Monday, April 5

MCC Palestine Update #99

MCC Palestine Update #99

April 5, 2004

[Go to the "Palestine Diary" section of the MCC website for a series of seven diary-style reflections by MCC workers Ed Nyce, Molly Graver, Bob Herr, and Alain Epp Weaver-]

As Holy Week begins, there are no shortage of possible topics to address in this brief missive: the assassination of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin; the heightened security inside Israel as people brace for a response by Hamas; Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's renewed threats to "remove" Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat "from the historical arena"; Sharon's own legal troubles, that may yet threaten the future of his government; the ongoing demolition of homes in the occupied territories, particularly the Gaza Strip; Israeli attempts-which seem to be enjoying partial success-to obtain at least tacit US support for its "disengagement" plan (best understood as a unilateral, de facto annexation of large swathes of West Bank land and as a solidification of control over settlements built on that land and over West Bank land and water resources). All of these topics, and more, would easily warrant multiple essays. But instead I'll just mention one news item, one that has received scant attention in the world's press. This past week various United Nations agencies announced that, given ongoing Israeli restrictions and limitations at the Karni crossing point into the Gaza Strip, the UN agencies were suspending food aid operations to Palestinians. With the Palestinian economy in tatters, thanks to over 40 months of Israeli closures, checkpoints, and restrictions on movement, all resulting in poverty and unemployment rates running at least at 60% (using the most conservative of economic measurements), hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have found themselves dependent on external food aid. For months, UN agencies, donor governments, and international aid agencies have grappled with two questions: first, by helping to prevent the Palestinian economy from total collapse, are these food aid efforts in effect assisting Israel in maintaining the occupation-i.e., allowing it to control the occupied territories while absolving itself of any responsibility (which as an occupying power it should bear) for the welfare of civilians in the occupied territories? Second, at what point would ongoing Israeli obstacles to free humanitarian operation? The UN agencies have clearly decided that, with new restrictions at entry points into the Gaza Strip, the obstacles to humanitarian operations have become too great. I personally share many of the reservations about food aid listed by its critics: that it fosters dependency; that it can compromise the dignity and honor of its recipients; that, in the occupied territories, it unwittingly aids Israel in having the occupation without any of its consequences. That said, the well-being of hundreds of thousands of Gazans has now been made more tenuous, thanks to ongoing Israeli obstacles to humanitarian assistance. This Holy Week, pray that none might go hungry in the occupied territories; pray also that restrictions on ordinary Palestinian movement will be lifted, a move that, World Bank and other economists observe, would go a very long way in addressing poverty and unemployment among Palestinians.

Below you will find four pieces. In the first, MCC worker Ed Nyce reflects on the death of a neighbor this past week. In the second, Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy goes on a tour of Palestinian villages destroyed by Israeli troops in 1948, organized by MCC's Israeli partner organization, Zochrot. Israeli academic Avi Shlaim, based at Oxford, then looks at the "road map" to continued conflict that has been charted by current Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Finally, Gideon Levy takes a sobering look at what he calls "a sudden concern for the Palestinian child."

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. Here We Go Again, Reflection by Ed Nyce, April 2, 2004

Today, Friday, April 2, one of Abu Nasser's sons was killed near Rachel's Tomb.

Several of you know Abu Nasser, who has a small food shop below the apartment where I live. A few others know the location. And the rest of you I included in this email either because you know the culture and situation, or I just wanted to tell you.

The first word regarding what may have happened is that the son, 16 years old, was throwing stones toward soldiers. If so, he was probably part of a group. It is not out of the realm of possibility.

Abu Nasser has welcomed me from the beginning. He does not know English. He likes to say that he gives me Arabic lessons and I return the favor with English lessons. He is knowingly exaggerating.

He and Abu Fuad, who used to have a shop across the street, would regularly invite passersby to join them for Arabic coffee. Times are tough enough now that the coffee doesn't show up like it once did – at least that (the tough $ times) is my interpretation. The shop often has very little merchandise, and I mean very little, and Abu Nasser is one who's been hit hard by the economics of the intifada. It's not that he had lost a lot during the intifada, because by the time it started in 2000, he already didn't have a lot. But still he has less than before. And after today, he has indeed lost a lot.

