Children Without Childhoods

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Since the uprising against Israeli occupation began in September, many innocent people have died.  The loss of innocent life is always tragic, but it is particularly tragic when children are involved.  The response to the deaths of Israeli children have been more curfews, Rambo-like firings at shacks, and the demolishing of homes.  The Israeli government has justified these measures as necessary. Three-month-old Diya’ Tmeizi, a Palestinian three-month old baby has just been shot — believed to be the youngest person killed in 10 months of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.  Palestinians don’t have the luxury of using an army to send a message.

Does the Israeli government realize that Palestinians also feel this same kind of anger when Palestinian children are murdered or injured by Israeli Defense Force (IDF) snipers or the self-righteous Jewish settlers, who are protected by the IDF?   Despite the obvious need for an observer force, it is Israel that is to be the ultimate decision-maker.  Ironic, given that it is the Israelis that Palestinian civilians want protection from.

Since the Intifada, the Defense for Children International noted that more than 250 Palestinian children were detained during the first three months. As a States Party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which entered into force in Israel on November  2,1991, Israel is bound to uphold the articles.  However, Israel’s record illustrates a patent disregard for its commitments under international law.  Article 37 of the CRC states that “the arrest or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.” The article also asserts that “every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person,” and that “no child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

In contrast, however, Palestinian children arrested, detained, and/or imprisoned by the Israeli occupation authorities routinely face violations of their rights, as provided in the CRC, the UN Convention Against Torture, the Fourth Geneva Convention and other international instruments. Such violations include being subjected to:  torture, both physical and psychological; arbitrary arrests and detention; detention without trial; detention with criminal prisoners; detention with adult prisoners; and detention outside of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Israel’s own B’tselem has just issued a report detailing the torture of Palestinian minors in Israeli jails.  Where has the outrage been, particularly among many in the American Jewry?   In addition to being subjected to violence, Palestinian children are currently unable to go to school due to Israel’s siege.  And since the death of 12-year-old Muhammad Al Durra, who was shot while crouching behind his father, many children now suffer from nightmares along with bed-wetting.  The issue of anxiety has afflicted tens of thousands of Palestinian children even before the Intifada.  An in-depth story showed that there were 50,000 children suffering from anxiety disorders in Gaza alone é directly attributed to the torture of their fathers in Israeli prisons.

Because of the constant closures that prevent Palestinians from going to their jobs in Israel, it is estimated that 25% of children are now the sole breadwinners in Palestinian households.  The consequences are far less severe when a Palestinian child is caught sneaking past the checkpoints to sell small items, like pencils.

And what punishment does the Israeli criminal justice system feel Israeli killers of Palestinian children deserve?  Throughout this Israeli occupation, Israeli settlers have beaten to death several Palestinian children.  Their punishment is often a mere slap on the wrist.  Consider one of the more recent cases where the Attorney General’s Office asked that an Israeli settler be released after serving only months in a prison.  He kicked a young Palestinian child in the head until he was lifeless.  Despite the evidence and his own confession that he even pressed his shoe against the child’s neck, the prosecutor felt that the months he served in prison were sufficient.

For far too long, the pain and suffering of Palestinian children has been minimized.  The Israeli spinmakers have reduced all of Israel’s violations of children’s rights by depicting Palestinians as teachers of hate.  Palestinian children, like their parents, are not robots.   They have feelings and will react to their oppressive living conditions.  As the great Rabbi Hillel once said, “Don’t do unto others as you wouldn’t want done unto you.”  It’s a shame that more Israelis haven’t taken this golden rule to heart.

Sherri Muzher is a Palestinian-American activist, lawyer, and freelance journalist.

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