Children and the cycle of violence

On October 17, just after the Sharm e-Sheikh Summit, Olara Ottunu, special representative of the Secretary- General for Children in Armed Conflict, stated that “a tragic cycle of violence has marked generations of young people in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel. Ultimately, only a political solution can break the cycle. For the sake of these children, I urge the political leaders to return to the path of negotiations leading to a political settlement.”
Every day we seem to slide further and further from such a political settlement, the positions become more polarized and the “terms of engagement” seem to get tougher. As a result, the number of minors killed, wounded, and traumatized will rise dramatically.

Are both sides trying to diminish child casualties?

In this respect, the Nablus municipality needs to be mentioned. All citizens of Nablus received with their electricity bill a “general guidelines to parents on how to deal with their children during crisis.” The guidelines try to help the parents in dealing with psychological pressures. And they advise parents to “try to keep the child away from the environment or place that will cause continuous fear and anxiety and bring him or her to a safer place.”
In Israel, a black-and-white picture has been created of Palestinian adults sending their children, as infantry, to the battlefield to become martyrs. As far back as 1989 the late Ze’ev Falk, a Jerusalem law professor, accused Palestinians, in The Jerusalem Post, of sending their children to a certain death against Israeli troops, as if it were a children’s crusade.

COMPARED WITH 11 years ago, the present conflict is “child’s play.” Palestinians feel that it is “now or never” and the 11 years since the last intifada of humiliation and occupation has, despite the Oslo agreements, bottled up enormous anger. And now the anger has been unleashed.

Justice Minister Yossi Beilin said on TV that “we have to put back the cork in the bottle.” The need for violence will disappear only if young Palestinians feel that they will not have to live under occupation for the rest of their lives and that justice will be served.

In a way, the new uprising by the Palestinians can be seen as an uprising by the new generation (children of the stone-throwers of 1988) against the Palestinian leadership, who almost signed a deal that would have been rejected by the next generation.

Palestinian adults are making more efforts to keep the young away from trouble spots. Israeli human rights organization B’tselem recently asked PA Minister of Information Yasser Abed Rabbo about the policy of letting young people participate in the riots. He reportedly replied that the “coordination committee of the political parties decided not to let young people under 16 participate,” and he wrote that the Palestinian Authority opened a campaign in schools to convince those young people not to participate.

On the Israeli side, many children live in fear. Gilo, for instance, came under Tanzim fire on November 12 at a time when school was finishing. Many parents are avoiding taking their children to shopping malls or on public transport out of fear of suicide bombers.

A new Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states in Article 1 that “States’ parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of 18 do not take a direct part in hostilities.”

Israel (party to the convention but not yet to the optional protocol) has 17-year-old volunteers in the IDF.
When a DCI-Israel (Defense for Children International) delegation met with the military judge advocate-general we were told that 17- year-olds not only undergo training, but also participate in armed conflict. “Once you are in, the commanders cannot ask for the identity card of soldiers before an action,” we were told.

An even more important point for lobby seems to be to convince the IDF generals not to use lethal force on unarmed young demonstrators. Even in Israel proper (Nazareth, Umm el-Fahm, etc.), where no weapons were used in the clashes, gunfire was used as “riot control.” On November 14, the Knesset Status of Children Committee questioned the police about their rules.

It seems that in clashes in the vicinity of Nazareth, live bullets were often used almost immediately. A country that can develop the Arrow-2 rocket should also have invested in other ways of riot control.
The members of the commission of inquiry to be appointed by Supreme Court President Aharon Barak should also take a look at the attitude of the authorities that found shooting Arab adolescents the best mechanism to get the population under control.

In Israel proper many families now fear the night: Arab minors are arrested by policemen with guns, who forcefully enter their homes – a method which seems more fit for intimidation than for arresting juveniles.
This method can only sow more hatred and throw oil on the fire.

Jerusalem Post – Jerusalem
Date: Nov 19, 2000

The writer is the director of research and development of the Israeli section of Defense for Children International (DCI-Israel).

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