I don't see Abu Nasser everyday, but today I saw him three times before this happened, two of the times for extended periods.

First was when I went outside to try to put the front bumper of the Subaru back where it is supposed to be. When I went for an early morning walk, I didn't notice anything strange, but a little later, looking out the window, there was the rubber bumper hanging down perpendicular to its usual position. Zoughbi Zoughbi, my landlord and director of Wi'am, a peacemaking organization with whom MCC partners, called to confirm our meeting today, and I mentioned the bumper to him.

When we went out to look at it, Abu Nasser's shop was open. He said that some kids knocked the bumper down last night. Yet I hadn't seen it that way this morning. In any event, Zoughbi briefly went back inside or somewhere, and Abu Nasser showed me his shop. There was a large increase in merchandise quantity! He sold a dunam (1/4 acre) of land out near Tuqu' and invested it in more products. I congratulated him (though wasn't sure if the selling of the land was happy), and then Zoughbi and I left for the office.

I got a ride back around 10:30 or so from the garage in Beit Sahour, where I left the car, and went into Abu Nasser's shop. A sheikh whom I see walking at times, and he and I exchange waves and sometimes verbal greetings, started asking something I didn't quite get, but it seemed like it had to do with whether I was Muslim or whether I wanted to talk about it. In any event, Abu Nasser right away started saying, "No, no, no," told him I'm his friend, and a few other very helpful things. So then the sheikh's questions were more along the line of whether I'm married. Dialogue would have been fine, but so was the intervention. After he left for the Friday prayers, to which Abu Nasser would soon also go, I again expressed my joy that he had a fuller shop, and bought 32 shekels (roughly $7.11) worth of items, plus received a shekel's (maybe a shekel and a half) worth for free - his insistence.

Later, I saw Abu Nasser very briefly when I left to get the car (and when I returned).

In late afternoon, I went over to the home of some other friends. Abdullah, the youngest of six children, turns 8 today. It's a family I enjoy being with a lot, and feel really at ease there.

While there, someone noticed the written news flash on the television screen that Abu Nasser's son was killed near Rachel's Tomb. The spelling of the name, which I could make out (Arabic) only because it stayed for a long time on the screen, was actually Nassar (Nas SAAR) rather than Nasser (NAS ser), and those in the room were discussing that and weren't quite sure at first which name was accurate. However, the rest of the family names lined up, and already the word was going around outside, the kids said, that it was a son of his.

I am not quite sure yet which son it is. I know most of them, and one of several could be exactly 16, so we'll see.

I head out on my own at times, and some things I do with others. Visiting the family tomorrow, a cultural expression of grief, I plan to do with Zoughbi and others who go as a group. Usually, at least a small group shows up rather than an individual on these calls. Sometime tomorrow we'll do that.

So there was still a cake for Abdullah, though now with the news we didn't sing, but did anyway go on and have a good time. There would never be any cakes if we waited for good news. One boy turned 8, one boy died at 16. And, it seems, that's life.

"Ba'en Allah," Abu Nasser will probably say tomorrow - "God will help us." Just today we were talking about life, about none of us knowing what will happen in the next year (I said that), or the next hour (he said that). Really, we were. "Allah kariim," says Abu Nasser frequently - "God is generous."

Please pray for Abu Nasser and family.

2. Twilight zone / Social studies lesson
By Gideon Levy
Ha'aretz, April 1, 2004

A holiday excursion to the hidden side of the Land of Israel - the ruins of lost villages in the Galilee - led by a guide from Hurfish.

