A Sudden Concern for the Palestinian Child

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.

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.