Week 46: Children’s Rights

This week, as people around the world celebrate Universal Children’s Day on November 20, we are reminded that Palestinian children are denied the human rights and opportunities available to children elsewhere in the world and only a short distance away in the settlements and Israel. Here’s what you need to know and what you can do so that together we can rise up.

Topic: Children’s Rights

The concept of children’s rights was defined globally with the 1989 Conventions on the Rights of the Child (CRC). 196 countries are party to the CRC. The treaty requires governments to act in the best interests of children, respecting their rights related to safety and health, access to education and opportunity, and a stable family life. Israel is, of course, one of those countries that ratified the CRC. Its actions, however, in regard to Palestinian children are often contrary to both the spirit and law of the treaty. For example: 

Violence: The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that at least 961 children were injured at the hands of Israeli forces in 2017. Defense for Children International Palestine argues, “Israeli forces routinely employ the use of excessive force and intentional lethal force in situations not justified by international norms, which in some incidents may amount to extra-judicial or willful killings.” See also Week 14: Child Fatalities.

Military detention: And in “No Way to Treat a Child,” DCIP writes, “Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes between 500 and 700 children in military courts each year. Since 2012, Israel has held an average of 204 Palestinian children in custody each month.” See also Week 16: Administrative Detention and Week 22: Children in Military Courts.

Education: In its report “Palestinian Youth: With a Special Focus on Jerusalem,” PASSIA reports that 36% of East Jerusalem youth fail to complete high school. That is, “13% of Palestinian students in Jerusalem schools drop out … each year, compared to only 1% of students in Israeli schools in West Jerusalem (and 6.4% in Arab schools in Israel proper). The Jerusalem Municipality does little to deter this trend from growing, as 30% of East Jerusalem schools lack any sort of dropout prevention program whatsoever and another 40% have only minimal service.” MA’AN Development Center clearly explains how Palestinian children are denied their educational rights in their own Kumi Now entry, outlining how the occupation has jeopardized access to education, and how the denial of building permits is used as a weapon against the education of Palestinian children. See also Week 36: Education Policy and Funding.

Employment: When it comes to employment, PASSIA reports that unemployment is incredibly high among Palestinian youth, especially among 20-24 year olds, with a 41% unemployment rate. PASSIA attributes this high unemployment rate to movement and employment restrictions, political hostilities, language difficulties, and other factors. Of great concern is the despair that the job market produces, with 86% of Palestinian youth feeling there are insufficient opportunities for growth. 

Cultural identity: Finally, PASSIA argues, “Since 1967, Israel has employed a network of oppressive measures to undermine, if not eliminate, the (collective) identity of Palestinians, particularly in Jerusalem, with the ultimate goal of compelling them to leave (the city) in search for better living conditions elsewhere and, thus, minimizing their presence in general and in Jerusalem in particular.” See also Week 21: Preserving History and Culture.

All these factors and more (settler violence, checkpoints, online harassment, Israeli control of curriculum, etc.) have created a multitude of Palestinians from each generation that suffer PTSD, including children. Or, in this context, what is more accurately referred to as CTSD: Continuous Traumatic Stress Disorder. Because of this, many children suffer trauma-related side-effects including bed-wetting, anxiety, lack of focus, irritability, disconnectedness, and a sense of hopelessness. These side-effects permeate all aspects of their lives and often times strongly affect their schooling and development. 

The responsibility of ensuring the safety and futures of Palestinian children lies with the Israeli government. Acting with the rights of children in mind would mean an end to night raids and home demolitions, an end to the demolition of schools, the full funding and construction of educational facilities for all children, and the end of harassment of students at checkpoints and by settlers, among others. 

While it is impossible to have full rights under occupation, the situation for children could be made better through changes in attitude and policies on the part of Israeli forces, with the rest accomplished with proper funding. Until this happens, non-profit organizations and private citizens are working to fill the gaps. These include: Wi’am, whose children’s program “aims at affording children a normal childhood.” The program addresses trauma through using the arts and by teaching trauma coping tools and includes educating children in the areas of peer mediation and children’s rights, and providing affordable educational and recreational excursions. MA’AN Development Center, whose Youth and Adolescent Development Program runs youth centers and includes “various training and developmental programs with the aim of encouraging young people to have a more active role in participating in their communities and becoming the future leaders of Palestine.” And Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP) has for more than twenty years worked for Palestinian children by investigating and documenting grave human rights violations, holding both Israeli and Palestinian authorities to account, and providing legal services to children in urgent need.

