate against land grab and confiscation. No one was at home except my younger sister and my grandmother. When we heard the sound of gunshots, my grandmother told us to close all windows and hide under the bed and wait for her to come back. She wanted to go and see what was going on and if people needed help, which is a typical reaction I witnessed often as I grew up. People stand together and when something happens they all rush to assist in any way possible. My sister and I swept under the bed and tried to close our ears to the sound of bullets that was filling the place. We could hear people shouting, chanting, and cars driving fast and jeep sirens. Then we heard a sound of something crash. It was inside the house. I remember going to check and found that a teargas bomb had broken the bathroom window and entered the house. The house was filled with suffocating gas within seconds. We had already been taught that the most effective way against tear gas is onions. We ran to the kitchen and grabbed some onions and ran back under the bed. I remember how unique the smell was, how I felt my throat was being cut by several knives, how I found it difficult to breath, not to mention the burning in the eyes and the tears. I don’t know how long we stayed there but sometime later my father came to take us back home. As we went down the main street heading to the car, I remember a sight I often saw later in TV reports on war zones.
The main Jerusalem-Hebron street running in front of the refugee camp was foggy, either from the burning tires or the many teargas bombs thrown, and the only thing visible in this foggy scene was the many Israeli soldiers and Israeli military jeeps blocking the road. Bullets were flying everywhere around us and I remember my father holding my hand in one of his and my sister’s hand in the other and urging us to run quicker. I remember looking at his face and seeing the worry and how every time a bullet was shot, he would lower his head, and as the car drove away, I looked from the back window and watched as the war zone, with the fully armed soldiers running like crazy chickens, slowly faded till it wasn’t in sight anymore. On that day a little schoolboy was shot in the back while fleeing the area, a cowardly act by an Israeli soldier. That "war" was between little school kids demonstrating against the atrocities of the occupation armed only with stones and their belief in freedom and Israeli soldiers armed with sophisticated killing machinery.
During the first Intifada, it happened that a Palestinian schoolboy from Dheisheh was killed by a sniper, the next day another school boy was killed and on the third day a schoolgirl. I don’t remember the exact details, but I do remember hearing people saying it was the same sniper who was located with his patrol on the roof of one of the camp houses. People said that he wore a helmet on which was written: born to kill! I don’t know if the sniper was ever questioned about his crimes or ever brought before court, most probably not, but some time later, I was going to my aunt’s house as an Israeli patrol came by and I remember looking at the soldiers as I passed by them and noticing that one of them wore a helmet with born to kill written on it. If it was the same soldier or not, I don’t know, but I know that in that moment I felt cold and thought: this is how Nazi soldiers must have looked like. At home we had a collection of Soviet literature which depicted the Red Army and its fight to liberate Europe from Nazi Germany and often Nazi soldiers were described as being tall, with blond hair and blue eyes, and that Israeli soldier with the "born to kill" on his helmet was living image of these Nazi soldiers.
The culture of killing the most innocent, i.e., children, isn’t new to the Israeli state. On the contrary, they either claim it was a mistake - one that is so often repeated - or that it is the fault of the others, never theirs. It is either the Palestinian factions who, according to the Israeli military, tell children to go to the streets and get killed, as if Palestinian children live in an invisible bubble and aren’t aware or affected by the situation they live in and need to be forced to go and express their anger. Or it is the fault of the parents who send their kids to the streets, as if Palestinian parents anxiously await the birth of their children, take care of them, try to offer them the best possible life in an impossible situation so in the end they can just send them to the street to get killed! Or better still, it is the fault of the children themselves, throwing stones at Israeli soldiers and endangering their lives. The Israelis often talk about incitement and how Palestine children are taught to hate. One of their regular statements used as an excuse for killing children, but as usual it is an empty statement, since a child can never pose a threat to an Israeli soldier equipped with weapons from head to toe. As for the alleged incitement, no one needs to tell children about the brutality of the Israeli occupier, because they witness that first hand in their daily lives on a daily basis. It begins with each morning, if one is lucky enough to wake up and still find the roof in its place and not hit by an Israeli missile. You say your goodbyes to your parents before going to school, looking at their faces and trying to keep these images engraved in your memory because you don’t know if you will see them again. At school, you sit at your desk and wonder if a shell will hit the roof any minute or if a bullet will come flying through the window. At checkpoints you see how people are being humiliated, maybe your father, your uncle, your teacher and try to look away so not to see the humiliation in their eyes and hope that the man or woman arguing with the soldiers would stop soon before the situation escalates and ends up in one of the soldiers shooting someone and later claiming he shot the person in self defense. And again, you are lucky if you make it safe back home without being arrested or killed at one of the checkpoints and hope that you will survive the night.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child states:
Article 2 (2): States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child's parents, legal guardians, or family members.
Article 24: States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health.
Article 28: States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity.
Article 37 (a): No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age.
According to the Defence for children international / Palestine section: between September 28, 2000 and May 3, 2008 962 Palestinian children were killed and 327 are detained in Israeli jails. (http://www.dci-pal.org./english/home.cfm
Between September 28 2000 and July 2006 more than 68 pregnant Palestinian women had to give birth at Israeli checkpoints, leading to 34 miscarriages and the deaths of four women. (http://imemc.org/article/47767
According to Passia: "During the ongoing Intifada Palestinian education has suffered from Israeli practices. Israeli soldiers have occupied, broken into and temporarily closed down hundreds of Palestinian schools. Since Sept. 2000, at least 185 schools have been targeted by Israeli shelling, which left 11 schools completely destroyed. (Palestine Monitor, Intifada Fact Sheet, as of Nov. 2002) http://www.passia.org/