A Palestinian family reacts after Israeli bulldozers demolished their home in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, Feb. 5, 2013. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Newly elected Israeli Knesset member Yair Lapid (l), leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to Naftali Bennett, head of the hard-line national religious party the Jewish Home, during a Feb. 5 reception in Jerusalem marking the opening of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES)
Richard Curtiss at work in his Washington Report office. (STAFF PHOTO D. HANLEY)
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney (l) and Likud chairman Benyamin Netanyahu, out of office at the time and serving as the official Israeli opposition leader, at a March 23, 2008 breakfast meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (r) shares candies with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Murad Ebrahim during a Feb. 11 visit to the rebels’ stronghold in Sultan Kudarat on the island of Mindanao. (KARLOS MANLUPIG/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Emad Burnat views his five broken cameras in his documentary of the same name. (PHOTO COURTESY KINO LORBER)
April/May 1993, Page 29-30
Sowing Dragonseed: Israel's Torment of Children Under Occupation
By Rachelle Marshall
The killing of 3-year-old Huda Siyaj by Israeli soldiers on March 15 was neither an accident nor an unusual occurrence in Israel's increasingly reckless effort to retain control of the occupied territories. According to an Israeli army spokesman, troops deliberately fired on the family car Huda was riding in because it had turned around before reaching a roadblock and ''did not respond to soldier's calls and gestures to stop."
In just two months last winter, Israelis killed 19 Palestinian children in similar shooting incidents (see Steve Sosebee's article in the March issue, "Gaza: Where Being a Palestinian Child is Punishable by Death"). Of the 1,100 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces since December 1987, at least 280 have been children. Some 50,000 children have been injured by gunshots, beatings and teargas, and the number keeps rising.
Dangerous and Far Reaching Consequences
The death toll of Palestinian children tells a great deal about the nature of Israel's occupation. But numbers alone don't reveal the full measure of violence these children endure—as witnesses and victims—every day of their lives. According to Palestinian sociologist Nariman Awwad, Israel's attempt to subdue the Palestinian people has trapped tens of thousands of children in a landscape of unrelenting hostility and deprivation. The resulting damage to the minds of young Palestinians may be one of the most dangerous and far reaching consequences—for both sides— of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Awwad and two assistants spent several months collecting statistics and conducting interviews in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp near Hebron, home of 7,150 Palestinians, nearly a third of whom are children. Her report, financed by the Swedish Diakonia Church and published by the Palestine section of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, describes the devastating effects on children of the abuse they suffer under occupation and stresses the urgent need for psychiatric and counseling service to help undo the damage. Awwad, who holds degrees from Bir Zeit and Hebrew Universities, calls on the U.N. for help in providing remedial services in demanding an end to the occupation. But she makes clear that outside help with the training of child-care workers and treatment of traumatized children will only be a stopgap measure until Palestinians achieve full control of their lives and their society.
Awwad describes refugee camps such as Dheisheh as "concentrated sites of deprivation and misery." Since the intifada began, camp residents have played a major role in confrontations with Israeli forces and have suffered accordingly. Even before the intifada, Israeli authorities isolated Dheisheh by surrounding it with a high steel fence. Now, with all but one of the entrances sealed off, the camp is virtually a prison, with heavily armed Israeli soldiers constantly on guard. The afflictions imposed on the inhabitants would have taxed the endurance of Job; indefinite school closings, night raids, disrupted health care, daily humiliation, demolition of homes, prolonged curfews, imprisonment without charge, beatings, killings, deportation and torture. None of the camp's residents, from the youngest infants to the oldest adults, are spared from either witnessing or undergoing these horrors.
Children Without Protection
Because Palestinian homes, normally places of shelter, are major targets of Israeli army raids, children come to feel they are without protection. The homes of two-thirds of the families Awwad interviewed have been raided and ransacked by Israeli soldiers. In a typical incident, soldiers arrive suddenly in the middle of the night, often breaking the door down. They abuse and arrest family members, often subjecting the older men to humiliation before family members, then rampage through the house smashing furniture and dumping food supplies on the floor.
