Peace in the Middle East? When Israelis Value a Palestinian Child’s Life, Too

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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 and it is particularly tragic when children are involved. The latest victim is an Israeli 10-month toddler. The response has been to ask the Palestinian residents of one of the Hebron neighborhoods to leave their homes. The rest of the city has been placed under curfew. The Israeli government has justified these measures as the death of the toddler is “unprecedented.”

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 snipers, 90% of injuries occurring above the waist? Thousands have been maimed for life and a third of the more than 400 Palestinian killed have been under the age of 18. Quoting a senior Israeli officer, who wished to remain anonymous, “Nobody can convince me we didn’t needlessly kill dozens of children.” The general Israeli excuse has been to blame Palestinian parents for the deaths of their children, though youth after youth has defiantly stated that their parents don’t even know they’re participating in the Intifada.

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.

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 father 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 latest 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 prisoner were sufficient.

The point here is not to compare degrees of suffering by children on both sides of this calamitous conflict. Children on both sides are suffering so long as peace is not achieved. Rather, it is to demonstrate the opposite morale. For far too long, this conflict has been defined by the Israeli definition of the value of Israeli human life, freedom, and need for security. Palestinians do not define the value of their lives any less, nor do they desire security any less. The argument for freedom? That’s the whole point of the Intifada to begin with. When mutual understanding and empathy are reached, then there will be a chance for a long-lasting peace.

Sherri Muzher is a Freelance writer for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, and Former Executive Director of the Council for Palestinian Restitution and Repatriation.

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