Children caught in conflict

By Moammar Mashni

"They saw me shaking and started laughing and making fun of me. Then they put another piece of bread on my trousers near my genitals, so I tried to move away but he started barking. I was terrified."

This is part of the statement 15-year-old Ahmed F detailed as he describes how Israeli soldiers successfully intimidated him using a dog as part of his blind-folded interrogation. Ahmed has been in detention since being arrested in a 2.00 am raid on July 6 this year. His apparent crime was "throwing stones". After being strip searched, interrogated and transported to differing locations, Ahmed found himself in Megiddo without food and miles from his home in Burin, Nablus in the occupied West Bank.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), "as of 1 October, 164 Palestinians under 18 year of age were detained by Israeli authorities, most of them under charges of stone throwing". Yet these children did not rate a mention in the recent prisoner swap that took place in Israel/Palestine – why?

Are the children of Palestine not as important as the children of Israel? Well apparently not. If you happen to read the recent musings of Rachel Abrams, Bad Rachel, she describes Palestinian children in the most grotesque terms calling them "devils' spawn". For those unfamiliar with Abrams, she is the wife of American neoconservative Elliot Abrams who held senior Foreign Policy positions under Regan and Bush junior and currently holds the post of Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council of Foreign Relations.

I'm prepared to stake a king's ransom, that no-one reading this has any idea who Ahmed F is or his plight, yet we were all very well briefed on Gilad Shalit, the recently released Israeli soldier. Let us not forget that he was inside an armoured Merkava Mark III tank stationed strategically on the Israel/Gaza border, firing shells that create absolute havoc and misery. That said his 1,935 days captivity would no doubt have been a dreadful experience.

In contrast, the entire population of Gaza, 1.6 million Palestinians, has been blockaded courtesy of Israel for over five years. If we are to believe Israel, the aim of the blockade is to topple Hamas. A Freedom of Information Act petition from an Israeli Human Rights Group however, proved that the Israeli army deliberately controlled the items trucked into Gaza to ensure that just less than the minimum calorific requirements were available for the people there in an effort to perhaps get ordinary citizens to rise up and rebel. Based on the fact that Hamas still controls Gaza despite the crippling restrictions, one would have to say that Israel's policy has been an unmitigated failure.

Setting aside the current circumstances, the government of Israel has somewhat of a chequered history with Hamas - especially Benjamin Netanyahu. In the late 1980's when Hamas was barely a functioning entity, it is well documented that Israel all but sponsored Hamas in an effort to overthrow then president, Yasser Arafat. Then, in 1997, when Netanyahu was prime minister for the first time, he attempted to assassinate Hamas leader Khaled Mashal in an elaborate Mossad mission in the Jordanian capital of Amman.

Thus the prospects of peace could be fleeting or imminent, depending on which Israel decides to turn up to any future negotiations. In what can only be described as a blatant act of aggression, Israel has approved more settlement construction in September and October , thus the future of an independent Palestinians state is all but out the window upon examination of any map, particularly this most recent one from the UN.

Contrary to the often regurgitated myth that Palestinians use their children as human shields, it has never been proven - not once. Yet in October 2010, two Israeli soldiers were convicted of using a 9-year-old boy as a human shield during the infamous Operation Cast Lead of 2008/9. There are at least 15 other documented cases of children being used as human shields since 2004, with only the aforementioned case of the 9-year-old ever having been investigated.

Analysing the statistical data of child mistreatment by Israel is a horrific mission. The average number of Palestinian children in Israeli detention over the last 12 months is 212 - that is children aged 12 to 18 locked up on for the most minor indiscretion as Israel creates specific military orders that criminalise any form of opposition to the occupation.

Without doubt though, the statistic that should trouble any person of good conscience is the data relating to child fatalities. From 2000 to 2009, 1,329 children were killed by Israel. In real terms that means a Palestinian child was killed every three days, of every week, of every month, of every year, for 10 long years. How can this possibly be justified?

The international community has a moral obligation to hold Israel accountable for these crimes. Without the rule of law, and in this case we are talking about International Law and International Humanitarian Law, how can we possibly expect that the state of play will ever change?

Whether we like it or not, it is an undisputable fact that every single one of the 12 or so million people living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea (historic Palestine) are under Israel's rule. Is it therefore acceptable, that in the 2011 we still have a system that deliberately privileges one people over another in the same land? Or should this current spawn of apartheid be also discarded to the annals of history in the same way it was for South Africa in 1989.

Moammar Mashni is the Manager and co-founder of Australians for Palestine.