On other occasions they order the inhabitants out—within minutes—and then proceed to demolish the house, either for "security reasons" or because it was built without a permit. Awwad points out that a house demolition not only reduces entire families to the status of vagrants but also "brings psychological damage arising from the loss of home, and the protection, security, and sense of belonging associated with it. This all holds particular significance for the children of the household. " Israeli authorities have demolished more than 2,000 Palestinian homes since 1987.
During the past 25 years the number of Dheisheh residents in prison at any one time has never been less than 150 and is currently around 300. Many of them are children between 12 and 18. Like adult Palestinian prisoners, they are jammed into crowded, airless cells, denied adequate food, exercise, or sanitation facilities, and often beaten or tortured. Human rights groups have frequently reported the torture of children in Israeli prisons; in January 1991 a U.N. official charged that a 9-year old boy had been hung by his heels by Israeli soldiers and beaten for three hours, suffering two broken bones and welts all over his body. According to the Israeli human rights group B'tselem, this kind of treatment leads inevitably to "hatred toward authorities and toward the nation they represent." In addition, because so many are arrested without cause, "the victimized minor understands that there is no advantage to behaving as a 'good' child, since both guilty and innocent are punished." Such attitudes, Awwad points out, are bound to have repercussions on Palestinian society as a whole.
Children's respect for authority has been further eroded by frequent school closings—a new twist in the history of military occupations. Israeli authorities closed Palestinian schools entirely through much of 1988 and well into 1989. In 1990 most schools were open for only part of the school year and some, such as at Tulkarem refugee camp, were open for only 41 days. Colleges and universities were shut down in February 1989 and only allowed to open gradually in 1991.
Palestinian children have also had to watch their parents cope with the increasing difficulty of providing for their families. In addition to punitive taxes, land confiscation, and crippling restrictions on agriculture and business, Palestinians have suffered severe unemployment because of curfews and travel restrictions that keep them from going to work in Israel. At Dheisheh, more than half the heads of families are unemployed. As a result, 29 percent of the families have no income at all, 26 percent earn the equivalent of between $100 and $150 a month, and only 17 percent earn as much as $300 a month.
The Effects of Violence
Even more disturbing than Awwad's account of the violence inflicted on children under occupation are her findings on the effects of this violence. In studying children between the ages of 2 and 13, she identified 16 major patterns of behavior, including aggressiveness toward others, loss of appetite, headaches and sleeplessness, rejection of family authority, indifference to learning, and increased fear. More than a third of the 11 to 13 year olds she studied demonstrated all of these patterns of behavior. Many of them, Awwad found, could counter their feelings of helplessness and anxiety only by engaging in violence themselves. She observes, "Overall, the children of Dheisheh Camp live under the yoke of unmitigated horror and brutality, and it is not surprising that they respond with equal intensity."
Children who have seen their parents humiliated, their family possessions hacked to pieces, and their friends or relatives lying bloody in the streets, or who have themselves been choked with teargas, carry deep scars. Awwad's report carries the powerful warning that unless these scars are healed, the process of building a stable Palestinian state and a durable peace with Israel will be difficult, if not impossible. U.N. agencies, with the help of knowledgeable Palestinians such as Nariman Awwad, can begin the healing process, but the trauma of Palestinian children will continue as long as the occupation lasts.
Israel's increasingly repressive tactics in the West Bank and Gaza have failed to halt the protests, and have resulted in more Jewish as well as Palestinian deaths. In the long run, Israelis as well as Palestinians will pay a heavy price if thousands of young Palestinians grow up seething with bitterness and trusting only in force. The tragedy for both sides is that neither the Israeli government nor the Clinton administration is perceptive enough to see that the real danger to Israel's security, and to efforts to forge a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, is the occupation itself.
Rachelle Marshall is a free-Lance editor living in Stanford, CA. She is a member of New Jewish Agenda and writes frequently on the Middle East.