By EA Alex H, Northern West Bank.
In a recent article, the BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, after many years of covering the Israel-Palestine conflict, concluded that there is one determinant above all others that shapes the attitude of Palestinians towards Israel: the occupation. The occupation by Israel of the Palestinian territories will by next year, 2017, have lasted 50 years. It is the longest military occupation of modern times. And as EAs, we have seen the violence which results from this military occupation.
What does it mean to live as a child under occupation? Here I answer as an Ecumenical Accompanier who has lived alongside Palestinians in the West Bank for three months. I have witnessed children as young as five walking to school with guns pointed at them by Israeli soldiers. I have met children who have left their homes in the morning only to find that on reaching their school, it has been demolished, or who have come back from school to find their homes demolished.The community of Khirbet Tana has experienced four comprehensive demolitions this year. In March, the Israeli army demolished the European-funded school. The children are now taught in the one building that has escaped the years of repeated demolitions, the old Mosque. There is no glass in the windows. There is no running water or toilets. The students share their learning space with young trees in plastic pots. I have heard testimony of a child woken in the night by the sound of heavy machinery at work and emerging from her house to find that the village playground has been reduced to rubble and twisted metal by the Israeli army. I have heard testimony of another child awoken in the dark of night terrified by the sound of concrete crashing to the ground outside her house. At 1.00 am on the morning of 3 May, Israeli soldiers entered an apartment on the fifth floor of a building in Nablus and demolished it. The apartment was the home of Zied Amer and his pregnant wife Rasha. Zied is alleged to have been involved in the killing of an Israeli couple last year and is in prison, though he has yet to stand trial. Rasha is being punished for the alleged crime of her husband, an act of collective punishment that is a grave breach of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva convention. Children all over occupied Palestine face harassment by Israeli soldiers as they walk to school. They have guns pointed at them. They are taken into the bushes to have their bags searched. They look out of the classroom windows and see armed soldiers in their school grounds. As Ecumenical Accompaniers we offer protective presence to students on their way to and from school. “When you are here,” said the headmaster of As Sawiya Boys School, “the soldiers behave”. At its most extreme, the occupation means death. We’ve been privileged on two occasions to be in Duma when five-year-old Ahmad Dawabsheh has been visiting his home village from the hospital in Israel where he is being treated for the severe burns he received when his family home was fire-bombed by extremist Jewish settlers in July 2015. Ahmad is the sole surviving member of his family. The arson attack killed his 18 month old brother Ali, Sa’ed his father and Rihan his mother. During our time here as Ecumenical Accompaniers, the house of the chief witness of last year’s murders, Ibrahim Dawabsheh , was set ablaze during the night. Ibrahim and his pregnant wife managed to escape without injury. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was signed by the State of Israel on 3 July 1990 and ratified by the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) on 4 August, 1991.
The Convention sets out to acknowledge and protect the special rights of children. The International Court of Justice’s 2004 Advisory Opinion concluded that the UNCRC is applicable in occupied Palestine.
All Palestinians living under the occupation are subject to Israeli military law. This applies equally to children and adults. Israeli settlers living in the West Bank, on the other hand, are subject to civil law. At the end of February of this year, 438 Palestinian minors (under 18) were being held in Israeli prisons. A UK government-backed report, Children in Military Custody, concluded that Israel was in breach of six articles of the UNCRC in its treatment of Palestinian children.
All children everywhere have a Right to a Childhood. For Palestinian children living under military occupation, this right is being severely undermined.