I wake up in the middle of the night to go check on my child. She breathes, she makes little sleep-noises. I leave the room. Again, half-an hour later I go back to check if she is alright. If she still breathes. I go back again and again through the night because instead of sleeping I have been watching the news coming in from Gaza. This is the seventh day of bombing in Gaza, ten children are dead and 140 wounded. I refuse to call them “children”. They are not “children” to be compressed into a common noun by the western press: they have names, they had toys, they also once cried in their sleep while their parents went up to check on them.
Let us call out: Jumana and Tamer Eseifan. Jumana and Tamer were killed by an Israeli missile in the town of Jabaliya. They were not yet four. Let us call out: Iyad Abu Khoussa. Iyad was killed when another Israeli missile hit his home. He was one. 10 members of the al Dalu family were killed in an Israeli airstrike while they were sleeping in their beds. Let’s call out some of their names: Sara was 7, Jamal was 6, Yusef was 4, and Ibrahim? he was 2. The New York Times reporter, Jodi Rudoren, described the funeral for the al Dalu children as an exercise in “pageantry”. According to Rudoren losing ten family members in one day was no excuse for forgetting your manners and weeping in public. Jumana and Tamer. Iyad and Sara and Jamal. Yusef and Ibrahim. Let’s remember they have names. Let’s remember they also had toys.
When the bombs started to fall why didn’t their parents flee? Mohammed Omer, a Palestinian journalist based in Gaza, tells us why.
Gaza does not have bomb shelters, and with the borders closed, the shoreline blockaded and many of the tunnels destroyed, no one can leave. The Palestinian education ministry and the United Nation Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) have shut all schools in this coastal enclave. Mosques and churches are not safe. The stadium is not safe. Media offices are not safe. Government buildings are not safe. Homes are not safe.
There is nowhere to go. But when the bombs stop falling what will life be like for those who remain in this ‘open air prison’ that is Gaza? What does childhood in Gaza smell of when there are no airstrikes?
According to the UN, Gaza will be unlivable by 2020. Israel’s blockade ensures that right now there is a shortage of food, housing, schools, hospitals and clean drinking water. By 2020, however, according to the UN, the region will collapse under the weight of this crisis. This is the future the children not killed by airstrikes have to look forward to. And if this is their future, their present is marked by routine everyday violence from Zionist settlers.
Defence for Children International-Palestine Section (DCI-PS), an organization that works in Palestine, states in their 2008 report that almost all Israeli soldiers “kick or otherwise mistreat [Palestinian children] out of boredom, wanting to ‘have some fun’.” In 2001, appearing on NPR’s Fresh Air, the New York Times reporter Chris Hedges described an average day for a Palestinian child:
And I walked out towards the dunes and they were … [there] over the loudspeaker from an Israeli army Jeep on the other side of the electric fence they were taunting these kids. And these kids started to throw rocks. And most of these kids were 10, 11, 12 years old. And, first of all, the rocks were the size of a fist. They were being hurled towards a Jeep that was armor-plated. I doubt they could even hit the Jeep. And then I watched the soldiers open fire. And it was?—?I mean, I’ve seen kids shot in Sarajevo. I mean, snipers would shoot kids in Sarajevo. I’ve seen death squads kill families in Algeria or El Salvador. But I’d never seen soldiers bait or taunt kids like this and then shoot them for sport. It was—I just—even now, I find it almost inconceivable. And I went back every day, and every day it was the same.
Activists and human rights agencies working in Palestine report how settler children are systematically taught violence by their parents, reminiscent of similar practices from the era of Slavery and Jim Crow in America. Reporting on a particular school district in Hebron one report from 2008 states:
Settler schoolchildren … routinely verbally harass, chase, hit and throw stones at Palestinian schoolchildren under the watchful eyes of Israeli soldiers. Their parents and other adults engage in similar behavior, blocking the school steps with their cars to make it difficult for students to pass or setting their dogs loose to chase and terrorize young children.
While routinely shooting Palestinian children for sport, Israel also ensures that any act of self-defense is either criminalized or smashed outright.
Since 2000, around 7,500 Palestinian children from the occupied Palestinian territories have been detained, interrogated and imprisoned by Israel. According to nongovernmental organizations, as many as 94 percent of Palestinian children arrested in the West Bank are denied bail. Once arrested this is the gridlock of their “rights” under Israeli law:
|Minimum Age to Receive a Custodial Sentence||Right to Have a Parent Present During Interrogation||Average Time Till Brought Before a Judge||Number of Days One Can be Legally Detained Without Charge|
|Palestinian Child||12||No Right||8 days||188 days|
|Israeli Child||14||Parent can be Present||24 hours||40 days|
The report, which compiled these statistics, was funded and supported by theUK government. In its conclusions, the report noted that Israel’s blatant refusal to obey international law with respect to Palestinian children stemmed “from a belief, which was advanced to us by [an Israeli] military prosecutor, that every Palestinian child is a ‘potential terrorist.’” Palestinian children terrorize Israel while playing soccer, while sleeping in their beds, while trying to turn two years old.
When I ask my 4 year old to draw a picture, she pulls out her crayons and draws rainbows and cats, her two favorite subjects. I visited the Palestinian refugee camps of Shabra and Shatila in Lebanon last winter and had the honor of meeting the children there who readily shared their works of art with me. What do you say to a five year old who knows how to draw clouds raining blood? Can you comfort a seven year old who can draw a corpse?
But those of us who have them, and those of us who know them, know this: children are resilient. They can stand up after they have fallen, they can ball their fingers in a fist. Some of them can draw the contours of free country with crayons. Others can pull down walls. It is our duty to ensure that they live, in order to do so. And maybe many years from now, they will also draw rainbows.