Now, in the wake of the most recent conflict in Gaza, we can see more clearly the damage that has been done—the lives lost and the measures now being taken by the Israelis.
In terms of measures being taken, the Israeli government, led by center-left Yair Lapid, raided some Palestinian civil society organizations last Thursday (August 18, 2022). This was committed by a government which claims to be the only functioning democracy in the Middle East.
A CIA investigation found no evidence to support Israel’s baseless attacks on Palestinian human rights groups, confirming what we already know: this is purely about stifling free speech and preventing Palestinians from documenting Israel’s violence.https://t.co/fIKZkaQrpa
— IMEU (@theIMEU) August 22, 2022
One of the groups they raided was Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP). The head of the organization was then interrogated by Shin Bet.
Speaking on behalf of the organization in an interview, Brad Parker said the deaths of Palestinian children during these conflicts is part of a larger pattern, in which Israelis use “excessive…force,” “disproportionate…force” and “intentionally” target civilians.
— Brad Parker (@baparkr) August 22, 2022
Even despite the severity of this situation and the targeting of what you could label as “human rights groups,” this issue doesn’t seem to be a high priority for the US.
The meeting that was supposed to take place today between the Israeli national security adviser Hulata and SecState Blinken was cancelled (I am told because of a change in Blinken's schedule). Hulata will meet Deputy SecState Wendy Sherman instead
— Barak Ravid (@BarakRavid) August 22, 2022
It is estimated that sixteen children died in Israeli’s most recent Breaking Dawn operation.
In this article, I had mentioned that it was unclear exactly who was responsible for the deaths of a number of children who died during Breaking Dawn. I tried to err on the side of caution and not jump to conclusions, but I guess in hindsight I could have.
Reports have now confirmed that the strike which hit a cemetery near Jabaliya was committed by Israel—not Islamic Jihad, as Israel had claimed (check out the bad acting here). This strike killed five youngsters, ages 4-16. Here is the story of a devastated mother who lost her only son in the attack.
This is a good point to note that once a person hits puberty in Islam or reaches fifteen, he/she is treated (and punished) as an adult. I shall abide by this definition, but as modern society and human rights law do not follow the same system, some of the sources below as well as the number of children killed in the last conflict mentioned above, will reflect this discrepancy. In any case, I think we can still admire the strength of these children and young adults alike and acknowledge what they endure.
Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization that provides an outlet for IDF soldiers to come forward and expose the wrongs of the Israeli military, concludes the following from their interviews with dozens of soldiers in regards to the IDF’s treatment of Palestinian children:
“Having served in different units and regions, the testifiers depict a routine in which Palestinian minors, often under 10 years of age, are treated in a manner that ignores their young age, and how, in practicality, they are perceived by both the soldiers and the military system at large as subject to the same treatment as adults” (5)
Viewing Children as Adults
I once met a child who sounded like a trouble-making teenager rather than a block-building five-year-old. Although the words coming out of his mouth shocked me, the most disconcerting part was that I could recognize that I struggled to see him for what he was, a child [and probably one with irresponsible parents]. It was clear that those responsible for caring for him while his parents were away were also incapable of seeing him as a child, and at one point they were too harsh in reprimanding him. He responded as most children would—he cried. The look on his face, his tears—I could see again that this was very much a child (I’m regretful to say I witnessed it and probably wrongfully felt powerless).
Palestinian children fight because some situations call for us to be older than we are—not because they are misbehaving. These children rise to this challenge, this extreme situation that they are born into. They have rocks at their disposal.
There’s a lot that can be discussed when thinking about how and why children are harmed during conflicts with Israel, such as when Palestinian groups should choose restraint (because, for example, civilians may be caught in the cross fire), whether or not it is useful for one group to act alone, etc. But what I want to give focus to here is how they are treated by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) under the current conditions.