Look at this prickly pear plant. It's covering a mound of stones. This mound of stones was once a house, or a shed, or a sheep pen, or a school, or a stone fence. Once - until 56 years ago, a generation and a half ago - not that long ago. The cactus separated the houses and one lot from another, a living fence that is now also the only monument to the life that once was here. Take a look at the grove of pines around the prickly pear as well. Beneath it there was once a village. All of its 405 houses were destroyed in one day in 1948 and its 2,350 inhabitants scattered all over. No one ever told us about this. The pines were planted right afterward by the Jewish National Fund, to which we contributed in our childhood, every Friday, in order to cover the ruins, to cover the possibility of return and maybe also a little of the shame and the guilt.Then they put up a sign: "South Africa Forest. Parking. In Memory of Hans Riesenfeld, Rhodesia, Zimbabwe." Did the Riesenfelds know? A peculiar coincidence - the South Africa Forest, the Rhodesia parking area atop the ruins of Lubiya, of whose existence not a trace is left, not even a small sign. But here was a village whose sons are now scattered throughout the world and who carry the memories with them. For the information of our hikers and the philanthropists from Zimbabwe.A Russian couple spreads out their picnic meal on the wooden table: sandwiches, vegetables, cold cuts, vodka. Not far from them, by another JNF picnic table, stands Mahmoud Issa, the son of refugees and a Danish citizen, and spreads out an aerial photo of his parents' village produced by the Israel Mapping Center. The date of the photo: January 26, 1945. Three years before their tragedy, six years before he was born, outside the village. House, paths and vegetation. Issa made a Danish film about his village, with English subtitles. He also published a book in Danish, soon to be published in an English translation, and perhaps also in Hebrew. His brothers and sisters are spread out in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Denmark.Deep in the grove, one can find a single wall that survived from the village, as well as a stone archway that covered a cavern used to store crops. The dozens of wells that belonged to the village (Issa says there were more than 400) are surrounded by barbed wire. They are wrecked and full of garbage left behind by hikers in the South Africa Forest who must have thought that the JNF had dug big trash cans in the ground. How were they to know that these were freshwater wells?The two Russian immigrants are immersed in their meal near a large group of hikers standing around the next table, on which Issa has spread out the aerial photo. Two busloads of people from Nazareth - several dozen Jews and Arabs, and a number of foreign visitors, too - on a holiday outing sponsored by the Emil Toma Center, Va'ad Ha'akurim and the Zochrot Foundation - to the Galilee that is normally hidden from view, on the eve of Passover - the holiday of freedom - and of Land Day.Tour guide Nimr Nimr from Hurfish is glad to see that so many Jews have come on the trip. "For so many years, they were fed the slander that the Palestinians left of their own accord," he says. To the right is the grave of Izzadin al-Kassam, in Balad al-Sheikh, now the town of Nesher. And now, to the right, Daliat al-Carmel and Isfiya. "The Israelis argue that the Arabs will never receive all the rights they deserve as long as they do not serve in the IDF. The Druze in Isfiya and in Daliat al-Carmel serve in the IDF and they don't get their rights," Nimr explains to the group on the bus.There were once 27 villages in the Tiberias area; 25 of them were destroyed. Nimr pronounces the names slowly and with emphasis, as in a memorial ceremony: Al-Dalhamiya, Abu Shusha, Hittin, Kafr Sabt, Lubiya, Al-Majdal. The list is long. In Safsaf, there was a massacre, near the well, that frightened the residents of all the neighboring villages. ("52 men were tied together with a rope, put into a pit and shot ... Ten were killed ... three incidents of rape ... a 14-year-old girl ... another four killed, a woman and her baby ... another 11 killed." - from Israel Galili's testimony as it appears in Benny Morris' "The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem").In Kafr Kana, many had been killed in battles by 1948. A memorial monument lists the names of the 26 casualties. To the left was Tzapuriya, a village of 5,000 inhabitants. To the right, an Arab neighborhood of Nazareth. Nazareth Illit, built on Arab lands, looms before us - 40,000 residents on 40,000 dunams; 120,000 residents in Nazareth and environs, on 7,000 dunams.Another tour guide gets on the bus. His name is Jamal Arafat and he is from the village of Mashhad. First stop, Sejera. Soldiers pass through the yellow iron gate of Ilaniya on their way to their base. In Sejera, Jews and Arabs lived together, with just a narrow valley separating the neighboring communities. Arafat says that relations between them were "idyllic."The pioneer David Green was here in the early part of the previous century and wrote: "Here I found the Land of Israel that I dreamed about. Nature, the people, the work - Everything here was different, more `Eretz-Yisraeli,' almost as I'd dreamed of it when I was still back in Plonsk ..." (David Ben-Gurion, Memoirs, Vol. I). His enthusiasm apparently faded, because before long, Ben-Gurion left his work in Sejera. A half-century later, on July 15, 1948, Sejera fell. The only thing left is the well, and it is completely fenced in. The cacti on the hillsides are the only witnesses.Kafr Sabt to the left, Sde Ilan, and this is Via Maris, the Sea Road. In front of the entrance to the house, the remnants of the khan on the main road and a guard post opposite it. Here the erasers of history were negligent in their work, and entire walls of the lovely building still