Have Palestinian Children Forfeited Their Rights?

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Adult conceptualizations of young Palestinian minds range from celebrating the indomitable little spirit to rebuke of the destructive deviance resulting from a shattered or manipulated childhood. The phenomenon of children trapped in a hopeless political quagmire desperately seeking family, societal and religious approval with reckless defiance is complex. These "children of the stones", as popularized by the Arab media, have been perhaps the single most important factor in sustaining the Palestinian resistance of the Israeli occupation of their lands. With the Palestinians Authority or militants unable to counter the overwhelming military superiority of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), it is the child protestors who continue to engage and frustrate the occupiers. Stirring images of children on the frontline do more than the confused strategies of the Arab politicians to keep international attention on the smoldering dispute despite international apathy. Yet, these children with stones are not made of stone and pay a disproportionately heavy price (Mansour, 1990; Kuttab, 1988; El Sarraj, 1996), particularly with calls for withdrawal of their entitlement to basic rights as children.

The children of the Al- Nakba ('major catastrophe') among the estimated 750,000 Palestinians expelled from their homelands during 1947-48, are now among the disconcerted grandparents watching the continuing conflict consume yet another generation. Throughout the Palestinian struggle, children have played a range of roles in resistance, though it was the first intifada or uprising (1987-1993) which exposed to the Western world the scale of participation and suffering amongst Palestinian children (Aruri, 1984:250-254; Nixon, 1990). The beginning of the Al-Aqsa intifada in September 2000, however, marks a further escalation not only in the body count of the hundreds of Palestinian children killed and thousands injured but also in the levels of violence children are apparently willing to engage in.

Labeled as irregular child combatants in everyday crossfire, these children are easily relegated as regrettable but largely avoidable and ill-conceived footnotes in an encounter between irreconcilable grown ups fighting for complex issues such as land, capital, security, water, return of refugees and ultimately control. However, Palestinian children are not simply "collateral damage" of the conflict in a black hole of law or those who have volunteered to be attacked because they have not been passive. They remain impermissible targets whose basic rights cannot be legally discounted though their context leads to problems of implementation.

Those who argue that Palestinian children have forfeited their rights as children by their participation fail to unlock the complexities and context of these little vulnerable lives under assault as well as misconstrue the nature and scope of children's rights.

Over half of the population of Palestine are children (1) but despite their increased profile within the conflict, they are largely constructed as mute victims or misguided puppets rather than participants in the process and possessors of rights. Dominant narratives - Palestinian, Arab, Israeli and Western- fail to fully consider the implications of daily degradation of life on the Palestinian childhood experience beyond the statistics of fatalities and injuries. Consider the residual quality of Palestinian childhood in face of the eclipse of children's rights--of negations of Palestinian right to dignity and self-esteem, of personal development and family life, of education and opportunity, of health and adequate standard of living, of freedom from torture and stress, and most importantly, the right to a future.

This article does not provide a systematic study of the universal child rights regime as delineated by the 54 articles of the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) [for an authoritative treatment of CRC see Van Beuren, 1997], nor does it comprehensively detail the Israeli human rights violations against Palestinian children that have been catalogued by NGO reports and authoritatively dealt with by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UN Committee on Rights of the Child, 2002) and the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (UN Special Rapporteur, 2002). …

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