Children are the first victims of occupation
It is a sad reality that Palestinian children have suffered half a century of abuses living under Israeli occupation.
Many Palestinians have experienced traumatic childhoods since Israel defeated the combined Arab armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan in the Six-Day War in 1967 and occupied vast stretches of already shrunken Palestinian territories. Over the decades, those children have grown into adults, carrying atrocious scars throughout their lives, which brings with it immense health implications.
Since before 1967 and before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Palestinian children were exposed to deeply traumatising experiences. Children were forcibly expelled from their ancestral homes along with their families by armed Zionist gangs who would later be formalised as the Israeli Defence Forces. These religious militant groups, such as the Haganah and the Stern Gang, were considered terrorist organisations by the British mandate authorities, though largely for their militant attacks against the British rather than for crimes committed against Palestinians.
Unfortunately, Israeli abuses of children have not dissipated even as Israel realised most of its territorial ambitions. Instead, they have become more pervasive, systematised and deliberately geared towards crippling the hopes and dreams of future generations. Israeli abuses are not going unnoticed by global activists for peace and human rights organisations, as well as increasingly receiving attention from governments around the world.
Representatives of Human Rights Watch, Defence for Children International and other human rights organisations gave a briefing in Washington on June 11 to highlight the plight of Palestinian children under Israeli occupation. Speaking to staff members from congressional offices, Defence for Children International’s Brad Parker said: “Another generation of Palestinian children are growing up under the shadow of military detention, repeated military offensives and systemic discrimination.”
Parker’s comments come on the heels of British parliamentary efforts to highlight Israeli abuses against Palestinian children. In 2010, parliament debated Israeli violations, which was followed up by a Foreign and Commonwealth Office-funded investigation by nine British lawyers led by former attorney general Baroness Patricia Scotland in 2012.
The results of that report, “Children in Military Custody,” found that Israel’s treatment of child detainees was a breach of Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, as well as a breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The report’s findings and other efforts to highlight children’s rights in the Palestinian territories led to the House of Commons and the House of Lords debating the issue of Israeli violations of children’s rights twice in 2016.
Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham, highlighted several disturbing issues that British officials had raised with their Israeli counterparts to act on the 2012 report. Palestinian children were restrained using “painful” plastic ties and were arrested by Israeli authorities in what she described as “terrifying” night raids. There were also increased incidences from 2013 of children being beaten by Israeli security personnel.
This is all primarily a result of Israel’s use of dual legal systems in the occupied Palestinian territories, under which Israeli settlers are not subjected to military law as Palestinians are but are prosecuted under Israeli civil law. Palestinian children often do not have access to legal representation or even to their parents during interrogations and often sign confessions written in Hebrew, a language many of them do not understand.
Conservative MP Bob Stewart said last year: “If you are an Israeli child, you are treated better than a Palestinian [child]… This must stop. If it does not, people like me who actually are big supporters of Israel will lose the urge to be supporters.”
Considering the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories has not ended and that Palestinian children remain the primary victims of such brutality and oppression, it is time lawmakers around the world call for an end to Israel’s abuse of children whose only crime is to be born Palestinian.