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Posted: August 03, 2001

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Not going to happen again -- For whom??

by Wahida Valiante

Back in march of 1997 I read with great interest the comments of Mr. Bronfman in the Sunday Star article, "One man's will unlocks the vault," in which he sounds the battle cry, "We are not going to take this crap any more." To emphasize the absurdity of not standing up for one's own life, he recounts a vignette that illustrates the passive nature of Jews during the Second World War; as two are about to be shot, one tells the other not to make trouble. Bronfman then asserts, "...by God, we're not helpless any more and it's not going to happen again."

"It's not going to happen again?"

But it is happening, all over the world. The only difference is that nobody cares. It is happening right now in Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and China. It has already happened in Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda and Lebanon.

Now, however, the majority of victims of such atrocities are not Jews, but Muslim children of the world, for  whom the phrase "it is not going to happen again" obviously does not apply. They are just faceless, nameless "others" who were born to Muslim parents.

In fact, the wartime children whose land was handed over to the Jews in 1948, are once again engaged in resisting a brutal Israeli occupation by throwing stones to reclaim their autonomy, their schools, their human rights, their historic territory, and their freedom. It is doubly ironic that the very people who demand the world own up to its past sins against Jews are the same who now oppress an entire nation, while asking the world to condone their indefensible occupation of Palestinian land. At the same time, Palestinian children continue to be killed and maimed.

It is ironic too, that all those self-appointed pro Israeli intellectuals, journalists, and luminaries try to brainwash us into justifying the occupation, instead of addressing the reality of deprived and dying Palestinian children, its innocent victims. Instead of holding Israel responsible for committing gross violations against their human rights, they condemn a legitimate struggle for self-determination, freedom and democracy; they fault Palestinian children for "putting themselves in harm's way."

Adding insult to such massive injury, these so-called academic defenders of Israel further distort the real circumstances of occupation by filling our national newspapers and magazines with stories blaming the parents for letting such tragedies happen to their children. It reminds me vividly of novelist George Orwell's then-future world of "1984" in which the Newspeak Times proclaimed; "The war was peace, freedom was slavery and ignorance was strength."

Could we not replace Bronfman's Second World War anecdote with a contemporary image in which two Palestinians are watching their homes bulldozed, and one remarks that they should "not make trouble" in Palestine? Those same people who unthinkingly and uncritically support Israeli state policies of destruction and attrition in Palestine are fortunate to live in free, democratic Western countries, not under Israeli occupation.  They need a major reality check. How can they boast of themselves and their countries as bastions of freedom and democracy, yet still praise the eradication of Palestinians? How can anyone forget the toll of this modern-day Holocaust, for which so much Palestinian blood has been spilled?

Hitler almost succeeded in eliminating Jews from Europe because he was able to conduct uncensored propaganda against them, and it was no less despicable then what the likes of Barbara Amiel and her kind are propagating. Editorials and opinion columns abound, demonizing Palestinian children and their parents for taking part in a genuine struggle for liberation and freedom; holding them responsible, in fact, for the violence perpetuated by Israeli occupation. When in recorded human history have the victims of oppression been so blatantly held "responsible" for their own victimization?

The stark reality is that under Israeli occupation, an entire generation of Palestinian children and youth have suffered a litany of horrific, traumatizing events for thirty years. In addition to almost-daily home demolitions, they have witnessed intimidation, humiliation, fear, insecurity, poverty, closures, and the menacing presence of armed settlers. With all their healthy socializing structures destroyed by the Israeli military, these children have never known peace or security, or the freedom to roam the streets and playgrounds. Their parents have not known peace and freedom either and cannot even dream about a safe and productive future for their children, and the children to come after them. Ever since the moribund Oslo peace accord, they have been living in large prison camps. Now, locked up and besieged by an Israeli army that happens to be one of the most powerful in the world, these children are under attack in their own land, in their own homes, and are being subjected to psychological and emotional terror from the air and ground.

They have nowhere to hide, nowhere to run to. As Canadians, we are being "informed" by the mainstream media that these same terrified Palestinian children are responsible for their own injuries and deaths and should not even be there! We are being "informed" so that we can ignore the Holocaust that "is happening again" -- not to Jews, but to the children of Palestine.

During the past century Muslim children have lived, and still are living, through events far beyond the comprehension of normal life experiences. They have been witness to brutal massacres of their parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, grandparents, neighbours and friends; many have watched in terror the rape and murder of their mothers and sisters. They have been subjected to starvation, physical abuse, emotional and psychological suffering; and they make up the largest number of refugees forced to exist in tents, temporary shelters, camps, and bombed-out buildings. Worse still are the conditions of children in Iraq, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Chechnya, many of whom fight for survival under United Nations sanctions and daily bombardments from the sky and the ground. These Muslim children are still waiting for the world -- including Canada -- to declare that "it is not going to happen again."

Among them are those who witnessed the killing of Mohamed Al-Dura, the twelve-year-old Palestinian boy shot in broad daylight by Israeli soldiers as he tried to hide behind his unarmed father. Others are maimed for life and will have to exist without medical treatment or financial help. Israel has turned Palestinian "enclaves" into virtual concentration camps, subjected daily to various forms of collective punishment and economic embargo that will have a far-reaching negative impact on the psychological and physical well-being of the children living there.