remain.One young man on the tour, Imad Hourani from Haifa, says his family originally comes from Kfar Hittin and now lives mostly in Ilabun. He looks through the photos of documents and maps from his parents' lost village, and at the old stamps affixed to the contracts. His father, Mohammed Hourani, a contractor, refused to build the family a new house until 1970. That's when Egyptian president Nasser died, and with him, the father's hope of returning to his land. His father told him that after 22 people were killed in Ilabun, the residents of Hittin were so frightened that they evacuated all the men from the village. Only the women, children and old people were left. When the Jews came, they, too, were expelled - over the border, to Lebanon.The Golani junction. There's a memorial monument before the junction, the Golani museum, another Golani monument - we are in the land of monuments and selective memory. Here, too, Saladin defeated the Crusaders. Each year, on the anniversary of the Nakba (catastrophe), Hourani takes his two children, now aged 10 and 11, to see the ruins of Kfar Hittin."We go to remember. It's your Independence Day and our Nakba. We sit under the trees and try to bring only traditional food - labaneh and za'atar. We don't barbecue - so it won't look like we're celebrating." Here is the village well, as indicated on his old map. "I'm continuing what my father asked, so we don't forget."On Menachem Begin Boulevard near Tiberias, you turn left to Kfar Hittim. Before the entrance to Kfar Zeitim, you turn left again, onto a dirt road that leads up to the remnants of the village. Mustafa Dahabra was seven years old and Amin Sa'ada was 17 on the day they were forced to flee the village. Now they are two withered old men in baseball caps - one wears his facing forward, the other, facing back. Dahabra leans on his cane. Two Israeli air force helicopters are up in the sky. The two old men make their way through the bushes to the mosque.A thick iron fence surrounds the ruin, but the two old men know where to find a hole in it. When Yitzhak Rabin was prime minister a decade ago, they say they were promised a budget of NIS 300,000 from the state and given permission to restore the mosque. Rabin's murder cut off their hope as well. A few years ago, they tried to sneak in some sacks of cement in order to begin restoring the ruined building; someone threw the cement straight into the pool of water that was in front of the mosque and sealed it forever.Dahabra etches the outline of the pool in the sand with his cane. Now there is no pool and no restoration. Heavy iron bars have been placed over the entrance to the mosque and the staircase leading to its minaret is also blocked. Strawberries and figs grow in the shaded yard. There aren't many places as lovely as the yard of Kfar Hittin's ruined mosque."What did we ask for?," asks Dahabra. "We told Rabin's deputy that if they let us come back, we won't throw out the Jews. We'll live together. He said to me: `Don't talk to me about that.' Why not? I'm an Israeli citizen."Dahabra, who now lives in Dir Hana, comes here several times a year. His friend, Sa'ada: "All we asked was to be able to come here once in a while to pray. Not every day. I have 170 dunams here and I'm an `absentee' owner - but I'm here. How is this possible?"At 70, his memories are still vivid: "It was a black day ... We walked from here to Marar and from there to Dir Hana ... We didn't go to the Arab countries because we had sheep. For a week before we left I didn't go to school because we knew there was a war. People left and I left, too, it was group after group, my father and mother and brothers and sisters. We didn't take anything, because my father said that we'd come back."We want to live together with the Jews, just let us clean up the mosque. If I live in one room and a Jew lives upstairs, I'll invite him down to have coffee every day. `We lost everything,' my father said."Another young man on the tour, Wadi'a Awada, says that his great-grandfather built this mosque. His son attends high school in Kafr Kana. "They make them visit Kiryat Shmona. It serves my interest to live together, but first of all I have to know myself before I know the other. When I stand here in front of the minaret I remember that and it hurts - that my son should go to Kiryat Shmona instead of coming here. And one isn't allowed to come here. It's the right of every person to know himself. It's part of the diagnosis that we first get to know ourselves, because otherwise we won't heal. I don't want my son to come here so he'll want to subvert the state. Israel is a fact and it has its weapons and we're content to be its citizens. But you can't bluff with people and you also can't take everything."This is the other country: Kabri is Al-Kabri, Kfar Hittim is Hittin, Batzat is Basah, Migdal Haemek is Majdal, Manot is Manw'ad. A beautiful, lush part of the country that always has a light side and a dark side. Some want to cause things to be forgotten, to erase any trace, and some want to remember and perpetuate and perhaps even return. Here is the Shlomi industrial zone. A Protestant church and an Orthodox church across from the Zoglobek factory, a mosque across from Matak Metal Industries, a boarded-up school across from a high-tech glass-paneled building.Just to make sure, someone went to the trouble of sealing up the two churches with bricks, and surrounding the half-ruined mosque with barbed wire, which is in turn surrounded by some iron bars, rusty heat panels, garbage carts, large slats and old street signs.Whoever did this obviously went to considerable effort to block access to what's left of this mosque. A stone sign in front of the mosque, whose minaret has toppled, reads: "This mosque was built by a group of blessed men in the year 1153 of the hejira of the Prophet Mohammed." We are now in the year 1426 of the hejira.

