A Precedent?

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A recent item in one of the Jordan daily papers stated that three members of the Cohen family, from the Israeli settlement of Kfar Darom in the Palestinian Gaza Strip had instituted legal proceedings in an Israeli court in west Jerusalem against the Palestine National Authority (PNA), and specifically Chairman Yaser Arafat and Muhammad Dahlan, Head of the Palestinian Security Forces. The Cohens are suing the PNA for the sum of $ 250 million as compensation for injuries suffered by three persons, including two children, when a settler bus was bombed three months ago.

It is deplorable and a great sadness when innocent children are caused injury and suffering. Children and women are particularly vulnerable in situations of hostility; they suffer not only physical pain but also mental and psychological anguish. As a mother I have deep compassion for the Israeli settler children and their parents. I, also, have deep compassion for the hundreds of Palestinian children who have died or been crippled, maimed, paralyzed, and blinded by Israeli Army and settler bullets and shells. To whom are the Palestinian parents to appeal for compensation? To the occupying power? To an Israeli court? Recently, the Jerusalem District Court judge, Ruth Orr, handed down a sentence of 6 months community service to the settler Nahum Kurman for beating to death Hilmi Shousheh, a 10 year-old Palestinian boy. In another Army disciplinary case, a trigger-happy Israeli soldier was sentenced to 49 days in jail for shooting to death 14-year-old Issa Ibrahim al Amur, who was walking by quietly with nary a stone in his hand. Many such criminal cases are not even investigated by the Israeli Army or Government.

Of the 399 Palestinians killed by Israeli army or settler fire since the beginning of the Intifada in September, 59 were children below the age of 15. Many of these children were not involved in stone-throwing or in a confrontational situation with Israeli soldiers or settlers. 13-year-old Muayyad from Aida Refugee Camp near Bethlehem was shot in the head by Israeli soldiers while on his way home from school; Obai Darraj was shot and killed as he watched his father paint the walls of his brother’s bedroom in their new home in Al Bireh; 8-year old Hiyam lost her eye to an Israeli bullet while walking with her mother to a friend’s house on a quiet street in Gaza; in Rafah a 12-year old boy was shot in the head by an Israeli sniper while playing; Muhammad Durra was sheltering behind his father when Israeli bullets rained down on him. These are but a few cases. There are many more Muhammad Durras, children, whose tragic fate was not caught on camera.

In addition to the 399 killed, 12,000 Palestinians have been injured. Dr. Robert Kirschner of the Physicians for Human Rights estimates that “probably several thousand young Palestinian men will end up with permanent disabilities”. Many of these are children.

Obviously, there is a great disparity between the number of Palestinian children killed or injured and the handful of Israeli children affected. Yet, whether Israeli or Palestinian, every child is precious; no child more than another. The outrageous Israeli claim that Palestinian parents are deliberately thrusting their children in front of Israeli shells and bullets, in order to score a public relations point, must be seen for what it is: a vile and racist smear to justify Israeli acts of savagery and brutality. For a parent, the loss of a child is one of life’s greatest tragedies; no less tragic is seeing one’s child suffer pain and affliction. Palestinian parents are no different than other parents. One grieves for all the children who have died or been injured, and for their families, whether Palestinian or Israeli.

Yet, as regards the case before the court, a compelling argument can be made for the Israeli plaintiffs to institute legal proceedings, not against the Palestine National Authority (PNA), but against their own government for building illegal settlements on occupied land which has been forcefully expropriated é stolen é from its owners. Moreover, Israeli settlers must accept their own responsibility for exposing their children to risk by choosing to live in these illegal settlements. For they should understand that the settlements are at the root of the whole problem. As former President Jimmy Carter stated: “An underlying reason that éviolence in the Middle East persists is that some Israeli leaders continue to “create facts” by building settlements in occupied territory. Their deliberate placement as islands or fortresses within Palestinian areas makes the settlers vulnerable to attack without massive military protection, frustrates Israelis who seek peace and at the same time prevents any Palestinian government from enjoying effective territorial integrity.” The solution for peace and the cessation of the Palestinian uprising is very simple: Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian lands and the removal of the illegal settlements, thus allowing the Palestinians to build their own viable peaceful state next to the state of Israel.

It will be instructive to see what sentence the Israeli court hands down; what monetary compensation it will demand from the PNA for the injury to the three settlers. This, surely, should set a precedent for calculating the compensation due the thousands of Palestinians killed or injured. In the final analysis, however, no amount of money will compensate for the tragic loss of children’s lives or for a generation of young people physically crippled and psychologically traumatized.

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