Life has become increasingly more violent for children in the Palestinian Territory. During the Israeli genocidal Operation Cast Lead, we were shocked by image after image of the bloody, unwarranted deaths of humans, including 313 innocent children, by every possibility unimaginable; we witnessed their dog-eaten remains. We saw children, their parents, full extended families being torn apart literally whilst living in a hell few of us can even begin to comprehend.
If the children were not traumatized due to previous horrors in their young lives, this massacre increased their problems a thousandfold. My posts have been filled with all too many images of these damaged children, injured from bombings, loss, terror and depression, to mutilation. They may smile or look brave, and they are, but their haunted eyes tell other stories, things no human, let alone a child, should ever see.
Their homes left in ruins, these Palestinian boys throw rocks at an Israel army vehicle during an army operation in the refugee camp Al-Faraah, outside the West Bank City of Jenin. Here in the West we see these images, but not the source of events to provoke such desperate anger! These are not yet terrorists but frightened young men who know no other way.
Last year, after murdering 3 children, the Israeli army said it "wishes to express sorrow" for the "use of children in terror attacks," implying that the children had been sent by terrorists to commit some unmentionable act. The IDF unfailingly blames Hamas for these assassinations. But in this "war" soldiers were sent out with orders to kill the Ameluks, so kill they did. These are well trained sharpshooters. Hitting a child in the head from a distance is no accident.
According to UNICEF, "Children have the right to be protected from being hurt and mistreated, physically or mentally. Governments should ensure that children are properly cared for and protect them from violence, abuse and neglect by their parents, or anyone else who looks after them."
knows the Israelis. They are his enemy
But it is difficult to protect children when they are killed in their own homes, or in their own fields watching the family goats. How does one protect children when, as the family sits quietly on their terrace sipping tea, shells fall out of the blue without a sound? How does one protect children when they are sleeping together in the wee hours, and they are massacred by bombs?
In December 2008, the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that 18 months of siege caused a 50% rise in unemployment, especially for women with only 11.5% of them employed in 2007, one of the world's lowest rates. One in 3 Palestinian males aged 15-19 is an unskilled worker. Unemployment is a severe problem for young Palestinian men; 20% of 15-19-year-olds cannot find paid work.
60% of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are under 19 years old.
“We have no potatoes, no tomatoes, nothing. Only onions. This morning, al hamdulillah, we ate rice and beans,” he said. Refugees, the family receives the UNRWA aid package every few months, consisting of three 2.5 kilos packets of flour, 8 L of cooking oil, 4 kilos of rice, 4 kilos of sugar and five 800g cartons of powdered milk. These are the basics, which must tide his family of 8 over a quarter of a year, and to which he must add proteins and produce which are beyond his means.
The family's diet is heavy in bread, rice and vegetable oil. Earlier this month, a leaked report from the International Committee of the Red Cross found that this kind of diet ~ carbohydrate-rich, but lacking in vitamins ~ was causing malnutrition among Gaza's children.
while world leaders
collude with Israeli crimes.
According to UNICEF, “Conditions have rarely been worse for Palestinian children.” Chronic malnutrition is rampant. One in 10 Palestinian children now suffer from stunted growth due to compromised health, poor diet and nutrition and 50% of Palestinian children are anemic, and 75% of those under 5 suffer from vitamin A deficiency.
According to various human rights organizations on the ground, Gaza's farmland and greenhouses were extensively bombed. The result is a devastating impact on the population to produce enough food for sustenance or trade.
The 2008 Palestinian Olive Harvest has been met with intense violence from the settlers making it one of the bloodiest autumns in recent memory. The farmer could arrive to find stripped trees, or be beaten, or killed, he never knows what to expect than that he cannot rely on protection from the military.
Settlers threatening Palestinians harvesting their olives. Lately they have just burning the groves instead of tearing down the trees.
The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics estimated that Operation Cast Lead damaged around 80% of agricultural land and crops. Also, sewage spills and toxic munitions contaminated vast areas of arable land. This writer is quite sure that starvation and reliance upon the Israeli state were the goal of these attacks.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), ”Almost all of Gaza’s 13,000 families who depend on farming, herding and fishing have suffered damage to their assets during the recent conflict and many farms have been completely destroyed. People in Gaza are now facing an acute shortage of nutritious, locally-produced and affordable food. Meat and animal protein is generally unavailable.”
Several years ago this young man lost his legs picking olives in the family grove.
He stumbled into a nest of cluster bombs. Along with poisons, these deadly bombs were lavishly dropped into food growing areas of Palestine.