3. Road map is forgotten at dead end for negotiation
Avi Shlaim
Sunday March 28, 2004
The Observer

Avi Shlaim says that the Prime Minister's violent pursuit of a Greater
Israel has lengthened a relentless dance of death

Israel's assassination of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, marked an extraordinarily dangerous escalation in the conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. There could hardly be a more dramatic demonstration of the disparity in military power between the two parties to this conflict. The trouble is that there is no military solution and there are only losers in this dance of death.

Both the official Israeli justification for the killing of Yassin and the Hamas response were entirely predictable. Ariel Sharon described it as part of the war on terror and called Yassin the 'first and foremost leader of the Palestinian terrorist murderers'. He compared him to Osama bin Laden and congratulated the Israeli security forces on their success. Hamas leaders overflowed with fury, seeing the killing as an attack on Islam. They vowed to take revenge and escalate the armed struggle until they achieve independence. Israel, they said, had opened the gates of hell. Secular Palestinian leaders denounced the attack as dangerous, crazy and cowardly and suspected that the motive was to create chaos in Palestinian society and bring about the collapse of the Palestinian Authority.

One thing was clear: with this single act of violence, Israel killed any prospect of a revival of the Middle East peace process. The road map, launched with so much fanfare a year ago, is now dead. All of Tony Blair's efforts in prodding and persuading a reluctant George Bush to adopt this plan for a two-state solution by 2005 appear to have been in vain. No Arab leader can be expected even to talk about peace with Israel, given its callous disregard for both Muslim sensitivities and international legality.

The assassination is likely to strengthen rather than weaken Hamas. In the wretched Gaza refugee camps, recruitment of suicide bombers has never been much of a problem. With Yassin turned into a martyr, more desperate young people will rally behind the Islamic banner. Political support for Hamas is also likely to grow at the expense of its secular rival, Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. Yassin's spartan lifestyle commanded universal respect. His honesty and that of his colleagues stood in marked contrast to the endemic corruption in parts of Fatah.