It is a well known fact that children exposed to military occupation and armed conflict will, in varying degrees, suffer from psychological, emotional and physical trauma, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), all of which become manifest through negative behaviours, diminished self esteem, constant fearfulness and nightmares, insecurity (abnormal clinging habits), lack of appetite, anxiey, depression, anger, and in some cases, excessive violence. PTSD, according to the American Psychiatric Association, is recognized as a diagnostic category and was first used with reference to American soldiers returning from Vietnam. In modern terminology, this trauma is applied to describe any event outside the range of usual human experience and which overwhelms one's psychological capacity to cope with daily living.

No one really knows how many Palestinian children who are subjected daily to Apache helicopter gunships, tanks, F-16 fighter planes, state-sanctioned assassinations, military sharpshooters, home demolitions, deaths of close family members, harassment by armed settlers, and severe economic deprivation, will continue to re-experience these horrors psychologically throughout their lives.

These are the very children whose Palestinian parents -- according to certain misguided psychologists and self-appointed Middle East "experts" -- love to have their children killed by the Israeli army. One can only cringe at the sick mentality of those who condone such ideas in the opinion pages of our daily newspapers, telling us, the readers, that the victims are to blame! Such thinking says more about the lack of humanity of those who defend the killing and maiming of innocent Palestinian children than of their desperate and grief-stricken parents.

Imagine the psychological and emotional terror experienced by children who grow up knowing that their parents cannot protect them from helicopter gunships and ground missiles. These children have nowhere to hide or run to, because the Israeli army and invading settlers are the ones who determine which child, which family, will be shot; which houses and trees will be bulldozed and uprooted; which street or alleyway will be hit by the sharpshooters. Their basic human rights are being trampled on by deliberate policies of the Israeli government whose obscene actions have denied these innocent children education, safety, health, economic well-being and a normal life.  In fact, Israeli forces are known to have deliberately targeted children in order to break the spirit of the adult Palestinian population.  Children are the future and most precious resource of any nation; to target them has to be the most despicable and cowardly act carried out by any occupying army, citizenry or government. Yet, as we witness the organized, ruthless killing and maiming of these Palestinian children, there is only deafening silence around the world, including from our "humane" Canadian government.  No one dares even to whisper the words "it is not going to happen again"; but if not for the children of Palestine, then for whom should we cry out?

Here at home in Canada, Muslim children are not immune to feelings of helplessness and sadness as they witness the daily carnage and killing of their little brothers and sisters in Islam. These children, like their Muslim parents, suffer from "secondary" Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, scientifically defined as the effect upon those who witness tragic deaths and injuries through reading newspaper stories and seeing gory pictures of death and destruction on television and in the print media. Psychologically, this is analagous to being subjected to second-hand smoke. Just as secondary tobacco smoke can cause full-blown cancer, secondary Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be just as psychologically devastating as the primary form of trauma. As silent witnesses, North American Muslim young people are indirectly being traumatized by the massacres of Lebanese children in Qana, of Palestinian children in the Sabra and Shatila camps, in Kashmir, in Chechnya, Iraq, Afganistan, China; the terrible list goes on.

Compounding the effect of secondary trauma on our Canadian children is the stark reality that the world -- including their own government -- does not care about suffering Muslim children. Instead, our own children are bombarded with articles written by pro Israeli apologists who perpetuate the myth of a global "Islamic threat" and then blame Muslims for their own genocides, violence, and oppression.

But one has to wonder where the world's collective Muslim voices -- more than 1.5 billion of them -- are, when the likes of Mr. Bronfman can proclaim "it will not happen again." No one told that to the Muslim children of the world, or to those who so easily inflict suffering on them. Perhaps the answer lies in a psychological and intellectual paralysis of political will which has resulted in Muslims being ccollectively unable to put into practice what Islam asks of them. Islam demands action from all human beings against oppression, tyranny, and poverty, in order to establish a peaceful and just society. How, therefore, can Muslims sit back and hope for others to do their duty of protecting the life and liberty of the children of this world? Unlike Mr. Bronfman, we Muslims do not have the luxury of simply declaring that "it will not happen again." We are instructed by God, the Almighty Creator, to take responsibility -- not only for ourselves but for all those who are poor, weak, or who live under oppression and injustice. It is our moral duty to struggle (engage in Jihad) against oppression with whatever means are available to us, so that in reality "it does not happen again," not only to Muslim children, but to all children, everywhere. The challenge facing all of us then is how we can finally break the horrible cycle of oppression that still allows "it" -- unimaginable suffering -- to happen again and again to the precious children of this world.

Mrs. Valiante is national vice-chair of the Canadian Islamic Congress. She is a professional family counselor who recently visited Palestine as part of a fact-finding medical team. While there, the team visited refugee camps, health care clinics, hospitals, orphanages, local and international charities and women's refugee centres, and spoke with social workers and local Palestinian families.

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