The children of the occupation

yeladim-tamarA couple of weeks ago Israeli anti-occupation activist Tamar Fleischman wrote on Facebook about an incident she witnessed at the Israeli Defence Forces Qalandia checkpoint on the West Bank, concerning a six year old Palestinian child, whose head was injured by a metal rod: ‘The father telephoned a friend, a brain injuries specialist, who told him the child had to reach an operation table within an hour if there was any chance of saving his life. It was Friday, after three o’clock, because by the time the occupation machine permitted the child and his mother (not his father) to go through to a Jerusalem hospital, five hours had passed. Perhaps five crucial hours. The child was concussed, his eyes open, his gaze unforced, his arms lifting and falling aimlessly. The father begged the soldiers to let him go with his child, but no, only the mother was permitted to go. And the man stood by his child, who didn’t really see him, and kept touching him, but the child didn’t feel it, speaking to him, but the child didn’t hear him, saying to him: ‘This is daddy, it’s daddy, my child…’ And he kept saying this, bending to touch his son’s body and the bit of his head that wasn’t bandaged, as if saying goodbye, keeping his tears until after the ambulance left, and only then burst out crying’.

yeladim-100For the past few months I have been documenting photographs of Palestinian children. It didn’t take me long to reach one hundred photographs, mostly depicting the abuse of Palestinian children by the Israeli occupation authorities (though some of them document the joy of being a Palestinian child, even under occupation). In a recent photograph, a small child, perhaps five years old, stands against the door of his house, and an Israeli soldier aims his machinegun at him. The soldier is fully armed. The child looks at him with wide-open big brown eyes – I find it impossible to imagine one of my three gorgeous granddaughters  being that child (who, of course, also has loving parents and grandparents). These photographs may explain how the Israeli policy of detaining, arresting and indicting Palestinian children, mostly for stone throwing, breeds fear, anger, hate and the future Palestinian resistance.

According to a 2013 report by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, “Palestinian children arrested by Israeli military and police are systematically subject to degrading treatment, and often to acts of torture, are interrogated in Hebrew, a language they do not understand, and sign confessions in Hebrew in order to be released’ . Acknowledging that children on both side of the conflict continue to be killed and wounded, the UN committee said that there are more casualties on the Palestinian side, a claim denied by an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman who said the report did not use any new information.

Palestinian children are deeply involved in the anti occupation struggle – how could they not? However, and although no child should be killed or injured – ever – the facts speak for themselves: since 2000 129 Israeli children were killed, compared to 1,519 Palestinian children.  As Catherine Cook writes: ‘The majority of these children were killed and injured while going about normal daily activities, such as going to school, playing, shopping, or simply being in their homes’. The following figure is chilling: 94% of the 700 Palestinian children arrested each year are held in pre-trial detention without bail!! The Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem documents many incidents of mass arrests of Palestinian children, as young as six, for throwing stones. Their cases are regularly heard in the Ofer Military court, yet the children are often interrogated without an adult, not to speak of a solicitor, present.

Tamar Fleischman tells me she doesn’t know what happened to the six year old brain injured child from Qalandia, but, judging from my archived photographs of children in Palestine and other reports, his case is anything but unique.