Overall, the damage children can do to IDF soldiers pales in comparison to what the soldiers can do to them. But the IDF soldiers often do not see it that way:
“Since these children are perceived by the Israeli military as adults, they are exposed to a harsh daily reality that includes constant friction with military forces active on the ground, arrests, violence, harassment and, at times, serious injury and even death.” (5)
In fact, and unsurprisingly given how many treat the powerless when they rule over them, some soldiers enjoy their position of power.
Have a look at this example, from a First Sergeant who worked in Hebron from 2006 to 2007:
FIRST SERGEANT: “…you know the “Worshippers’ Path”? This Jewish kid walks along, an Arab kid passes by, boom, the Jew kicks the Arab kid in the face. If the Arab would hit him back I have to catch him and slap him on the face, see? The Jew is free to do whatever he likes.”
INTERVIEWER: “Did you work with the Border Police?”
FIRST SERGEANT: “Yes…What we do is nothing in comparison to them…they go around breaking people’s knees just like that. I remember once some Arab was caught throwing stones, they put his leg up against the wall as he lay on the ground and, boom, someone just stepped on his knee. No mercy. I said: ‘Wow.’ I could never believe the level of cruelty I saw there, how could they…We’d pass by on patrol, let’s say, and see them standing at the checkpoint, saying to someone: ‘Come here.’ Boom boom, hit him, kick him, and it’s just a kid. ‘Go on, don’t talk.’ ‘You’re talking? Get over here again.’ Boom, boom. Start a stopwatch and make him run back and forth. He has 20 seconds to get me a soft drink.”
INTERVIEWER: “What, from the grocery?”
FIRST SERGEANT: “Yes. Beat him to a pulp. And then the kid gets back: ‘He wouldn’t give me the drink.’ ‘What do you mean? Go tell him now that if he doesn’t give it to you, I’ll slaughter him.’ That’s how they’d speak to him.“
And another example:
“… There is an [offshore] area that closes in on Gaza, it’s called area K and is controlled by the Israeli Navy, and it stayed this way after the ‘disengagement’ [of the Israeli military from the Gaza Strip] – nothing has changed there as far as the maritime designated area is concerned. Everything has remained the same. The only thing that changed is that area K is between Israel and Gaza, area M is between Egypt and Gaza, and in the middle was another buffer preventing boats from the Rafah dock to cross over to the Gaza dock. This part was opened to them as the ‘disengagement’ took effect. That was the only gain. I mostly remember that near the K area between Israel and Gaza there are children who would get up very early in the morning, really little children, they’d get there around 4-5 .a.m., because that area was filled with fishermen. It’s a small area, and the fish would escape to the closed areas where no fishing happened. The kids would keep trying to get through, so every morning shots would be fired in their direction to scare them away, to the point that fire was directed at their legs – at kids who stood on the beach or rode a surfboat into the water. We had a Druze on board who would yell at them in Arabic and swear at them. Later you’d see the kids’ faces on camera, crying, those poor kids.” (32)
Killing the Future Generation
“Our children got used to killing and death and bombing. They are different to others around the world, who lead a good life and go to parks—not cemeteries—to play.”
–Mother of Mohammed (17), who was martyred during Breaking Dawn
From the testimonies of former IDF soldiers gathered by Breaking the Silence, it’s not possible to conclude that there is a kind of intentional effort to target and eliminate the younger generation, but when given the opportunity to harm children, it seems many of them are not so hesitant to do so or simply are not bothered to exercise extreme caution.
When Palestinian children are killed, along with ripping a child away from his or her loving parents, they eliminating his/her future. They’re killing the soon-to-be adults who would marry and have their own children.
This, combined with the shocking statistic that Israelis now actually have a higher fertility rate than Palestinians, is concerning (the Palestinian fertility rate is still relatively high, just not as high as it was).
According to DCIP, last year was the deadliest year for Palestinian children since 2014:
“At least nine Palestinian children were shot and killed in the context of demonstrations or confrontations with Israeli forces and did not present a direct threat to life or of serious injury when they were shot, according to investigations conducted by DCIP.”
May Allah protect these children and young adults and reward them for what they endure.