The preamble to the Convention on the Rights of a Child states: “Considering that, in accordance with the principles proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” To include the rights of children as members of this human family and as having equal and inalienable rights is a topic of more complexity than what one would assume, considering questions such as consent vis-à-vis cognitive capacity and whether children are capable of making or even understanding decisions and choice. But human rights are not merely about our individual rights and entitlements, on the contrary it also represents our obligations toward those who may not be capable of protecting or understanding their own rights, to safeguard and protect equality by refraining from actions that could undermine the indivisibility of our moral duty to humanity. It is intriguing that the Convention on the Rights of the Child – whilst signed by the United States – remains unratified alongside countries such as Somalia and South Sudan. Notwithstanding the ridiculous political climate with Donald Trump ready to be inaugurated as the new president, the USA has – among a plethora of reasons for the failure to ratify – over 20% of children living below the poverty line, though it spent a mammoth $598.5 billion just on military expenditure in the last year alone. It is not the only nation-state that emphasizes security above the lives of children. In 2012, the Human Rights Council brought forth a statement on behalf of Defence for Children International (DCI) that Israeli patrol boats were stripping, blindfolding and tying children who were fishing along the Mediterranean Sea in Gaza and violently interrogating them in violation of its international legal obligations. Yet, it was only several weeks ago that reports confirmed Israeli naval forces confiscated several fishing boats and arrested fisherman including a child. While it is clear that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has perpetrated the heightened level of security particularly following events such as the Ma’a lot and Mercaz HaRav massacres that involved the deaths of children, justifications that purport such extreme behavior that betrays the dignity of Palestinian children and international law itself is simply unfounded. The question raised here is how can Israel maintain its level of security without violating the Convention of the Rights of a Child?
Following the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel captured what is referred to as the ‘occupied territories’ of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip when war with its Arab neighbors Egypt, Syria and Jordan broke out. While relations with Egypt and Jordan have to a degree since normalised, territorial disputes particularly relating to the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights remain. The Oslo Accords – agreements between Israel and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) – became an attempt to develop negotiations that would establish peace and an opportunity for Palestinian self-determination, drawing several border areas known as A, B and C with PNA authority over A and B with cities such as Bethlehem, Jericho and a majority of Hebron; the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), however, continue to conducts unauthorized entry into the regions. Area C remains in control by Israel and the allusion of ‘occupied’ refers to United Nation resolutions regarding both settlement policies but also the Palestinian territories of the West Bank. It is clear that there exists gross discrimination against the Palestinian population residing in the West Bank – and why references to the apartheid are made – since the same geographical area contains two separate legal systems, namely the military legal system administered by the army against the entire Palestinian inhabitants whilst the Jewish settler population – now at almost half a million – living within the same jurisdiction are subject to Israeli law, denoting clear segregation and discrimination and a composed flagrance to international law. The Accords intended that Area C will eventually be transferred to Palestinian authority and with the rise of Jewish settlements and the restrictions permitting Palestinian construction of homes, it is clear that the intention is otherwise with ludicrous propositions that Israel is somehow immune to international law since the world is “dedicated to destroying Israel” and therefore anti-Semitic in addition to the right for Israelis to settle in Judea and Samaria through historical and biblical romanticizing that nevertheless strengthens ideological nationalism. Not only are there clear, discriminating restrictions but martial law prohibits freedom of expression and association through the Israeli Defense Force’ Order Regarding Prohibition of Incitement and Hostile Propaganda Actions that forbids any gathering in a public space, holding or displaying political symbols and showing support to what is deemed a hostile organization, providing the authorization for military personnel to exercise powers as vested in the order.
