One Land and 5,102,809 Children

Palestinian children who work earn an average of 56 shekels ($16) a day

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Palestinian children play in an old car next their house in Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip, November 24, 2017.
Palestinian children play in an old car next their house in Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip, November 24, 2017. Credit: MOHAMMED ABED/AFP

An estimated 5,102,809 children under the age of 18 live here, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. This estimate was published on the occasion of International Children’s Day, which was marked last week. However, it was not issued as a single statistic, for this is one country with two central bureaus of statistics for two peoples, and all kinds of demographic and territorial lacunae.

Let’s start with the simple breakdown. According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, around 2,852,000 children 17 or younger were living in Israel. I read a bedtime story to one of them, six-year-old Maayan of Jerusalem, last week. She rested her elbow on my knee and sometimes quoted whole sentences from memory to me before I could read them.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, there were an estimated 2,250,809 Palestinian children under the age of 18 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. One of them is Kawthar, 7, of Hebron. Last week, she rested her elbow on my left shoulder and observed my fingers with great interest as they typed away to record the conversation with her father’s friend.

Did we say simple? Israel, according to the CBS, includes the settlements in Judea and Samaria, extraterritorial outposts of the state. The West Bank, according to the Palestinian CBS, includes East Jerusalem, whose Palestinian population is also included in the Israeli bureau’s statistics. Palestinian children in Jerusalem are the poorest in Israel, but they are counted twice. So you have to subtract tens of thousands of children from the total amount.

Maayan returned from kindergarten last year and repeated something about bad Arabs. Kawthar knows that her neighborhood is almost empty because the Jewish neighbors from the settlement compounds specialize in menacing Arabs away.

Children comprise 45.6 percent of the Palestinian population of West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinian bureau noted in its Children’s Day announcement. Almost half of Gazans are 17 or under – 49.3 percent, while the figure is 43 percent in the West Bank, which has 1,293,421 children on 5,860 square kilometers. Some 957,388 children live on Gaza’s 365 square kilometers. In other words, 42 percent of Palestinian children live on 6 percent of the land calculated as Palestinian.

The data collection published by Israel shows that 32 percent of Israel’s Jewish population – 2,042,000 – are children. Some 40 percent of the Arab population, 722,000, are children. The others are non-Arab Christians, the Israeli CBS meticulously notes. The percentage of children as a part of the Jewish population has climbed from 30 percent in 2005 and 2010. The proportion of children among the Palestinian population has slid from 47 percent in 2005 and 44 percent in 2010. The Judea and Samaria district is the big winner in the Israeli breakdown – 191,600 children account for 48 percent of the settler population.

But don’t rejoice too quickly. Just the Palestinian female population age 4 and under in the West Bank numbers 198,623.

Palestinian children in the West Bank ages 10-17 who work (whether or not they earn a wage) is 5.3 percent, or 28,000. The rate is lower in the unemployed-plagued Gaza – 1.9 percent. The children earn an average of 56 shekels a day. The weekly work average is 44 hours. The Israeli CBS only calculates working youths aged 15 to 17. Just 1.8 percent of the 212,000 in this age range were working (and didn’t study) at the end of 2016.

Children living with two parents or a single parent, active athletes, youths studying for a bachelor’s degree in university are just some of the categories that the Israeli CBS checks and estimates for International Children’s Day. Meanwhile, the Palestinian data collection for the same day shows that Israel has arrested 4,000 Palestinian minors since October 2015, out of a total of 15,000 Palestinian arrested during this period.

According to statistics that the Israel Prisons Service provided B’Tselem, there were 331 Palestinian minors in Israeli jails as of last May. Israel defines them as security prisoners and detainees. Another eight were caught in Israel without permits and jailed. According to statistics of the Palestinian branch of Defense for Children International, Israeli security forces killed 35 children in 2016 and another 15 in 2017 through August. Three of them were 13 to 15 years old and the others were 16 or 17. The press release does not detail the circumstances of their deaths.

Some 1,479 Palestinians, among them at least 650 children, lost their homes in 2016 because of Israel’s demolition policy, according to UN statistics. The figure includes East Jerusalem. Most were demolished on the pretext of not having a building permit. A few were demolished as punishment. Between last January and November 20, Israel destroyed the homes of 602 Palestinians, among them at least 260 children.