GC Fraser: Stolen Youth Revisited
Stolen Youth Revisited: Israel’s War on Palestine’s Children IntensifiesBy Genevieve Cora Fraser
What is the effect of political violence on Palestinian children? What is it like for children to have Israeli soldiers enter one’s home in the dead of night with remote controlled dogs that attack them in their beds? How do children feel when trapped by a three story high wall with armed guard towers which encases their village, town or city, with only one gate in or out and the gate is mostly locked? How do Palestinian children of Hebron remain sane when marauding gangs of Israeli settler children and adults attack them on their way to school? How does a small child react when their father, or uncle or brother is slain before their eyes by Israeli soldiers, and armed tanks roam the streets? How do children feel when their homes are demolished with all their possessions inside to make way for illegal Israeli settlements, or when Israeli attack jets and helicopters invade the skies and strafe their communities with missiles?
These are not rhetorical questions but literal realities that face the children of Palestine. Death or injury is a not a random occurrence but a realistic possibility during a curfew or at a check-point. Israeli jets fly by with regularity in Gaza exploding sound bombs that disrupt sleep and increase the possibility of their mother suffering a miscarriage or father having a massive stroke or heart attack.
Israel complains that Palestinian media feeds Palestinian children anti-Israeli propaganda. No, Israel creates chaos, confiscates farmlands and water supplies, creates a dizzying array of permits and policies that block food and medical supplies and barricade the normal flow of life as a method of fascist control. The Arab media merely reflects this reality. These incidents weave into the fabric of a Palestinian child’s life and lay the foundation for what clearly Israeli policy makers hope will someday result in a broken, submissive society. But instead, what they are creating is an emerging society that has nothing left to lose. And that society’s population is likely to far outstrip that of Israel. Children make up 53 per cent of the Palestinian population.
According to the U.S. State Department's annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2004, (the latest available figures) the Palestinian population in the Occupied Territories stands at over 5.3 million. Israel’s population is 6.8 million, of whom 5.2 million are Jews and 1.3 million Arabs. Most of Israel’s Arab population is also of Palestinian origin, and according to recent reports filtering out of Israel, plans call for the ethnic cleansing of the Arab Israelis occupying their former lands and villages to make way for Jewish settlements.
Arab Israelis lost control of their land and property when fledgling Israel created the racist Absentee Property Laws in 1948 and the early 1950s, declaring Arab Palestinians living in Israel “absent” from the land they owned and occupied. This land grab was and continues to be a highly illegal maneuver. Compensation was demanded by UN resolutions and international law yet, unlike Jewish victims of the holocaust, this recompense has not been paid. Today the Arab Israeli indigenous people living in so-called unmarked villages are denied water and electricity by the Israeli government while Jews moving to the area are immediately supplied with both plus other amenities common to full rights of citizenship. Paranoia about the Arabs within Jewish midst is driving the Israeli agenda for further Arab containment within Israel. How might this affect the sensitivities of the Arab Israeli population, especially their children who might resent attempts to be beaten into submission? Might they too rise someday in rebellion?
Add the 5.3 million in Occupied Palestine to the 1.3 million Palestinian Israelis and you’ve got 6.6 million Palestinians within historic Palestine, a.k.a. Israel and Palestine. However, when factoring the real Palestinian population statistics one must also take into account the millions of Diaspora Palestinians living in exile, whether in despicable refugee camp conditions in nearby countries as well as those living overseas. Unfortunately, not all Palestinians settled in Europe and North America are doing well, many live in a no-man’s-land of exile with no rights guaranteed under international law, except the Right of Return.
What terrifies Israel more than Palestinian suicide bombers is that every Palestinian that exists on the planet has one inalienable right – as do all people – to return to their place of (recent) origin. Not long ago, I read that figure now tops 9 million. And if I know the Palestinians, despite all the horror and hardship wrought by Zionist Israel, each has a longing to go home at a time when lots of folks who one-upon-a-time couldn’t wait to claim their so-called Israeli birthright can’t wait to leave. Bottom line, Palestinians have a sense of belonging that needs no propaganda campaign to instill. They are the people of the Holy Land whether Muslim, Jew or Christian. Many Israelis however are pretenders to the throne, playing a role driven by religious fanaticism not an innate sense of belonging. Poverty and violence are on the rise. Others are lost souls who have been truly oppressed elsewhere and are desperate for a sense of belonging. When I was in Israel, I met several people that met that description, and my heart went out to them. But Israel is quick to promise and often doesn’t deliver, because what they are after is not to secure a safe place for Jews (if they are they’ve failed miserably) but rather warm, Jewish bodies (hey, anyone can convert), to drive out the indigenous population. In terms of nations, the modern state of Israel is less than 6 decades old, highly unstable and constantly in extreme flux. A common need for security is maintained by provoking Palestinian resistance. Racism and its resulting blow-back known as terrorism are the ties that bind.
