- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2001

Since violent Palestinian-Israeli clashes exploded in late September, few international human rights advocates have asked why there have been so many casualties among children and youth more than 60 Palestinian children have lost their lives and how it even came about that scores of children were engaged in this conflict.

The executive director of UNICEF, Carol Bellamy, addressing the U.N. Commission on Human Rights weeks ago, called on the Palestinian Authority "to take energetic measures to discourage those underage from participating in any violent action because such action places them at risk."

In contrast, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, after visiting Israel and the Palestinian Authority last month, declared that any suggestion of Palestinians deliberately using their children in the conflict was simply racist.

As recently as last year, a U.N. Security Council resolution condemned the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict. Similar U.N. measures include the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which condemns the recruitment of children under 15 in armed conflicts. The Fourth Geneva Convention strictly forbids the use of civilians, including children, as shields.

But the international community has been content to blame the current tragedy exclusively on Israel's allegedly excessive and wanton use of force, ignoring a pattern of Palestinian leaders encouraging children to participate and religious leaders glorifying the "martyrdom" of the youngest members of that society.

Palestinian use of children in this context stands in sharp contrast to another fierce test of political will: In the massive Belgrade demonstrations last October calling for Slobodan Milosevic's ouster, virtually no children could be seen on the streets. Serbian parents and opposition leaders knew there was a high probability of violence and responsibly kept their children out of harm's way.

But when it comes to children in Gaza and the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority seems to adhere and be held to a different standard.

How else can one comprehend how the European Union turns a blind eye to the contents of newly introduced textbooks in Palestinian-controlled elementary schools that make no mention of Israel on maps of "Palestine" a curriculum developed with the financial assistance of the EU?

Instead of being educated from an early age towards becoming open-minded citizens of a future Palestinian state living side by side in peaceful coexistence with Israel the only realistic outcome of the conflict Palestinian children are being taught the lessons of hate and the methods of war.

Hatred is reinforced not only in schools, but also during vacation when, for example, tens of thousands of Palestinian children attend camps run by Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization to engage in weapons instruction and such lessons as how to kidnap an Israeli soldier.

Moreover, the Mufti of Jerusalem, the most influential Islamic cleric appointed by the Palestinian Authority, has stated that "the younger the martyr, the greater and the more I respect him." Of the mothers of these children, the Mufti observed that "they willingly sacrifice their offspring for the sake of freedom. It is a great display of the power of belief. The mother is a participant in the great reward of the Jihad to liberate Al-Aksa."

With this kind of political and religious leadership, is it any wonder that a 12-year-old Palestinian boy would tell a reporter from the Times of London that he would be happy never to see his adult years?

"I want to die as a martyr. I will go straight to paradise if I do that," said the impressionable youth, whose schooling has taken place entirely during a period in which Israeli and Palestinian leaders engaged in peacemaking.

Or, one might consider the Palestinian father, with a hand on the shoulder of his son, telling CNN that he would be satisfied if his child died defending Palestine. Or the Palestinian women in Gaza asserting that they must bear more children to replace others of their offspring who may become "martyrs."

Contrary to widely held perceptions in the West that today's conflict is essentially a reprise of the Palestinian uprising of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the realities in the West Bank and Gaza have changed substantially.

Palestinians control their major population centers indeed, more than 95 percent of Palestinian areas formerly administered by Israelis. Thus, those who wish to attack and send their children to attack Israelis must first find them, not down the block, but outside Palestinian towns.

And, though the children may be carrying stones, Palestinian adults armed with semiautomatic rifles and other weapons have not hesitated to open fire on Israelis with intent to kill even while children are sent ahead of them into harm's way.

"What kind of independence is built on the blood of children while the leaders are safe and so are their children and grandchildren?" asked an Arab journalist writing in the London-based Arab newspaper, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat.

Why are so many Palestinian children dying? It is surely overdue for the international community to pose that question not just to Israel but to the Palestinian Authority as well.

David A. Harris is executive director of the American Jewish Committee.


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