Children are the first victims of Israeli-Palestine conflict

Nadezhda Kevorkova
Nadezhda Kevorkova has worked at RT since 2010, before which she was a special correspondent for ‘Novaya gazeta,’ ‘Nezavisimaya gazeta,’ and ‘Gazeta.’ Kevorkova has also worked extensively in Russian mass-media. As a war correspondent, she covered the Arab Spring, military and religious conflicts, and the anti-globalization movement. She has worked as a reporter in Egypt, Sudan, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Hungary, Greece, Turkey, Cuba, and in the republics of the North Caucasus, Tatarstan, and in the Far East. In 2001, after an invitation from US State Department, Kevorkova visited a number of states, including Alaska. As a correspondent of 'Gazeta' she reported from Indian settlements in the US. She covered the ‘Gaza Freedom Flotilla’ in 2008, 2010 and 2011; she also visited Gaza several times during the blockade. In 2010, Kevorkova was nominated for the ‘International Women of Courage’ award.
Children are the first victims of Israeli-Palestine conflict
Overshadowed by the events in Ukraine and Iraq, the Israeli-Palestine struggle is gaining momentum. Every time, it starts with the deaths of children on both sides.

On June 12, Thursday, three Israeli teenagers disappeared near Hebron (West Bank). During a demonstration on May 15 Israeli military shot two Palestinian teenagers.

There’s nothing new about involving children in this conflict, but the increasing number of kidnapped and killed children usually precedes large-scale conflicts. Here are some recent examples of how the death of a teenager served as a trigger.

Deadly hitchhiking

The Israeli population lives under a number of strict rules. No Israeli citizen can go to the Palestinian territories, hitchhike or visit Palestinian homes.

Earlier this month three students from the Jewish seminary in Hebron – Naftali Fraenkel (16), Eyal Yifrah (19) and Gilad Shaar (16) – disappeared on their way home, having broken the rule on hitchhiking. At least, that’s how the media describes it. The police learned about their disappearance on Thursday evening. The media reports that the police notified the army about it several hours later.

A combination of undated family handout pictures made on June 18, 2014 shows the three Israeli teenagers believed kidnapped by Palestinian militants, (From L to R) Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Frenkel, 16 and Gilad Shaar, 16 (AFP Photo)

The censorship that is as a rule inherently present in connection with any events was less strict this time. There was a leak saying that one of the teenagers managed to contact the police at 10:25pm and in a whisper told them that he was kidnapped, but, according to the media, the police operator dismissed the call as another teenage prank. An organization called Dawlat al-Islam has taken responsibility for the kidnapping, but there are no developments. That same evening Israeli official Gershon Baskin said that the Hamas leadership knew nothing about it. Yet on June 15, it was Hamas that Netanyahu accused of kidnapping the three teenagers.

“Today I can say what I couldn’t say yesterday, before the arrests of Hamas members in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank – RT) took place. The boys were kidnapped by Hamas, the very same Hamas that Abu Mazen created a national coalition government with. This will have serious repercussions,” said the Prime Minister, opening a government session on Sunday.

Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri claimed that the organization had nothing to do with the kidnapping, calling the accusations “nonsense” and “a bluff.” The Palestinian authorities on the West Bank said that they can’t guarantee the safety of Israeli settlers. Mahmoud Abbas’s aide Muhammad al-Madani said Netanyahu was taking advantage of the situation to generate more tension.

Then the army began a search and found a burned car that they identified as the kidnapper’s car. Following this, 16 Hamas members were arrested in Hebron; over the next few days, the number of arrests reached 80. The Israeli army started bombing the Gaza Strip, while Egyptian authorities called on Hamas and Islamic Jihad to explain the situation.
In Hebron, Palestinian teenagers threw stones at the Israeli forces by the Cave of the Patriarchs. Later, about 2,000 Israeli soldiers were sent there as reinforcements.

The Israeli side is convinced that the kidnappers intend to transport the teenagers to the Gaza Strip, so the checkpoints and border patrol are on high alert. It should be noted that walls were built along only some parts of the border, most of it is only equipped with wire fences, minefields, watch towers and 24/7 monitoring systems.

Deadly games with stones

May 15 is the Nakba Day for the Palestinians, the day of their displacement back in 1948. This year, it ended in the murder of two teenagers, Nadeem Siyam Nawara (17) and Muhammad Mahmoud Salameh Abu Daher (17). Both were shot through the heart near the Ofer prison in the town of Beituniya.

Reuters / Amir Cohen

On May 19, Defense for Children Palestine published a two-minute video of the shooting using CCTV camera footage. It shows two youths walking and then dropping to the ground. Based on the entry and exit wounds, the Palestinian side and Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem argued that it was live fire opened up from more than 200m away that killed the two teenagers and not rubber bullets. The human rights advocates underlined the fact that at no point were security forces endangered by any of the victims, so their actions cannot be justified as a response to provocation.

Fahad Zaid, the owner of the building with the CCTV cameras, said that he heard four gunshots coming from the opposite direction of where the boys were throwing stones. According to him, the army used gas first, the youths stopped throwing stones and retreated to a nearby petrol station, and after that the bullets hit their targets.

The military press service claimed that special equipment, not firearms, were used to disperse the demonstration. Moreover, the officials doubted the authenticity of the video, calling it a biased editing work.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said that the video was “edited”. The official version of the events goes like this: 150 Palestinians were commemorating the Nakba Day, throwing Molotov cocktails, burning tires and stones at the Israeli soldiers, but no guns were used in response.

The Israeli army announced a “partial investigation”, while the UN urged Israel to conduct an independent investigation of murder and disproportionate use of force.