(There are, of course, Israelis that are at peace with themselves and their surroundings and living elsewhere is beyond their comprehension. I have met many non-racist Israelis who reach out in peace to the Palestinians and if allowed to flourish could become the future mainstay of Israeli coexistence with the Palestinians.)
Recently I found myself thinking back to a Conference on Palestine I attended at the United Nations in 2004 where I heard Adah Kay speak. She is the co-author of “Stolen Youth.” Kay is a Professor at City University, London. Last December, I was on a trip to England to conduct research on a book I’m writing on early colonial New England, and we arranged to meet for lunch at a café in the British Library. Months earlier I had written an article where I quoted Kay as saying, “Israel portrays the children of Palestine as terrorists, faceless stone throwers, but due to Israeli policies, it’s highly complex matrix of control, the health, education and overall well-being of the 1.8 million children of Palestine are at severe risk.”
I suspect she was using statistics that were derived several years earlier when the book was first developed. Based on the 2004 stats and the .53 ratio of children to adults, there are 2,809,000 children living in Occupied Palestine. Add to those stats the millions of children that are victimized in the refugee camps and the disgruntled Arab Israeli children living in a very unequal society and you’ve got one heck of a problem if Israel continues its rabidly anti-Arab (anti-Semite) ways. (The election of Amir Peretz as head of the Labor Party was an aberration and my, my how the non-Arab leadership fled once his victory was apparent.)
During lunch, Adah Kay and I spoke of her Jewish-Zionist upbringing and of her father who was at one time promoted for a leadership position in Israel, which he declined. We also spoke of anti-Semitism and how Israel’s cruelty and oppression is provoking the reaction they most dread. Adah and her husband volunteer as much time as they are able to Palestine, as do several of their other friends within the London Jewish community. Kay co-authored “Stolen Youth,” with Catherine Cook and Adam Hanieh, former staff and volunteers with Defense for Children International/Palestine Section. Published in 2004 by the University of Michigan Press and subtitled, “The Politics of Israel's Detention of Palestinian Children,” “Stolen Youth” is the first book to explore Israel's incarceration of Palestinian children based on first-hand information from international human rights groups and NGO workers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Since the publication of “Stolen Youth,” Kay has given talks where she speaks of the particularly harsh punishment handed out to Palestinian children in violation of Article 3, the Rights of Children. “Through law, politics and economic restrictions Israel governs Palestine with thousands of military orders controlling every aspect of their lives, down to what plants are allowed to be grown,” according to Kay.
The principles espoused in Article 3 first appeared in international law in 1924 as the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child, and were later adopted by the General Assembly on 20 November 1959 and recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1989. Article 3 states that “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.” The article also acknowledges that “the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community.”
“The use of prison is central to the occupation,” Kay said. Underscoring that reality is the fact that Israel has detained more than 600,000 Palestinians from the time when the occupation began in 1967. Since 2000 over three thousand children have been arrested and imprisoned. Under Israeli jurisdiction, Palestinian children have no right to a lawyer nor are they permitted to know what the charges are. “Children of 16 and 17 are treated by the military as adults, contrary to international law,” Professor Kay explained.
“Palestinian children once arrested are subject to torture including severe beatings, exposure to extreme temperatures and forced into extreme positions. They are blindfolded, shackled and put into detention centers in military camps or in settlement outposts where the Israelis force them into signing confessions and attempt to recruit them as collaborators. They are almost always sent on to prison.” Sounds like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo!
According to Kay, once incarcerated, children have no access to formal education which historically has been highly valued in Palestine. However, most problematic are the conditions in Israel prisons which are overcrowded and unsanitary, where medical care is rare. Children are isolated, lonely and abused and endure lasting symptoms. Abuse in prison is systematic and amounts to torture. Many attempt suicide and are subject to disease, Kay reports.
If you read articles on Palestine or have visited as I have, you quickly learn that Palestinian education in general is under attack where every possible means is employed to restrict the movement of children as well as their teachers. Last January, I attended a FFIPP (Faculty for Israeli and Palestinian Peace) conference at Al Quds University in East Jerusalem. We waited for a delegation of students and adults to joins us from the Gaza Strip. Some couldn’t make it because tanks had gotten in their way and they feared they would be killed. Others were detained for many hours at the check point. When they finally arrived and spoke the following day we heard tales of brothers and sisters and other family members shot at by the IDF for no reason in particular, except as a bizarre means of crowd control. All had had family members killed.
As a case in point illustration, the following day, two of the teenagers were arrested by the Israeli police while strolling in Jerusalem’s Old City during the conference lunch break. Despite having all the necessary permits and doing absolutely nothing wrong, these children were thrown in a jeep and brought to police headquarters where they were incarcerated. I was part of a spontaneous delegation that assembled to track them down and fight for their release. What was particularly painful for me, having spent hours chatting with them, was that these jailed students were among the sweetest kids I have ever met. I would personally adopt them in a heartbeat. Yet somehow Israeli society views them as a threat? Why? The reason I keep hearing and reading about and have witnessed is that certain orthodox rabbis and others in power in Israel are offended because they are Arabs, whom they claim usurped the land from them (when they were in Europe over the past 2 thousand years). Of course, these individuals have twisted historic reality to suit their Zionist cause, but that aside, what is expressed is raw, brutish racism and when it inspires violence, it is a blot on the society that promotes and sustains it.