Through the week, Kumi Now will publish essays and stories from different organizations further exploring this topic and highlighting what they are doing to address the rights of children in Palestine.

Essay contributed by Wi’am: The Palestine Conflict Transformation Center. Updated for the second edition of Kumi Now.

Story: Ahmad H., teenager

“He asked for my Facebook password,” said Ahmad H., 17, recalling his first interrogation at Ofer military prison on August 1. “I gave it to him. He logged in and said it had inciting photos.”

“I told [the interrogator] of my arrest earlier in April 2016 for 10 days, when I was interrogated [at Shikma prison] in Ashkelon about my Facebook account. I told him I deleted everything upon my release and the account is clean. I told him to check it.”

Ahmad told Defense for Children International Palestine, that his interrogator at that point accused him of “obstructing the interrogation, claiming that I had asked someone to delete the photos, but I denied it.”

The interrogation lasted one hour, during which he had no parent present or access to legal counsel.

On August 7, Ahmad was interrogated again, this time for three hours.

“[The interrogator] kept questioning me about posting inciting pictures on my Facebook account. I told him I had not posted anything after my release and I had not asked anyone to delete the ones I had posted.”

Three days later, on August 10, Israeli authorities placed Ahmad under administrative detention for six months.

“Israeli authorities must immediately stop using administrative detention against Palestinian minors,” said Brad Parker, attorney and international advocacy officer at DCIP. “Inability to file charges against children due to lack of evidence should never be grounds for holding them indefinitely without charge or trial.”

Excerpted from “Facebook Posts Land Palestinian Teens in Administrative Detention.” Originally published by Defense for Children International Palestine.

Kumi Action

Israel ratified the U.N.’s Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992. But the Israeli government has had difficulties identifying just what a “child” is, as it argues that the Convention does not apply to the West Bank. Furthermore, while non-Palestinian children in Israel and around the world don’t become adults until they are 18, it treats Palestinians as adults at 16. 

We need to help Israeli politicians learn what a child is. In celebration of Universal Children’s Day on November 20, share a photo of yourself as a child, along with messages such as:

“Hey Israel! When I was 16 I was still a child. Let Palestinian youth enjoy their childhoods!” 

“A six-year old is a child. Period. Treat Palestinian children like children.”

Feel free to look at the Convention on the Rights of the Child treaty and remind Israel which parts of the treaty they are breaking: https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx 

A powerful way to share these photos and messages would be for your class or club or church group to post the childhood photos in a hallway, inviting others to identify who is in each photo. Or, simply share them on social media. Include a link to this page of the Kumi Now website along with the hashtags #KumiNow and #Kumi46.

Literature:  “Days in the Life of a Palestinian Boy” by Waleed al-Halees 

Shine on me so I can see you,
Let me have a little light.
I beg the sky that’s covered with Jerusalem
with Mt. Carmel, child of the mountains,
to preserve all the little boys born 
into catastrophe hoping for life
There they go, down the icy roads
striving, darkening, weeping, 
and laughing aloud 
as they seize the grass, and water and the forced belonging.

On a lovely rock in Galilee
I remember Ghassan, 
the lad who tried so hard to come to you, 
rising to welcome you 
lighting stubs of candles on feast days 
patiently extinguishing their nubs later, 
dedicating all candles to your eyes- 

For whom does earth remove its human robes?
Our bleeding country 
is bound by bleeding bodies
Our brothers, our foes 
pierce us with bullets 
and swords
Why do the eyes of madness turn away?
For whom does the night bird cry?

From “Days in the Life of a Palestinian Boy” by Waleed al-Halees, a contemporary Palestinian poet from Gaza. The piece was translated by Lena Jayyusi and Naomi Shihab Nye in Anthology of Modern Palestinian Literature and edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi.

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