Meanwhile, the Israeli pirates, er, IOF, continue to harass, steal, murder, kidnap the Fishers of Galilee preventing needed protein and profit from reaching the people of Gaza.
Extensive destruction disrupted commercial enterprises and public infrastructure, including Gaza's largest flour mill and food processing plants. These are grave international law violations, exacerbated by Gaza remaining under siege. A nutritional crisis and starvation affect a sizable per cent of the population and little is done for relief.
UNICEF claims that roadblocks, barriers, checkpoints and soldiers are impeding health workers and patients, including child patients, from accessing health centers across the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Delivery of medication and equipment are also severely affected.
As a result of these blocked border crossings, little of anything gets in or out. Severe shortages of everything afflict the Territory and people.
Up to 67% of families are living in poverty across the West Bank. In Gaza poverty rates have spiraled to 85% this year, severely affecting every aspect of children’s lives.
Gazans are trapped and gravely vulnerable to deteriorating physical and mental health as well as outbreaks of highly infectious diseases such as measles, polio, and hepatitis ~ exacerbated by Operation Cast Lead's destruction of vast infrastructure, including medical personnel and facilities.
16 medical workers were killed and another 25 injured.
15 hospitals, 43 primary health centers and 29 ambulances were targeted and destroyed.
Only 44 of 56 primary health care centers still operate.
As a result, basic facilities are inadequate for public needs, and the WHO estimates that 40% of chronically ill patients have no health care centers available for help. Nor is it available abroad as border crossings remain closed with entries and exits blocked.
According to patients, the only way they are allowed through is if they sign a document promising to spy for Israel. This leaves babies and children untended to as well as adults who refuse, knowing full well they will be avenged upon by Hamas should they sign.
The Palestinian Health Ministry has appealed to Egyptian authorities to open the Rafah border crossing for the movement of patients seeking treatment abroad but Egypt keeps the blockade in place.
Rising poverty and unemployment is affecting school attendance across Palestine. In the 2005/6 school year the number of students whose families could not afford the NIS 50 ($11) school fee doubled from 29,000 to 56,000.
Increasing numbers of Palestinian children are now working to support their families instead of attending school. Palestinian children under the age of 14 can cross Israeli checkpoints without permits, and at least one thousand Palestinian children now cross into Israel every day, to work in garbage tips salvaging glass and metal.
More than half of the Palestinian children who work in Israel, or Palestine, do not attend school at all.
Though Palestine is often cited as the most educated society in the Arab world, it is a very misleading notion. In order to achieve the level of education that they have, incredible obstacles to their learning and access to learning have to be overcome on a daily basis.
The occupation, which affects virtually every area of life in Palestine, has not made the education of children any easier. Stories abound through-out the West Bank of children being hampered or harassed on their way to school by either the Israeli army or settlers.
Settlers throw stones at children from the village of a-Tuba in the southern Hebron Hills. Filmed by Muhammad Jundiyeh, 15, camera distribution project,11 August 2007.
The schoolhouses themselves, meant to be sanctuaries where children can feel safe, have often been the site of Israeli incursions or clashes between the army and militants.
Even before the conflict, conditions were grossly inadequate with the Territory under siege. The overcrowding caused restricted school hours to accommodate morning and afternoon shifts for 450,000 students.
200,000 refugee camp children at UN schools were especially impacted. During Lead Cast, these schools were targeted by the IDF.
According to UNICEF, power shortages meant no heat or electricity for classrooms, and the blockade caused shortages of everything, including books, paper, pencils, chalk, and other essential materials and teaching aids. Classes requiring much fuel, the sciences, for example, had to be terminated until times are better.
As a result, enrollment rates dropped, effective teaching was impaired, and student performance suffered hugely ~ with failure rates of 80% in grades four to nine and for mathematics up to 90%.
The siege and recent conflict severely impaired education ~ within and outside Gaza. School facilities suffered extensive damage and destruction, and minimal repairs only are possible as long as Israel blocks construction materials from entering.Since the Ministry of Education is run by the governing body, Hamas, these supplies are not to help a terrorist organization. Sweden was denied the ability to come in and rebuild schools after the attacks by both Israel and the US.
During Operation Cast Lead, UN schools were hit. So was the American International School near Beit Lahiya and the Islamic University's science and engineering labs, Gaza's oldest and largest higher education facility, affecting over 20,000 students.
During the three-week Operation Cast Lead period, schools at all levels shut down, causing 540,000 students to miss nearly a month of classes. Then for many, there was no school to return to.
after an Israeli air strike in Gaza January 8, 2009.
In spite of these and many more challenges, Palestine has many impressive statistics to show the world in terms of its education.