Adah Kay writes and speaks of children and teachers who are stopped at checkpoints and of the mounds of dirt that block roadways. “They are gassed, shot at and injured going to and from school,” she explains. Hundreds of students have been killed or injured on their way to and from school.
“Schools and universities have been broken into, shelled and bulldozed by the military. Because of the constant disruptions there has been a decline in concentration. Absent-mindedness, panic attacks and requests for frequent breaks are on the increase,” she said. Military orders have been used to close down schools and universities. Under these conditions, it is difficult to maintain standards and the arts and physical education have suffered as drop-out rates increase.
Lack of access to safe water also increases health risks for children suffering from malnutrition. Part of the purpose of Israel’s racist, Apartheid Wall is to insure that Palestinian aquifers are kept away from Palestinian control. There is method to the madness of the erratic route of the Wall as it snakes in to grab lands far from the established 1948, or even the 1967 borders. With Israel in control of Palestine’s water, costs have risen by 80 per cent since 2000. “Electricity is cut to clinics so medical supplies, including vaccines, are spoiled and mobile clinics are prevented from reaching their destinations. Palestinians lack access to safe water and must live with open sewers,” Kay has documented.
The over-all health of Palestinian children is also deteriorating with death, injury and disability on the rise. Though previously a middle class society, poverty has significantly increased along with severe malnutrition, she states. Nigel Roberts of the World Bank, recently described conditions within Palestinian as being “on the verge of functional bankruptcy,” with a stunning unemployment rate of over 70% of young Palestinians between the ages of 16 to 25.
But despite the occupation, Palestinians still display a remarkable resiliency and strong coping mechanisms. However, social opportunities are rare for these children and their vision for a future is bleak, Kay maintains.
Today, because Israel manages to control the message, the media gives the impression that since the summer of ’05 when the 7,000 illegal Israeli settlers were removed from the Gaza Strip, somehow the occupation has been eased. But nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, the brutishness of the occupation has intensified as the Apartheid Wall moves toward completion, and Europe and America threaten Palestine with ceasing their promised financial support unless they “turn away from violence.” Talk about blaming the victim! No wonder Palestinian support for Hamas is on the rise. Hamas has not only been steadfast in attempting to resist but have served their communities through charitable works that help sustain the population despite all attempts to strangle it. Let’s face it, in democracies who do we vote for other than those who promise to protect us and provide the foundation for a viable life.
Before we parted, Adah asked me as a Jew speaking to a Christian involved in the issue of Palestine how I kept from becoming anti-Semitic. My answer was simple. “Because of people like you, Adah,” I said. People in the Jewish community who devout their lives to working with the Palestinians and exposing the Truth so that someday, somehow justice will prevail deserve respect. Jews, Christians and Muslims are equally capable of good as well as evil. But when hidden agendas involving extreme wealth and power come into play, we all need to be on guard.
What we didn’t discuss is what I truly believe is at the root of the evil. Securing the Zionist agenda was totally dependant at the turn of the century on British and European and later American support. Simultaneous to its rise the developed nations were switching to an oil-based economy. Geologist had discovered that the largest oil reserves were in the Middle East. The trick was getting the Middle Eastern countries in the pockets of the power elite, that’s where the European Ashkenazi (non-Semite) Jews came in handy – by setting up shop in the region – by claiming Palestine.
The Zionist agenda is one of power, domination and control, and an iron-clad belief in their supremacy – perfect qualifications if you want to rile-up and then clamp down on an indigenous population so that you can divide and conquer. Many Jews openly opposed their agenda; some were killed because of their opposition. At heart it’s a White Makes Right belief system. But within the Jewish Zionist movement (which also has a more benign side united by a sense of victim-hood) there had to be an inner circle so convinced of their entitlement they would stop at nothing. Enter the Stern Gang and other Fighters for Israel who violated what many True Torah and other Jews believe to be the Jewish innate sense of righteousness by practicing terrorism long before the Arabs knew what hit them.
In my opinion, as long as we are oil dependant and supplies are being depleted, the game of musical chairs will continue, the rich will grab the prize and the poor will fall to the side. There will be conflict in Palestine and Israel and throughout the oil rich regions. But once the move is made to renewable energy resources, the need to support Israel will dwindle as fast as the region’s oil. Of course, that’s when they might see fit to rear their ugly Nuclear War Heads, just as America rears its nuclear threat while renouncing any other country that might join the unholy club. But what would be best is if the world threw off the yoke of foolish, racist, elitist oppression and matured so that we can unite in cleaning up the environment and recognize that all the children of the world have an inalienable right to experience the best that life can offer.
As the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “In an ugly and unhappy world the richest man can purchase nothing but ugliness and unhappiness.”