Childhood in the Holy Land

The path to school is one of those things that almost everyone can agree needs to be safe. Everyone except for Israel, that is. Palestinian children are terrorized and humiliated on their daily walk to school and home.

A study done by the Christian Peacemaker Teams and Operation Dove found at the end of the 2007-2008 school year, settlers committed violence against children on 14 occasions either to or from school. Children missed over 25 hours of classroom instruction due to “settler-violence” (so commonplace there’s even a name for it). This is not simply taunting or harassment on the way to school. Walking to school in Palestine can be fatal. Children are petrified of getting hit by the car of a random radical Zionist settler, known as “vehicle violence”. In 2013, there were 399 incidents of settler’s using their vehicles as weapons to maim and murder Palestinians.

But it’s not just the settlers these children have to contend with each day. There’s the skunk truck, courtesy of the IDF. The truck sprays fumes much “worse than raw sewage” and more “like a mixture of excrement, noxious gas and a decomposing donkey.” A reporter from Reuters described the liquid originally meant for crowd control during protest as the following:

“Imagine taking a chunk of rotting corpse from a stagnant sewer, placing it in a blender and spraying the filthy liquid in your face. Your gag reflex goes off the charts and you can’t escape, because the nauseating stench persists for days.” 

Children are stopped at checkpoints on their way to school and their bodies searched. Human rights organizations have documented cases illustrating the treatment of Palestinian men and boys held at checkpoints for hours. They areften forced to strip to their underwear in metal cages, with no privacy, let alone protection, food, or water. Teachers are also physically searched, often in full view of their students.

From the moment children walk out of their homes they are at risk of being “detained” by the IDF. Children cannot even play on their front yard without fear of the customary practice of detention (kidnapping) of children as young as 6 years old for no clear reason. As of July, the West-Bank based Addameeer Prisoner Support Network reported that over 400 children are currently spending parts of their childhood in Israeli prisons.

If these children manage to make it back from school unscathed, they often come home to find their home bulldozed by the IDF. Often, before all inhabitants have left. Imagine that for a moment.

You’re an elementary school student who walks to and from school each day, walking through the fear of death and imprisonment. Much like each morning, each afternoon you brace yourself, and somehow you manage to muster up the necessary resilience to walk back home. Just as you approach the safe-haven of your home, you notice piles of concrete. Within the rubble you notice your bed, toys, books, all in pieces. The IDF has demolished your home and everything you consider sacred. They have demolished your childhood.

Childhood is risky in Palestine. According to B’tselem-The Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, 2,134 Palestinian children and 134 Israeli children have been killed since September 29, 2000. Can’t we all at least agree that children, no matter their faith, tribe, or nation, should be able to walk to school without fear of death and imprisonment?

About Shirin Zarqa-Lederman 16 Articles
Shirin Zarqa-Lederman was raised in NJ by her Palestinian Muslim parents and later married her Russian Jewish husband. Together they have five interethnic children who experience the traditional customs of both cultures with their extended interethnic relatives. Shirin is also Licensed Professional Counselor, focusing on Child & Adolescent Psychology, and has written her own children’s picture book series, "The Trotters of Tweeville," which is focused on demonstrating kindness to children. The series is available wherever books are sold.

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