‘It doesn’t look good’

In January 2013, two Haaretz journalists, Gideon Levy and Alex Levac, studied murders of children during protests, in particular the death of a 16-year-old from Budrus.

Reuters / Mohammed Salem

The following is how the journalists described the life of the Palestinian youth in Budrus: the Palestinian village borders an Israeli settlement; there is a separation barrier consisting of a high wall, a barbed wire fence and an electronic security system. Palestinian children come to the fence every day calling Israeli soldiers cowards and throwing stones at them. Penetrating the first line of defense is considered a special brand of cool.

As a rule, the journalists suppose, this behavior does not have any serious ramifications. But that day, soldiers set up an ambush, with one group hiding in the bushes and two more soldiers in the trenches by the wall.

The question of whether it’s okay to ambush teenagers is not on the agenda, since any Palestinian who violates the borders and rules established by the Israelis unilaterally is considered a trespasser regardless of their age.

When Samir Awad, 17, crossed the separation barrier, they fired in the air. The youth tried to flee to the village, but was wounded in the leg while crossing the barrier on his way back. The soldiers in the trench grabbed him, but he managed to free himself and continued to run. It was then that they shot him, running away, in the back and head.

Residents of Budrus told the journalists how they helped an Israeli soldier who accidentally strayed into the village about a year ago to get out of there safely. “And that’s how they paid us back for it,” they concluded in their interview with Haaretz.

The Army command qualified the incident as preventing an attempt to infiltrate into Israel. Later on, as the investigation progressed, the Army reported that the soldiers’ witness accounts do not add up. Still later, an officer told the journalists that “the story doesn’t look good.”

Israeli media believe that this “children’s war” has been going on forever, with Palestinian teenagers throwing rocks, and with young draftees , only a few years older, holding firearms in their hands on the other side, supported by their army and government . And so that’s how it ends up – the soldiers get to respond to these provocations with lethal weapons.

On the day the journalists visited Budrus they watched the late Samir’s brother go to the separation barrier to challenge the soldiers. In response, they threw tear gas grenades.

This is only one case that has received so much attention. There are dozens of protests like this taking place daily, and retaliation by force does not seem to succeed in stopping it. The Palestinians only keep growing more bitter and desperate.

This happens everywhere. In November 2013, a Palestinian teenager attacked an Israeli soldier with a knife in the north of Israel. The soldier died from the wounds; the 16-year old attacker from Jenin (West Bank) was arrested. According to the media, he had been working in Israel illegally. He is facing at least one life term for the murder, whereas his brothers may well be expected to plan and carry out more revenge killings.

How to help solders get over it

Scandalous revelations by Israeli Major Elena Zakusilo (Gluzman) shed light on how Israeli soldiers are trained to counteract Palestinian protesters, including children.

AFP Photo / Saif Dahlah

In her appearance on the Ukrainian TV show “Lie detector” on November 4, 2013, Elena confessed to having fired at minors.

Her job with the Israeli Army is to train army dogs for raids against Palestinians. During the protests of 2004 that were triggered by Yasser Arafat’s death she had to fire at protesters.

Elena related how her fellow officers helped her fight the psychological barrier and the doubt about what she was doing.
Her rugged yet friendly commander, a general, gave her advice to accept the idea that the order to attack means exactly to follow the order and fire not thinking about who or what the target was. She explained further that all other emotional reactions of a soldier are given full and proper consideration saying, “If you come to your commander and say, for instance, that you accidentally hit a cat while driving or saw someone get hurt and you feel bad about it, he’d talk to you for hours to help you get over it.”

Elena’s job is to train dogs. She has trained 150 of them so far. “I want to return to Israel and continue destroying the enemy,” she said.

The major explained in detail what kind of training she gives the dogs: “A dog is fitted with an electronic collar which has an inbuilt camera; the operator in charge of the dog has the remote control which can make the dog attack a target by sending the signal from as far as 10 kilometers away."

Elena’s mother, who also participated in the program, said that she supports her daughter and understands that murder is part of the job. “Of course, this is the Army,” said she.

Children under fire

For decades, the number of reports about outrageous acts of violence has grown so much that it does begin to raise doubts about whether they have any value.

A Palestinian boy holds up a Koran near Lion's Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, as minor clashes take place at a nearby compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount (Reuters / Ammar Awad)

Palestinians, Israeli human right organizations, UN commissions report murders, arrests, and torture of Palestinian minors, but nothing changes in how the overall situation presents itself – i.e. hopeless.

The Israeli side’s arguments boil down to the claim that the Palestinians do not value their own children and push them to the battle line themselves.

The majority of Palestinians I have talked to have been arrested as children for throwing rocks at the soldiers.

The warden of the St. Porphyrius Church in Gaza, an Orthodox Christian, told me that boys feel it is their duty to take part in the acts of protest, regardless of their religion, social standing of their family or wealth. This is how they grow, generation after generation.

According to the Save the Children reports between 23,600 and 29,000 children required medical assistance for wounds and injuries from beatings and gunfire during the first two years of the First Palestinian Intifada (1987-89), a third of them were minors under the age of 10.

During the Second Intifada (2000-2004) the Israeli Army killed 500 children, and left 10,000 injured. The Second Intifada literally began with the killing of a Palestinian child Muhammad al-Durrah. This was captured on a video, which the Israeli media dismissed as fake Palestinian propaganda.

146 Palestinian children died in the course of anti-Palestinian operations undertaken in 2006-2007.

In December 2008-January 2009, the operation against Gaza took the lives of 1400 Palestinians, 312 of them children.

These killed children either remain nameless or, at best, get reported as a casualty in a news ticker. Only seeing how the tension builds up and how the mass-media start to spin these deaths can give the experts a clue that we’re possibly nearing a full-scale war phase, with hundreds and hundreds casualties.