Palestinian children have been caught up in the crisis that erupted five months ago, in which they are not merely bystanders, but targets. On 2 March 2001, Israeli occupation forces shot dead a nine-year-old boy in the West Bank town of El-Bireh after opening fire on a group of children playing with cap guns beneath his family’s apartment.
Ubey Darraj was dead on arrival in hospital after being hit in the chest by a bullet from a heavy caliber machine-gun. Shortly afterwards, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy, Mohammed Mahmoud Hellis, shot on February 27, had died. He had been hit in the head with a live round while walking home from school near the Karni crossing point in the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli notion that Palestinian parents send their children to die is the reincarnation of a well-known scapegoat strategy known as blaming the victim. In 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. Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated after her visit to the region that the Israeli claim that Palestinian parents encourage their children to participate in clashes, is “disgustingly rejected.”
Israel’s shoot-to-kill policy is an illusion of restraint. What restraint did Israel show to stop a settler from spraying 18 month-old Sara’s father’s car with bullets and killing her? What restraint did the Israeli soldier who was posted in a watchtower at Rachel’s Tomb to prevent his finger from touching the trigger of his M16 shooting 14-year old Mo’ayyad Osaama al-Jowareesh at close range in the head with a rubber coated steel bullet, as Mo’ayyad walked beneath the tower on his way to school?
Israel violates every right of a child – the right to life, the right to be with family and community, the right to health, the right to the development of the personality and the right to be nurtured and protected.
While the entire civilian population has suffered as a result of the Israeli attack, the affects on Palestinian children are most severe. As of 5 December, a total of 85 Palestinian children had been killed since 28 September 2000, with an additional 5 declared clinically dead. Over 2,500 have been injured. Moreover, thousands of Palestinian children have been traumatized as a result of the daily exposure to violence and repeated attacks by Israeli military forces on Palestinian residential areas. Among Israel’s harshest tactics has been the detention of minors, with more than 250 children detained during the three months since the beginning of the Intifada.
Palestinian children are virtual prisoners in their homes, due to Israeli imposed curfews and closures. Over 30 Palestinian schools have been closed, and three have been transformed into Israeli military installations, effectively depriving Palestinian children of their right to education. Approximately 13,000 Palestinian students and 500 teachers are unable to reach school because of the closure imposed on Palestinian areas.
Most severe are the ways in which Palestinian children respond to the stress of the current crisis. While the immediate violence may end, the negative impact of the recent events will have lasting effects on Palestinian children. Traumatic experiences affect the child’s life in every sphere, often causing great difficulty in their ability to concentrate at school, to relate to their peers, to find employment, and to develop normally.
Palestinian children who suffer from stress display a wide range of symptoms, including increased separation anxiety and developmental delays, sleep disturbances and nightmares, lack of appetite, withdrawn behavior, lack of interest in play, and, in younger children, learning difficulties. In older children and adolescents, responses to stress can include anxious or aggressive behavior and depression.
The loss of parents and other close family members leaves a life-long impression and can dramatically alter life pathways. The extreme and prolonged circumstances of the Israeli occupation and its inherent human rights violations interfere with identity development. In addition to the suffering they undergo as a result of their own difficult experiences, Palestinian children of all ages also take cues from their adult care-givers. Seeing their parents or other important adults in their lives as vulnerable can severely undermine children’s confidence and add to their sense of fear.
These statistics are shocking enough, but more chilling is the conclusion to be drawn from them: more and more of the world is being sucked into a desolate moral vacuum. This is a space devoid of the most basic human values; a space in which children are slaughtered and maimed; a space in which children are starved and exposed to extreme brutality. Such unregulated terror and violence speak of deliberate victimization. There are few further depths to which humanity can sink.