When I was in Eilat walking one warm evening along the coast, I saw a child probably about four or five years old holding a toy gun. As one who lives in a country where guns are illegal, when I think of a child holding such a ludicrous toy, I visualise the toy being carelessly suspended and maybe making noises like ‘pow pow’ perhaps mimicking a movie or show on television. This child, however, held the gun with his elbows up and one eye closed as though he were a sniper or holding an AK51 and made spraying bullet sounds; to see a small child do that was frightfully shocking, I can assure you. He was symbolically a child soldier. It would be astounding to know that child recruitment during armed conflict is not uncommon in both Israel and Palestine and though rightly prohibited by international law, through a scarcity of documentary evidence it has been noted that Israel recruit Palestinian children to obtain information, particularly following their arrest and interrogation. The level of child fatalities in Palestine is alarming, whereby a majority of these deaths are caused particularly by military offensives in Gaza. Statistics show that since 2000, a total of 1417 Palestinian children have died as a result of air and ground attacks, clashes and random gunfire among others. These attacks can also be sporadic. On the 25th November, Israel shot and killed sixteen-year-old Mohammad Zidan for allegedly attempting to stab a group of Israeli security officers, a narrative so unbelievable that consideration of Israel having the worlds most ‘moral army’ is dubious to say the least, perhaps such rhetoric the very ideological fibre used to justify the brutality. Notwithstanding the death toll, the rate of children who have been detained, arrested or interrogated is far worse with the situation in East Jerusalem more complex to say the least. A report in 2011 showed that whilst reforms for Law 5731-1971 (‘Youth Law’) were comprehensively adopted to “greatly improve the treatment of minors in criminal proceedings,” Israeli police consistently violate the provisions of the reforms. “In East Jerusalem, 860 Palestinian children were arrested, including 136 between 7 and 11 years of age, under the age of criminal responsibility.” Recently enacted Order Number 1745 by the Israeli Armed Forces purports documentation and language used during the interrogation process of a minor suspected of committing an offence must be done in the language understandable to the minor and recorded with audiovisual documentation. However, 136d(b)6 states, “This article does not apply to minors suspected of committing security offenses,” which clearly makes the rationale of the directive null and void, undermining the overall attempt to adhere to international norms of protecting minors.
Children are subject to martial law if they throw a stone. The Knesset had recently passed legislation that amended the Penal Code to increase the sentence of stone throwing with a minimum imprisonment of three years, claiming a ‘rock’ as a harmful tool. Without any shame, the Knesset had the audacity to state in its press release on the subject of this legal change that “[i]f a child is convicted of a security crime or of rock-throwing, his parents will not receive NII benefits while he is serving his sentence,” with Constitution and Justice Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky purporting that throwing a rock is an attempt to murder. Whilst it is clear that the endeavour is to use harsh force as a deterrent and perhaps targeting children to generate a consciousness of the threat of punishment for misbehaviour, discouraging terrorism through acts of terror only breeds further hostilities, which is clearly shown by the statistics that prove an increasing number of violence in the occupied territories. This would be difficult for a highly militarised nation to understand, particularly with Netanyahu in a leadership role who consistently utilises historical narratives and other forms of right-wing ideological validations in similar vein to revisionist Zionism that excuse breaches of human rights and humanitarian laws; any attempt to challenge this hardline approach falls on deaf ears since they have the ideological reason to believe otherwise. This extreme Jewish nationalism is the greatest barrier for peace with the Palestinians, clearly shown by the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin murdered by ultra-Orthodox Jew Yigal Amir. The U.N Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for the occupied Palestinian territory reported on ‘price-tag’ strategies of Israeli settlers in certain regions, attacks carried out against Palestinians by Israeli satellite settlements built without official authorization by the government and usually on Palestinian-owned land as a way of deterring authorities from removing them. Thousands of settler attacks have occurred and there is no discrimination against Palestinian children during the violence. In addition, retaliation against Palestinian families who have been accused in some way of attacking Israelis have their homes demolished by authorities as yet another excessive deterrence method, clear by the fact that neighbours are also punished to generate a sense of communal avoidance of hostilities.
The question thus raised is whether these extreme actions have or will have in the long run any influence to reduce the rate of Palestinian terrorism in Israel? The broad definition of terrorism, while undefined in international law with the intent that in doing so one can isolate and address specific or multiple factors causal to an incident, nevertheless is generally considered an “[a]ct intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to a civilian, or to any other person not taking an active part in the hostilities in a situation of armed conflict, when the purpose of such an act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a government or an international organisation to do or to abstain from doing any act,” taking into consideration that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. To understand the complexity of terrorism or when discussing the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, I often consider the following problem:
If one is incapable of providing formal proofs concerning a decision often moral in nature, what is the nature of their certainty and to what degree can one achieve this certainty in order to sufficiently justify the conviction?
