The Palestinian poet Shawqi Baghdadi wrote once: “I remember the children as dead angels and injured sparrows. God was sad”. Indeed, sadness rules. Sadness about children denied a future, children denied the right to life, children denied basic rights and freedoms and security. Since late September, more than 97 Palestinian children have been killed and 4,116 wounded.
The circumstances surrounding the deaths of these children range from children, who participated in protests against the Israeli occupation, children who were hit with live ammunition while playing in their backyard or walking to school and children who were denied prompt access to medical care.
The notion that Arafat has sent Palestinian children to die is a clear attempt to avoid Israeli culpability for the deaths of Palestinian children, animosity or suspicion is directed towards the victim, thereby justifying or excusing the original violation the victim suffered.
Palestinian children are not brought to the violence, the violence happens in their backyards. It is difficult, if not impossible, to ensure children’s human rights when guns, tanks, missiles and helicopters are brought on to the occupied territories near their schools and homes. Children are not just getting caught in the crossfire, the numbers show that many have been targeted. Nothing is spared, held sacred or protected.
It is the singular characteristic of armed conflicts that children suffer most. The indirect effects are devastating. Schools and clinics are closed or destroyed. Food supply lines have been broken. Homes are demolished. And always, the heaviest burden is borne by children – children who are separated from their families by killing or imprisonment, who miss their chance to grow normally in body and mind, to be educated and to acquire the skills to find a place in society.
A 1995 UNICEF report concludes that in the Westbank and Gaza all Palestinian children have been exposed to traumatic events related to the conflict. During the course of the first intifada (1988-1994), over 100,000 Palestinians were detained in prison and the vast majority of them tortured. More than 2,000 Palestinians were killed, a third of them children. Ninety percent of children were exposed to tear gas. Fifty-five percent of children witnessed the beatings of their fathers or elder brothers. Forty percent of children were beaten. Nineteen percent of children suffered a host of wide-ranging injuries.
The danger Palestinian children are living through is not only of physical injuries, often resulting in physical handicaps, but of psychological and moral injuries as well. This danger stems from being put frequently in situations which contradict the norms of society these children would have internalized within their family and community structures. Such norms involve the sanctity of life, yet Palestinian children see their parents killed before them. They have learned to define morality, yet these children witness violations of all human rights – humiliation, harassment and total disregard for the process of justice.
Injustices and abuse of force against individuals and populations have caused intergenerational trauma more than one time in the history of the world. Is it not time to learn these lessons for the benefit of our children – the future nations? Without justice – without an effort to ensure that Palestine children’s human rights are respected and honored at all times – there will be no peace, because there can be no real peace without justice.