Sowing Seeds of War

by Justine McCabe
OP-ED published in the Hartford Courant

January 1, 2001 -- Around the world, violent ethnic conflict abounds as a new millennial year opens. Increasingly, civilians--especially women and children--outnumber armed combatants as victims. There is a growing interest among psychologists in the individual and societal effects of political violence on children maturing under such conditions.

Surely, no conflict has been more intractable than that between Israelis and Palestinians. As the second, "Al-Aqsa," intifada continues, its violence echoes the first. A look at the violence to Palestinian children ten years ago and now is a look at a formula for the perpetuation of war.

In 1990, Radda Barnen (Swedish Save the Children) published an exhaustive report of the uprising's first two years, "The Status of Palestinian Children During the Uprising in the Occupied Territories." Respected by researchers for its reliable methods and non-partisan stance, this study found that children (defined as those under 16) accounted for 21 percent of all Palestinian deaths and 38 percent of all casualties (death and injuries combined).

The report found that 159 Palestinian children died from gunfire, beating, and tear gas, though the majority were killed by gunshot-67 percent over the two years and 78 percent in the last 18 months of that period. The average age of all those killed was 10 (12.5 for those shot). Israeli soldiers were found responsible for 94 percent of all the child deaths. One of every 15-20 Palestinian children required medical treatment for injuries. In US population terms, those 1987-89 Palestinian child deaths and injuries represented an equivalent of 9,680 American children killed and 3 to 3.8 million American children injured over a two-year period.

The Radda Barnen data become more disturbing when we see current casualties. According to figures from Israeli B'Tselem and the Defense for Children International, Palestinian children are dying today at a pace that, if it continues for two years, would be about three times the number of child deaths recorded in that 1987-1989 period.

In the first 10 weeks since the Al-Aqsa uprising began, 46 children under age 16 were killed. (That figures doesn't include another four shot in the head who have been declared clinically dead.) Of the 46 fatalities, 41 were shot by Israeli Defense Forces: 32 by live bullets--mainly to the head or chest--and 9 by dum-dum or rubber-coated steel bullets. The average age of those shot dead is 13.6, a year older than the children of the 1987-89 period.

At this pace, in two years there would be nearly 500 children under 16 killed.

The Red Crescent Society reports that over 5100 Palestinian children have received field hospital and ambulance service treatment. Viewed as a proportion of the current US population, these deaths and injuries to Palestinian children under 16, are the equivalent of 2,191 American children killed, and 245,797 injured in a ten-week period.

Significantly, the Radda Barnen study does not support allegations-made in 1990 as well as now-that the high Palestinian child death toll results from the deliberate use of children in confrontations with the IDF. In the first intifada, 52 percent of children killed were not in or near a protest activity. Another 28 percent were engaging in non-violent activities like "observing a passing demonstration, hanging a flag, dispersing from a demonstration." Thus, 80 percent of the children under 16 killed were not engaged in stone-throwing when killed.

The study challenges us to ask what protection Palestinian families could provide for their children when 40 percent of all those killed in 1987-89 were actually in or within about 30 feet of their homes when killed. Or when one of those children "was dragged out of the house and killed in the street." The study says 94 percent of tear gas deaths occurred when the children were at home, and in 84 percent of these cases, canisters were launched into homes or within about 15 feet of them.

Instead, this report testifies to a continuing history of IDF aggression against children in the context of Palestinian resistance to illegal military occupation. This conclusion resonates with investigations of the current violence by Amnesty International, B'tselem, Physicians for Human Rights, and the UN High Commission for Human rights, suggesting a pattern of human rights violations intended to crush Palestinian resistance while, paradoxically, ensuring a continuation of hostility.

Long overdue is American and Israeli acknowledgment of the obvious connection between brutality to Palestinian children and their deepening enmity toward Israel in the years ahead. Deadly as it is today, Israel's occupation is not only an occupation of Palestinian land and lives. It is also an occupation of the future.

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