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In the Mideast, children are suffering

By BILL MAXWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 9, 2002


SAN ANGELO, Texas -- Pity the children who are trapped in this current bloody conflict between the nation of Israel and the Palestinian diaspora. The Holy Land has become an unholy place, a shooting-gallery and a bombing range where kids are the innocent victims of adult insanity.

SAN ANGELO, Texas -- Pity the children who are trapped in this current bloody conflict between the nation of Israel and the Palestinian diaspora. The Holy Land has become an unholy place, a shooting-gallery and a bombing range where kids are the innocent victims of adult insanity.

In a new report, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, states that Israel's systematic treatment of non-Jewish children, especially Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, is cruel and unacceptable. In fact, the Jewish state is not in compliance with the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The committee found "inequalities" in access to health care, social services and education for Israeli Arabs, Ethiopians, Bedouins, other ethnic minorities and disabled foreign children.

Jacob Doek, a leading panel member from the Netherlands, told the Associated Press that he and his colleagues condemn Israel for not honoring requests for information about the condition of youngsters in the occupied territories and Gaza. He and other panelists dismiss Israel's claim of having given the Palestinian Authority the job of reporting the information. The current violence between the two sides, along with Israel's need for security, has made matters worse than they have been in many years. Because of sealed borders, checkpoints, curfews and lethal military incursions, thousands of Palestinian children cannot attend school.

Many Palestinian children, often without their parents' blessings, try to attend school and challenge curfews and confront Israeli soldiers' rifles and tanks. Just a few days ago, for example, a 12-year-old boy in the West Bank city of Nablus was shot in the head by Israeli soldiers after he and other children were told they could not attend school that day. The children reportedly threw stones at the soldiers.

Another U.N. study released a few weeks ago showed that thousands of Palestinian children, like those in North Korea, are suffering from malnutrition. Many face long-term health problems. The terrible reality is that adequate food supplies, along with medicine, are not reaching the Gaza Strip and the West Bank because of the violence and Israeli control.

In a separate study, Amnesty International reported that the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian militants are killing children "with impunity." More than 250 Palestinian children lost their lives since the current crisis began in September 2000 to the end of August this year, and 72 Israeli children died during the same period, most from suicide bombings. Amnesty International stated also that approximately 7,000 Palestinian and hundreds of Israeli children have been wounded. Many will never fully recover.

Although much of the focus for the abuse of children has been on Israel, the world needs to pay more attention to the neglect and misdeeds of the Palestinian Authority.

When I was in Gaza City shortly before the current intifada started, several Palestinians told me that even during periods of relative calm, President Yasser Arafat and his cronies routinely siphoned off money for their personal use that was intended for education and other children services.

A teacher in Gaza City told me recently that although most Palestinians hold education in high regard, they do not press the government to spend more on services and better facilities. War with the Israelis makes education secondary, he said.

"We have a siege mentality," he said. "The children get lost in the uncertainty. Daily survival is on everybody's mind. Some people only think about getting even with the Jews. Life's really bad in the refugee camps. The children are suffering. What kind of future can they imagine? I don't have any reason to care about Jews, but some of them must be worried about their children, too. I'd like to get back to doing my job -- teaching children and caring for them."

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