Yassin's removal will almost certainly tilt the internal balance within Hamas in favour of the more radical military wing. The political wing, headed by the organisation's new leader, Dr Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, was much more pragmatic than is commonly realised in the West. It observed several ceasefires scuppered by Israel. While approving suicide bombings as the only weapon available to their movement, its leaders leaned increasingly towards de facto acceptance of Israel within its 1967 borders. Israel's action, however, is bound to reinforce the argument of the hardliners that the Jewish state only understands force, and can only be dislodged from the occupied territories by force.

All this could have been predicted, so why did Israel embark on such a high-risk strategy? To answer this, you have to delve into the personality and policies of Israel's Prime Minister, a right-wing extremist who abhors negotiations and compromise and imposes his will by brute force. He is a proponent of Greater Israel and the champion of violent solutions. The Palestinians pose the main challenge to his vision of Greater Israel, so he has always advocated the use of military force to crush them.

By destroying the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Sharon hoped to break the backbone of Palestinian nationalism and facilitate the absorption of the West Bank into Greater Israel. The war was a disaster, but Sharon doggedly persisted in his objective of denying the Palestinians any independent political existence in Palestine. Evidence for this is ably presented by the sociologist Baruch Kimmerling in Politicide: Ariel Sharon's War against the Palestinians.

Equally dogged Palestinian resistance since the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada persuaded Sharon that the dream of Greater Israel had to be modified, if not abandoned. His new strategy rests on two main planks. One is the building of the wall on the West Bank that would prepare the way for the de facto annexation of roughly half its territory to Israel. The other, announced in January, involves unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Few Israelis want to hang on to Gaza, where there are 1.2 million Arabs and 7,500 Israeli settlers, who control 25 per cent of the territory and 40 per cent of the arable land. Sharon knows that the occupation cannot be sustained in the long term, so he wants to cut his losses to consolidate occupation of half of the West Bank. This plan amounts to an attempt to redraw the map of Israel-Palestine unilaterally without negotiating with the Palestinian Authority, without complying with any external diktats, and without following any international roadmaps.

Yet although Sharon's plan is fixated exclusively on Israeli interests, it has met opposition inside his cabinet from the pro-settler, ultra-right-wing parties and from the aggressively hawkish Minister of Defence, Shaul Mofaz. The General Staff is worried that Hamas would turn Gaza into a launchpad for attacks on Israel, leaving it with a powerful enemy on its southern border. Therefore it wants to break Hamas before the withdrawal.

The decision to execute Yassin has to be seen in this light. Some Ministers and the director of the internal security service opposed the proposal on the grounds that it was illegal and would only increase the violence, but the majority voted in favour.

It transpired that the cabinet decided to eliminate not just Yassin but the entire Hamas leadership in response to the double suicide bombing in the port of Ashdod. This means that Israel will strike at Hamas leaders whenever opportunities present themselves, not only in retaliation. Israeli strikes will be followed, inevitably and inexorably, by Palestinian retaliation with suicide bombs. This is a recipe for violence and bloodshed without any hope. Sharon has truly opened the gates of hell.

· Avi Shlaim is a British Academy Research Professor at St Antony's College, Oxford, and author of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World.

