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Palestinian Children Bear the Brunt of Mideast Violence

by Patrick McNamara

The United states once again has vetoed a UN resolution calling for an end to Israeli violence against Palestinians and the introduction of international monitors. The veto damages both Israel and the Palestinians. Friends of Israel and Palestine need to act now to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Just as the Hamas-inspired suicide bombings undermine Palestinian moral claims to a national dignity and degrade the moral sensibilities of the few Palestinians that celebrate such atrocities, so too does the violence of the Israeli occupation eat away at the moral fabric of the Israeli national community.

The ongoing effects of the occupation are most severe for Palestinian children. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society and to Defense for Children International, an international children’s advocacy organization, Israeli Defense Forces have killed at least 214 Palestinian children, injured approximately 6,000 and arrested 600 since September of last year when the intifada began.

B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, reports that at least 170 Palestinian children under age 16 are being held in Israeli jails with many of these undergoing systematic use of beatings, sleep deprivation, and isolation.

Last July, a hunger strike was staged by children incarcerated at Tel Monde prison near Tel Aviv. The hunger strike was brutally suppressed with tear gas, beatings, and imposition of solitary confinement. While many Israeli citizens express revulsion at these outrages as emblematic of what the occupation is doing to their own country, American officials responsible for formulating policy options toward the region and for monitoring US aid to Israel/Palestine seem unaware of the invidious effects of the occupation, the daily travails of the Palestinian people, and the dangers posed by occupation-related conflict to democracy in Israel.

Given the overwhelming military superiority of the Israeli Defense Forces relative to the Palestinians and its role as the occupying power, Israel must accept responsibility for the violent logic of this occupation and its consequences for children. Of the 826 Palestinians killed by the Israeli Defense Forces in the current intifada approximately 26 percent were children under age 18.

Almost two-thirds of these children died after being shot with live ammunition; 34 percent died from injuries sustained to the head, while 31 percent were shot in the chest. In 2001 alone, Defense for Children International documented 150 attacks by the Israeli Defense Forces and Israeli settlers on children’s schools; 76 schools were attacked with live ammunition and/or tear gas; 41 schools were shelled by the Israeli military; and four schools were permanently closed and transformed into Israeli military installations.

In addition, the Israeli practice of demolishing the homes of Palestinian protesters suspected of terrorism escalated in 2001 resulting in at least 639 homeless children. The prolonged internal and external closures in the territories have led to severe economic hardship for Palestinian families with many living on only $3 a day. For want of medical supplies and staff, children often die mere kilometers away from fully equipped hospitals in Israel.

The violent logic of occupation requires that as the rebellion grows so does the violent response to it. But every increment in violent suppression leads to a corresponding increase in violent rebellion in a macabre dance of mutually assured destruction.

Yet short of a full-scale Israeli Defense Forces withdrawal and the emplacement of international monitors between the warring parties, we can expect the violence to continue unabated for the foreseeable future. The consequences for both parties will become increasingly tragic with Palestinian children bearing the brunt of a violence no one can any longer control.

Patrick McNamara is a member of the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights.

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