The condition of Palestinian children, who have lived under occupation for the last five decades, was the main concern raised at the congressional meeting held yesterday by Ramallah-based NGO Defence for Children International Palestine (DCIP).
The panel of experts and lawyers spoke about the daily, systematic abuse Palestinians are forced to grow up under and live through.
Speaking on the panel was DCIP staff attorney and international advocacy officer Brad Parker, Director at Adalah Justice Project Nadia Ben-Youssef, Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch Omar Shakir and Yazan Meqbil, Leonard Education Organisation scholar at Goshen College.
The speakers examined how persistent grave human rights violations, systemic impunity, discrimination, and a hyper-militarised environment has affected the lives of Palestinian children growing up under a military occupation for the last 50 years.
In relation to abuses undertaken by the state of Israel, Omar Shakir explained how these practices are justified through the guise of "security," yet Israeli oppression outdoes any security rationale. Human Rights Watch has recorded at least five cases of abuse including killing citizens unlawfully, settlement projects, forced displacement, movement restrictions and abusive detentions, explained Shakir.
- In 2016 32 Palestinian children in the West Bank were killed by live ammunition making it the deadliest year in the past decade.
"In this country we have held the two state solution as a holy grail," Shakir added, explaining that this support for the two state solution is grounded in the desire to maintain separation rather than uphold Palestinian rights. "Let us not be here in 50 years looking at the last 50 years of occupation," he concluded.
Parker steered the discussion towards the quality of life for Palestinian children living under the last 50 years of occupation:
Generations of children have grown up not knowing anything apart from occupation, checkpoints and closures. All of this has come to be intrinsic to their life with occupation being a real experience growing up.
According to Parker, 2016 marked the deadliest year for children in the West Bank in the past decade with 32 children killed as a result of live ammunition fired by Israeli forces. There have been 80 cases of children killed as a result of live ammunition since 2014 with only one case of indictment. In fact, the Israeli army has increased the use of live ammunition against Palestinians.
Parker went on to highlight the conditions Palestinian children face when they are arrested in the middle of the night and taken to unknown locations and interrogated in order to extract false confessions. Yazan Meqbil, the only Palestinian on the panel, echoed this sentiment by speaking of his own personal experiences living under occupation.
Meqbil explained how his family received nine eviction and demolition orders and how he grew up with the constant fear of losing his home. He spoke of the realities many Palestinians grow up thinking as normal such as seeing "brains on the floor" or "your friends killed".
In 2010 Israeli forces searched for me and my brother in my uncle's house… my father then said the IDF wanted to arrest me but there was no reason they had to want to arrest me.
"I slept with my shoes on and fully clothed for a week so that when they came I would be prepared," Meqbil continues, telling the audience that no matter how active or politically inactive you are you can still be arrested by the Israeli state.
"This is a shout out to all of you and a request from a Palestinian whose childhood was taken from him: please do something," Meqbil implored as he concluded his talk.
"This is a human issue; politics is a human issue," Nadia Ben-Youssef, the final speaker on the panel, said:
Fifty years of occupation didn't emerge in just a vacuum. It predates 1967 as often these issues do. If we don't understand the problem how can we provide a solution?
Ben-Youssef highlighted how the Nakba enabled Israel to privilege the rights of one people and suspend the rights of another:
"What is the impact when your life is not valued by the state which means your life can be taken away?" Ben-Youssef asked. She continued by highlighting the case of Israel's 1.3 million Arab population in Israel who have been reduced to second-class citizens because they are defined by their "Arabness," which automatically means their rights are reduced compared with their Jewish counterparts.