According to a 2006 study by UNESCO, male and female youth aged 15-24 have a 99% literacy rate. Meanwhile, the gross primary school enrollment for male and female youth sat at 89% and 88% respectively.
CHILDREN IN CONFLICT
A Palestinian girl, who fled her house with her family during Israel's offensive, looks out of a window at a U.N. school in Jabalya in the northern Gaza Strip January 7, 2009. Later that day, the Israelis attacked this building destroying it with white phosphorus bombs and killing at least 46 people.
The conflict between Israel and Palestine has disproportionately affected children, who often find themselves directly in the line of fire in a war where neither side can seem to draw the line between civilian and combatant.
According to Defense of Children International (DCI), whose field workers document each case of child death or injury, a total of 974 Palestinian children were killed in the seven years from the onset of the second Intifada to the opening of of the Annapolis Peace Conference.
The vast majority of these deaths came as a result of Israeli air and ground assaults into Palestinian Territory. The second most common cause of death is cited as ‘random Israeli gunfire’. The latter could more accurately be described as members of the IDF taking random shots at anything moving, from goatherds to young boys playing soccer or tag.
Some of these children survive, but rarely does life ever return to the "normal"
Since the talks began at the end of 2007 until September of 2008, the firing has not stopped. As a result, 79 more Palestinian children have been killed, and a further 370 injured.
CHILDREN IN ISRAELI PRISONS
Contrary to international norms and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Israel is a signatory, children under the age of 16 in the oPT can be arrested, tried and treated in the same manner as adults.
Israeli boy protesting his arrest for perhaps throwing rocks against an armoured tank. He may not see his family for quite some time and most likely faces barbaric torture within hours at most.
Israel has often chosen to sidestep both its own regulations, and those of the UN Convention by charging and sentencing children as young as twelve years old. Never mind that the world definition of legal adult age is 18 years old, like everything else, Israel makes it's own rules to suit it's purpose of ethnic cleansing.
As explained by a member of the IDF, "Twelve and up is allowed. He's not a child any more, he's already after his bar mitzvah."
This boy is 15. That week the IOF took 10 boys from his area to jail in Israel. If he is treated like other boys his age, he faces stressed positions, standing naked in the cold rains, rape and sexual humiliation, as well as sleep deprivation and whatever else they can use to have him sign responsibility for things he never did.
Before 12, children can be sentenced for offenses for a period of up to 6 months. After the age of 14, Palestinian children are tried as adults. There are no juvenile courts, and children are often detained in centers together with adults.
A soldier pointed his rifle at me. The rifle barrel was a few centimetres away from my face. I was so terrified that I started to shiver. He made fun of me and said: ‘shivering? Tell me where the pistol is before I shoot you.' ~ Ezzat, 10 years old
Disturbingly, the report finds that these illegally obtained confessions are routinely used as evidence in the military courts to convict around 700 Palestinian children every year. And the most common charge against these children is for throwing stones. Once sentenced, the children who gave these testimonies were mostly imprisoned inside Israel in breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention where they receive few family visits, and little or no education.
The report concludes that this widespread and systematic abuse is occurring within a general culture of impunity where in 600 complaints made against Israeli Security Agency interrogators for alleged ill-treatment and torture, not a single criminal investigation was ever conducted.
Another terrified boy trying to escape the prospect of time in jail working as an unpaid slave for Israel. Slaves are fed twice a day, 6 am and 11 pm. The hours in between are devoted to working only.
This practices is illegal according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which states that “every child deprived of liberty shall be separated from adults unless it is considered in the child’s best interest not to do so”.
Palestinian children in Israeli Telmond Prison are being exploited by "forced labor in which they must work eight hours for a few shekels," as reported by the Prisoners Information Center. The child laborers are given two meals per 24 hours, one at 11:00 pm and another at 6:00 am.
The ongoing occupation of Palestine, and the humanitarian crisis which it entails, is an endless source of trauma in Palestine, especially among the young who lack the understanding and coping skills of adults. Furthermore, those adults who are mentally ill or affected by the occupation bring their traumas home where their wives and families bear the brunt.
According to Dr. Eyad El Sarraj, ‘the psychological effects of violence on children are severe and traumatizing. While many injured children have acquired a permanent physical disability, many more have developed psychological impairments.
The prevalence of neurotic symptoms and behavioural problems among children, such as disobedience or irritability, is high. According to recent research in the Gaza Strip, some 32.7% of children suffer severe levels of post-traumatic stress disorder, 49% moderate levels, and 16% low levels’.
