For every nation children are considered to be its future, but unfortunately Palestinian children are struggling to even keep their future, identity and existence intact. Though the Israeli government has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Child (UNCRC), it openly disrespects it by putting children behind bars and prosecuting them in military courts.
The viral blindfold picture of Palestinian teenager Fawzi al Junaidi during a protest over US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel clearly was an indication to the world of how the Israeli military is violating the international standards of juvenile justice. Despite accepting the norms of dealing with children in an armed conflict under the UNCRC, the Israeli army has been continuously mishandling and ill-treating Palestinian children.
As per figures reported by the Defense for Children Palestine, each year approximately 500-700 Palestinian children, some as young as 12-year-old, are detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military courts. Article 37 of the UNCRC clearly states that no child shall be subjected to torture, cruel treatment or punishment, unlawful arrest or deprivation of liberty. Regarding legal procedure, Article 40 clearly states that every juvenile has the right to seek legal help and emphasises on the legal structure of states to ensure a child’s best interest. But Israel has blatantly violated these conditions.
On the other hand, as per the international law the occupied population of any state has to be bound by its own laws and civil courts. But the Israel government has been using military courts to prosecute Palestinians, especially children even though the international human rights law does not allow prosecuting children in adult courts, let alone military courts. The Palestinians have unfortunately always faced legal discrimination in the occupied West Bank. The military law is only applicable to Palestinians, while Israelis enjoy the civil legal system. Not only this, recently the Israel government also passed a controversial bill to legalise 4,000 Jewish settler homes built on privately-owned Palestinian lands in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are however considered to be illegal under international law.
Moreover, the Palestinian children have had a serious impact on their wellbeing owing to the decades-old conflict. They have been witnessing oppression ever since their birth that often leads them to engage in activism. While children can be change makers, creating an environment that forces them to indulge in activism is not the way. For instance, Ahed Tamimi, a prominent 16-year-old Palestinian activist is the new face of Palestinian resistance. In 2012, when she was only 11 years old, Ahed was awarded the Hanzala Courage Award by Basaksehir Municipality in Istanbul for challenging Israeli soldiers. Today she is behind bars for bravely confronting Israeli soldiers during a recent protest.
It is utterly disgraceful that children themselves are fighting for their rights in Palestine and this will likely lead to an intergenerational activism against illegal Israeli occupation. Children cannot forget what they have seen and observed in their childhood, and the centuries-old Israel-Palestine conflict has already led to the killing of hundreds of children owing to Israeli air strikes over the past couple of years. The behaviour of the Israel government towards Palestinian children does not help in the peace and reconciliation process in anyway. In fact, prosecuting children in military courts will only worsen the situation.
It is time the international community stood up for the rights of Palestinian children. The sensitivity of the Israel-Palestine conflict needs to be understood and taken seriously by the world and efforts should be made towards result-oriented conflict-resolution. This is the moral obligation and responsibility of every nation to support peace and reconciliation of the Israel-Palestine conflict instead of adding fuel for certain interests.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 3rd, 2018.
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