Urgent Appeal to Protect Palestinian Children from the Physical and Psychological Impact of the Israeli
June 1st 2016
On July 31, 2015, Israeli settlers firebombed a house in the Palestinian village of Duma in the West Bank, home to a family of four. As a result of the attack, 18 month-old Ali Dawabsheh was burnt alive. His parents, Riham and Saad Dawabsheh only managed to save their son Ahmad and succumbed to their injuries within weeks of their baby’s death. 4 year-old Ahmad sustained burns over 60% of his body and is the sole survivor of the attack. Almost a year later, he is still in rehabilitation at a specialized facility.
The incident was a deep trauma to the Palestinian national psyche and shed a tragic light on the leniency and complacency of Israeli authorities towards Jewish terrorism and settler violence towards Palestinians. Both Israeli and Palestinian Human Rights groups deplored that 9 firebomb attacks were not prosecuted in the year that led to the Duma arson and that over 90% of complaints filed by Palestinians for settler violence receive no follow up from Israeli authorities. As Palestinians took to the streets to express their shock and anger at the attack and at the permissible environment that allowed it to happen, they were violently repressed by Israeli forces who shot and killed 17 year-old Laith Al Khaldi during a protest near Ramallah.
The Duma tragedy was one more straw breaking the camel’s already crushed back, barely a year after the bombing and killing of 551 children in Gaza and the brutal murder of 16 year-old Mohammad Abu Khdeir who was doused with gasoline and burnt alive by Jewish extremists amidst a campaign of violent anti-Arab incitement coming from high-ranking Israeli officials across the political spectrum including Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu himself. Ironically, in the case of Duma as well as in that of Abu Khdeir, the same Israeli politicians who made a show of condemning the murders are the same who call for blood and repression of Palestinian children all year round. It is in this context of increasing anti-Palestinian incitement on the Israeli side and rising feeling of helplessness in the face of a never-ending brutal occupation that leaves no space for childhood that the recent escalation started and, with it, a spree of extra-judicial killings and even harsher repression of children by Israeli forces.
Out of 1,900 Palestinians detained by Israeli forces in East Jerusalem in 2015, two thirds were minors. By the end of 2015, 422 Palestinian children were detained in Israeli jails in conditions described as “very bad” by rights groups. In February 2016, 12 year-old Dima Al Wawi became the youngest prisoner in Israeli jails, sentenced to four and a half month for allegedly intending to carry out an attack. At no point were her parents or an attorney present during her interrogation. Her family was not able to speak to her at all before or during her trial. According to her brother, she was coerced into signing a confession document in Hebrew, a language she does not understand.
This story is one of many documented cases in which the coerced confessions of Palestinian children are admissible in court and deemed enough to convict. This pattern is in line with Benyamin Netanyahu’s and his government’s recent pledges to crack down on stone-throwing and lower the age of penal responsibility to children under 14 years old. Many Palestinian children locked up in Israeli jails for lengthy sentences for stone-throwing or trumped up charges will have spent what can arguably be considered the most formative years of their lives in Israeli prisons, known for their brutality and cruel treatment. Now the question is: what kind of adults will these children become? Adults to make peace with? Adults who contribute to the development of their community? What kind of adults and partners for peace will the current generation of Palestinian children and adolescents become; these children who will have known their entire lives only the law of occupation and the institutionalized physical and psychological violence that inevitably comes with it? Children who know only that the one with the bigger gun prevails, who are searched and intimidated on their way to kindergarten and to school, who are tear-gassed and harassed inside their schools, detained and interrogated at a whim without a parent or a lawyer present, threatened with harm to themselves or their families if they do not confess to imagined offenses, who are verbally, physically and sexually abused during detention, who witness their older siblings, their parents being manhandled, injured, killed, arrested in the middle of the night... Who, in short, are being deliberately targeted by an occupier intent on stripping them of their childhood and on treating them as adults when they are as young at 12
Then there are the children who are murdered just because, such as 13 year-old Abderrahman Shadi of Bethlehem’s Aida camp. Abderrahman was standing with friends, hundreds of meters away from the scene of clashes, when he was shot dead by an Israeli sniper in early October 2015. Two weeks later, the Israeli military issued a casual statement acknowledging that his killing was “a mistake”... and that was about the extent of it. A child is shot dead “by mistake”, yet the incident did not prompt any public investigation or international calls for accountability. How are Palestinian children to understand that their lives and safety matter and should not be casually thrown away when everybody else seems to think that their blood is cheap and expandable?
Recent months have seen 13 year-old boys and girls reach for knives and set out to hurt people, knowing they were most likely marching to their own deaths. Are these the choices of children who are growing up in a safe, secure and nurturing environment? Are we to believe that Palestinian children carry within themselves a seed of evil that other children in the world do not? Or, as some Israeli high profile figures love to claim, that Palestinian parents are a special race of monsters who heartlessly use their children as cannon fodder? And is it the natural response of a healthy and strong democracy to systematically kill these children without even attempting to talk them down or to apprehend them peacefully? Are we to understand that the country that regularly boasts having the best trained, best equipped and most moral forces in the world cannot handle a child armed with a knife any other way than by shooting them dead? Let’s not forget all the children sniped and killed for no reason... Abderrahman Shadi was one of them, but before him there were Nadeem Nowarah, Mohammad Abu Daher and many others. There have also and will be many more after him if no one speaks up and acts. There is an urgent need for action. An entire generation of Palestinian children are being sacrificed and with them any chance of peace and security in the near future. Besides the moral and legal imperatives tied to the issue, our ability to protect these children from the daily violations of their most basic human rights by an illegal military occupation, will ultimately determine whether or not the cycle of violence that has plagued this tiny territory for far too long breaks or continues.
It is with this strongly-held belief that PMRS has set up to work with Palestinian parents, children, educators and decision-makers to develop strategies that protect Palestinian children from the intergenerational impact of the psychological violence of the occupation. Such strategies include launching a discussion on the imagery used in Palestinian media and public discourse and emphasizing the several different meanings of the concept of resistance.
We cannot do this alone and any results we achieve locally will be limited and short-lived as long as the occupation and its brutal targeting of Palestinian children remains. We therefore call on our international partners to support and to mirror our efforts at home with strong diplomatic action abroad demanding that Israel abide by international law and uphold the fundamental rights of Palestinian