News Analysis

Israel often portrays the children of Palestine as terrorists, as faceless stone throwers. Yet they are much like children anywhere else. However, due to Israel’s highly complex matrix of control and imprisonment, the health, education and overall well-being of the 1.8 million children of Palestine are at severe risk, according to a children’s rights expert.

Adah Kay, co-author of the recently published book, “Stolen Youth,” spoke at the UN Conference on Palestine in New York City in mid-September. “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.

“Through law, politics and economic restrictions Israel governs Palestine with thousands of military orders controlling every aspect of their lives,” Kay explained, adding, “The use of prison is central to the occupation.” Particularly harsh punishment is handed out to Palestinian children, a clear violation of Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Children, she said.

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 says the family, as the natural environment for childrearing, also merits special protection and assistance.

“Since 1967,” Kay said, “Israel has detained more than 600,000 Palestinians. Since the intifada until June 30 of this year, 2,650 children have been arrested and imprisoned.” Under Israeli laws, Palestinian children — who make up 53 percent of the Palestinian population — 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,” Kay reported. “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.”

Conditions in Israel prisons are overcrowded and unsanitary, she said. They lack supplies and medical care. Children are isolated, lonely, and abused. Many attempt suicide. Once incarcerated, children have no access to formal education, which historically has been highly valued in Palestine, according to Kay.

Kay, a professor at London’s City University, described how Palestinian education in general is under attack because of restrictions on movement. “Children and teachers are stopped at checkpoints and mounds of dirt block roadways. They are gassed, shot at and injured going to and from school,” she said. Between 2000 and February 2003, 132 students have been killed 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,” the professor stated.

The overall health of Palestinian children is also deteriorating, with death, injury and disability on the rise. Poverty has significantly increased along with severe malnutrition. In Gaza, malnutrition now equals that in poor sub-Saharan countries. Vitamin A deficiency is on the rise, there is insufficient access to safe water, and immunization rates have dropped from 90 percent to 50 percent due to Israeli sieges, closures and movement restrictions.

Despite the violence that has become a fact of life under Israel’s brutal occupation, Palestinians still display a remarkable resiliency and strong coping mechanisms, she said. However, the children are fearful for themselves and their families, with Gaza and the refugee camps displaying the greatest stress.

With death, disease, and disruptions, including homelessness common, parents are experiencing increased difficulty controlling their children as well as a decreased ability to care for them. Social opportunities are rare for these children and their vision for a future is bleak.

“With the future of Palestine’s children and society at risk, how much longer will the world stand by?” Kay asked.

Genevieve Cora Fraser is an environmental and human rights activist. Excerpted from an article at Reprinted with permission.