When I first saw this image I was shocked. Then, I realized that these children, victims of war know nothing else. There is no excuse, but they have never seen or known any form of peace and are merely aping what they have seen and possibly experienced.
According to World Health Organization’s Ra-jiah Abu Swai, ‘children are more vulnerable to mental illness. It is particularly important for children to be able to grow up in a situation in which they can feel secure and in which they do not experience fear.
It is essential that they can sense that their parents are protecting them. When the Second Intifada started in 2001, there were many incursions, shellings and bombings into the West bank and in Gaza.’ These things never really stopped. Homes have continued to be razed, families displaced, people shot daily for one excuse or another.
THE MOTHERS OF THESE CHILDREN
20% of Palestinian females marry between the ages of 15-19. More than 1 in 10 subsequently divorce.
"With children, there were more recorded instances of violence in schools as well as aggression, nightmares and bed wetting at home. This is normal, because when a child sees that his parents are as scared as he is and are unable to control or stop a negative situation, he will become even more frightened or anxious’.
Regarding the mothers of these children, HRC called the "scale of civilian deaths, injuries and destruction during Operation Cast Lead unprecedented by all accounts," including its affect on women. 116 mothers were killed and another 800 injured.
Not only has this child lost her Father, but her mother has lost her support, her anchor, her partner, and the lives of yet another family has been complicated immeasurably.
Women suffered critical injuries from bombings, artillery shells, rockets, live ammunition, willful targeting at chose range, being shot in their homes, and from use of illegal weapons like white phosphorous and flechettes.
Some injuries caused maiming and amputations, and for 40,000 pregnant women endangerment to their unborn and numerous cases of premature labor and delivery because of trauma from continuous bombing and shelling.
A strong Palestinian mother, proud and loving. May she remain so.
Also, a UNFPA finding showed a 40% rise in miscarriages, a 50% increase in neonatal deaths, and a sharp increase in premature births.
In February 2009, a UNFPA survey highlighted the psychological impact on women. Women were found to be suffering from extreme fear and insecurity. They were plagued by depression and sadness. They also suffered from overall debilitation that made them feel unfit as mothers and caregivers.
Three generations of women mourn the loss of two of their men, son, husband, father, in an attack at the nearby mosque where they were praying.
These women also suffer from feelings of vulnerability to violence, deprivation, and depravation in a "precarious and traumatic environment."
THE LOST CHILDREN OF PALESTINE
The Palestinian demographic is weighted heavily toward the youth, in which the majority of the population is under the age of eighteen. In the Gaza Strip, it is estimated that the median age is nearly 15 years old.
This generation and those preceding have known nothing but military occupation and war. They are often called the ‘lost generation’ as they have been robbed of the tools and structures by which to develop a normal life.
A young man of Hebron has seen one tragedy too many and throws a Molotov cocktail at a group of occupation Israeli who were harassing and preventing farmers from accessing their crops.
In a reality where the adults are struggling to survive in daily violence and aggression, the emotion and outlook of young Palestinians is built upon anger, loss and trauma. All Palestinian children can tell you about their relationship to the occupation and the horrors they have witnessed at such a young and vulnerable age ~ from death to injury to daily humiliation.
This is not about safety; it is about breaking a young spirit through humiliation and attempting to instill within him feelings of helplessness and subservience.
Many children, far more than in other countries, suffer from acute psychological, emotional and social problems which exhibit themselves in a variety of ways.
It is commonly said that ‘the children are our future.' This brutal conflict must be ended so that they will have the opportunity to live and develop in the peaceful secure environment our own children are privileged to enjoy.
We have failed the Palestinians in providing this environment, and how the standard of living for Palestinian children has declined along the same trajectories as the Palestinian economy. This is unacceptable according to every national and international law, standard or moral code. Moreover, it makes peace that much harder to reach between the two peoples.
The children of the ‘lost generation’ have, more often than not, never met an Israeli who was unarmed, unafraid, and not dealing with them from a position of power. To them, the guard at the checkpoint represents all Israelis; and within this they have found something to fear and hate.
Young men expressing what lies deepest within their heart;
along with hatred and anger at so many opportunities lost.
Soon this ‘lost generation’ will arrive to their adulthood knowing only occupation, and nothing whatsoever of peace. It is them with whom peace will have to be struck, and it is their accumulated anger and trauma which will sit on the opposite side of the negotiating table.
To those who say that there have been no real ‘partner for peace’ before on the Palestinian side...wait until you meet the ones with no hope at all.
This child and her sister are sole survivors of a large family; they were orphaned days before. What is her future? Does she HAVE a future? She is but one of many who have lost everything, living on her own out scrounging for her livelihood.