It has somewhat become a formula of mine when I subjectively reach a point that I can no longer trespass without the content becoming dubious, requiring relativistic flexibility in an attempt to traverse their frame of mind, cultural position, historical and environmental influences etc &c., to reach an appreciation of the conviction that may or may not make much sense otherwise. This includes an understanding of the Israeli psyche and the rationalization behind decisions.
It is clear that the situation is having a devastating impact on Palestinian children, the lifelong effects from consistent intimidation and harassment in an environment plagued by the fear of continuous violence or the threat of violence, poverty, restrictions to movement and employment opportunities and therefore a sense of hopelessness for a better future cannot – according to the logic of the IDF – break their will for self-determination to form what could be considered an enslaved people – but rather develop the very core issue; it only creates the need to fight back. In Australia, for instance, the impact of the Stolen Generation on indigenous communities resulted in widespread substance abuse, poverty that hinders achievement in education, and neglect that ultimately fosters the failure to attain equal opportunity. The experience of being stripped, blindfolded and detained without reason or an offence not only violates the inherent dignity of the child due to the emotional and physical harm, but the neurological caused by the stress, fear whereby brain development due to their response to such a threat is impaired can cause lifelong interpersonal difficulties, delays and injury to emotional and interpersonal wellbeing such as aggression and anger.
“Children living under occupation have been found to experience significantly more traumatic events than Palestinian citizens of Israel, and report higher levels of post-traumatic symptoms, more pessimistic future orientation, and less favorable attitudes toward peace negotiations… living in proximity to the Separation Wall has led to feelings of sadness and fear amongst women, to a lack of motivation to perform daily activities among men, and is associated with feelings of loneliness and physical ailments. Children have shown increased aggressiveness, and have developed a fear of the night.”
Children do have dignity and have a right to be respected for this indivisible, inherent right that is often overlooked. In the case of domestic violence, for instance, it is assumed that by only supporting the mother during the traumatic experience and helping her recover, she would in turn be capable of supporting her children and whilst this may perhaps be true, during the period of her trauma [where she becomes incapable] the stress this may have on the child is often overlooked. That is, to have potentially witnessed violence against the mother and to witness their mother distressed and incapable of emotionally supporting them consequently isolates and impacts on the development of the child; even when the mother recovers, a continuation of neglecting any dialogue of the incident as a way of overcoming it could potentially and perhaps even permanently leave the child emotionally displaced and confused. The emotional unavailability of parents living under Israeli occupation and the lack of communal, cultural and social inclusiveness encouraged by a hope for a better future dismantles their capacity to develop a healthy, moral construction and development of their own identity and self that the damage could easily be irreversible. It is not just their own physical experience with trauma, the effects just as damaging when witnessing. “[I]t it possible that the symbolic or “imprinting” effects of trauma (e.g., witnessing violence being inflicted on family members) is more traumatic to children than suffering injuries themselves.”
While the concluding observations by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child express dismay at the lack of willingness that Israel displays vis-à-vis the implementation of the convention, it is clear that from the report – submitted by Israel seven years after its requested due date – that an exploration of different strategies to encourage and enforce the application of international human rights and humanitarian treaties is required. In Australia, for instance, Victoria has implemented a Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 along with the ACT’ Human Rights Act 2004 as a stepping stone toward the implementation of human rights at federal level. The practice by local municipals to adopt international human rights treaties was approached by the Ashdod City Council in 1997, affirming that it will adhere to and respect the principles as set out by the Convention of the Rights of the Child. If more continue, it could influence a voice that will pressure that hardliners to approach the Palestinian question with more compassion particularly if a future between both is imminent. As a way of facilitating and strengthening a commitment toward measures that seek to prevent and protect children from the damaging effects of living under occupation, implementing compliance to international law by councils could strategically influence national adoption of human rights principles. The voice of the Israeli population who are in support of peaceful relations with the Palestinians could also become the impetus to build a structure of change. Other measures, including rehabilitation, healing through education and other approaches that will strengthen the inherent dignity of Palestinian children is absolute. It is to remember that violence, aggression or fear will not resolve the loom of terrorism, on the contrary it will only breed it.
There is never a justification for violence against children.