Thursday, August 16, 2007

Another Lament for the Children

By Joharah Barker
MIFTAH (Palestine)
August 15, 2007

In any seemingly inconsolable situation, you can always fall back on the maxim, “It could be worse.” There is truth in this, no doubt.

After watching, “Hotel Rwanda” in horror, I realized that our children have not yet seen their neighbors being hacked to death by another neighbor,or scores of bodies blocking off main roads.

So yes, it can be worse. But for Palestine’s children, it is bad enough. While our politicians continue to vie for meaningless positions of power, vilifying each other with an unprecedented vengeance and the Israeli army continues to invade, shell and kill our people, an entire generation is being raised and molded in a place that offers little hope for a healthy and prosperous future. Palestinian society, like many developing societies is mainly comprised of young people.

According to Save the Children, 53 percent of the population is under the age of 18, that is, approximately 1.2 million Palestinians. This is a significantly large sector of society andone which constitutes the future generation. However, what sort of future is in store for our children? What value system are they being raised on when everything around them is violence, poverty and dashed hopes?

The statistics alone speak volumes. Issues such as death, poverty, imprisonment or home demolition are difficult enough to comprehend for an adult, much less a child, whose main concern should be what new video game to play and not whether their house will remain intact overnight. However, our children are forced to face these issues every day, the psychological ramifications of which may not surface for years.

A total of 882 Palestinian children have been killed since the start of the Intifada in September 2000 as a result of Israeli military or settler violence up to June 2007. This is not including children killed in Palestinian internal violence, especially in Gaza, where at least seven child deaths were recorded in June, 2007 alone, according to Save the Children.

There are also over Palestinian 400 children being held in Israeli detention facilities. Then there are those children forced to live in abject poverty because their families have lost their jobs or their fathers are dead or imprisoned. Seven out of 10 households in theWest Bank and Gaza live in poverty, determined by the World Bank as living on $2/day or less.

The list goes on and on. How many Palestinian children have seen their homes demolished before their eyes, their fathers, brothers, sisters, killed before them or violently taken away byIsraeli forces? How many have been humiliated at checkpoints, their schoolbags carelessly flipped upside down and then left to be retrieved from the dusty ground?

These are rough circumstances for any human being to live under, much less children. Still,while the Israeli occupation has been a ubiquitous presence in the lives of all Palestinians for the past 40 years, Palestinian infighting has not. Unlike the ramifications, however dire, of a belligerent occupying force, the backlash from internal fighting may have such deep rooted consequences that years of rehabilitation cannot heal. Take for example, the media. All it takes is the click of a remote control and children are exposed to the poisonous rhetoric of Hamas and Fateh leaders, verbally slashing the other. Images of ransacked homes, flag-swathed martyrs and angry masked demonstrators pour out of thetelevision screen into the impressionable minds of children. The result? The unfortunate polarization of Palestinian society has inadvertently been passed down to the next generation.

Western children play games such as “cops and robbers” or the less politically correct“cowboys and Indians.” For a long time in Palestinian playgrounds or on side streets, children played “Israelis and Palestinians” mimicking Israeli gun-toting soldiers facing the more courageous and ultimately victorious stone-throwing Palestinians.

While the imitation of violence cannot be healthy for any child, the imitation of internal violence is that much more damaging. These days, innocent young mouths are parroting the venomous words of our leaders, calling this or that movement “treasonous”, blasting off curses against people that could easily have been their friends a few short years ago.

This is extremely dangerous and a point to which our leaders have been clearly blinded. The words and actions of politicians are not directed only to each other but to an entire population, children included. When a child witnesses the death of a family member at the hands of an Israeli soldier or settler, loss is no doubt tremendous. This is true for any death. How then, can this child be expected to process this loss when the death comes at the hands of a person he/she has seen before, someone who lives just down the street, who owns theneighborhood store or who is married to a distant relative?

Israel has done its share of damage to our young population, and will continue to do so as long as there is an occupying authority on our land. This is a fact that we, as a people must continue to confront and aim to annihilate until our last breath. However, the damage caused by this terrible fission between our political leaders is tenfold because our children will not know who the enemy is or why their neighbor “betrayed” them.

This will have long-lasting ramifications on our entire society. If we are ever to rid ourselves of the Israeli occupation and establish our own independent state, there will be innumerous wounds to heal. No doubt, those inflicted by Israel will eventually mend because they were perpetrated at the hands of a colonial force, one that openly attempted to obliterate the Palestinian national cause and usurp Palestinian national soil.

However, the gashing wounds left behind by this horrendous civil strife may never heal. We all know the story of Cain and Abel, one brother killing the other. Epics such as these were meant as lessons, for humans to learn from other human errors. Will Fateh and Hamas – or any other faction tempted to join the battle – finally realize that none of this can come to any good?

The responsibility of protecting our children from the Israeli occupation is already heavy enough. Let us not continue to create such deep wounds in our children that one day we will be powerless to mend them.

Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Programme at the PalestinianInitiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH).

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