4. A sudden concern for the Palestinian child
By Gideon Levy
Haaretz, March 28, 2004

Suddenly, Israelis are worried about the bitter fate of a Palestinian child. To judge by the public shock over Hussam Bilal Abdu, who was caught wearing an explosives belt at the Hawara checkpoint, it would seem that nothing of a humane nature is foreign to us, even when it pertains to an enemy and his children. But this is an infuriating show of concern. The fate of a Palestinian child only touches us when it suits us, when it serves our purposes and when our hands are not involved.The hundreds of children who have been killed, the thousands who have been crippled, and the hundreds of thousands who live under conditions of siege and poverty, and are exposed every day to violence and humiliation - all this has failed to move the Israeli public. Just the child with the belt.Why weren't we shocked by the killing of Christine Sa'ada, who was shot dead in an IDF ambush while traveling in a car with her parents in Bethlehem, exactly a year ago today? Why was there no public outcry following the killing of Jamil and Ahmed Abu Aziz, two brothers who were riding their bicycles in Jenin in broad daylight when a tank fired a shell at them? How is their killing, which was documented on video, less cruel? Why didn't we show pictures of Basil and Abir Abu Samra, who were killed together with their mother in their vineyard near Nablus, just as we displayed pictures of Hussam Abdu? Why have we never discussed the killing of children at the entrance to the Qalandiyah refugee camp, where a child is killed by Border Police or IDF fire every few weeks? Why is a putting an explosives belt on a child more shocking than firing a shell at him?The harshest expressions are being uttered here, with much clucking of the tongue: "crossing the red line," "the pinnacle of cruelty," "a satanic act." And, in truth, it's impossible to understand such cruelty toward an innocent child who was cynically sent to his death. But Israelis have no moral right to criticize the Palestinians for their cruelty toward children; we are no less cruel.Sending a child to his death with an explosives belt is indeed a satanic action, but the shocked public reaction is tainted with hypocrisy and double standards. The cheap attempt to win points on the international public relations front from the picture of the child is ridiculous: the world knows that Israel's hands are not clean, that they are stained with the blood of children.From September 29, 2000 through February 29, 2004, IDF soldiers killed 486 children and teenagers, 255 of them under the age of 15, according to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG). This appalling figure should have long ago troubled the sleep of every decent Israeli and aroused a public protest. There can be no justification for the killing of children on such a large scale. The contention that the IDF does not intend to kill children has long ago lost its foundation. The real question is what is the IDF doing to prevent the killing of children. The answer - very little, if anything. When it drops bombs and missiles on population centers, such as during the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and when it sends tanks into residential neighborhoods, it cannot argue that it does not intend to kill children. There are many children living in the Darj neighborhood in Gaza City, where Mohammed Shehadeh lived. Whoever decided to toss a one-ton bomb there knew this very well. That is, he knowingly decided to kill children. No excuse can be made to relieve him of the responsibility for killing them.However, we're not only responsible for the deaths of Palestinian children. We're also responsible for their lives. Most of the Israelis who were shocked at the sight of Hussam Abdu have no idea, and are not at all interested in knowing, about the conditions in which the next generation of Palestinians is growing up. More than 25 percent of the children, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), suffer from chronic malnutrition. They live in a backward environmental - without community centers, computers, extracurricular activities, sports facilities, or playgrounds. No less serious are the traumatic incidents every Palestinian child is witness to. These children see their parents being humiliated and are exposed to violence and horror every day. Their nights are plagued with nightmares and their days are empty and depressing.Every brutal house search in the middle of the night and every contact with soldiers is a source of trauma. There is no Palestinian child who has not seen a house destroyed, an assassination operation, severe harassment or violence. They live in constant fear - that any moment soldiers will come, the tanks will enter and crush, the bulldozer will come and destroy, and the helicopter will fire a missile. Their fears are left untreated, just as their health and physical development are left unattended. As an occupier, we bear the responsibility for all of this.There is no need for incitement to instill hatred in these children. The daily sights they are exposed to constitute the greatest incitement. You don't need to promise too much to a child with this kind of life to make him want to commit suicide. Why shouldn't he want to? Because of his present life? Because of the future that awaits him? It's hard to know what motivated the child Hussam Abdu to put on an explosives belt. Virgins? The NIS 100 promised to his mother? But instead of being shocked by those who dispatched him, it would be better for us to focus on our responsibility for the conditions of his life. Whoever is truly concerned over the fate of Palestinian children should not only take interest when explosives belts are attached to their bodies.These children deserve a different fate. They deserve not to grow up among the rubble of their homes as children and be killed as teenagers - whether from a Palestinian explosives belt or from the bullet of an Israeli sniper. Both of these are cruel to exactly the same extent.

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