Hope & Sumud – 50 Years of Israeli Military Occupation

By Seth Malone, Peace Program Coordinator, MCC Palestine and Israel

Today—June 5, 2017—marks the 50th year of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Under international law, military occupation is always meant to be temporary. This is because the longer an occupation lasts, the more likely it is that respect for human rights and dignity are eroded. This is certainly the case in Palestine and Israel.

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Magad Amgad from al-Najd Developmental Forum, an MCC partner organization in Gaza, walks through a strawberry field. This MCC-funded agricultural project aims to provide greater food security for the people of Gaza who have been subjected to a 10-year blockade imposed by Israel.

Day in and day out, Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) partners work tirelessly to help their communities grow and flourish. Our partners come up against the worst aspects of the Israeli military occupation but continue to work for justice and peace all the same. From rehabilitating homes destroyed in war, to providing counseling services to women whose husbands have been killed, to organizing against the construction of the separation barrier that devastates every community that it snakes through, our partners are active and hopeful despite all odds.

In Arabic, this “steadfastness” or “perseverance” is called sumud. Sumud, in the face of occupation, has become an indispensable part of Palestinian life and the work of MCC’s partners.

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Children at the Nowar Educational Center of MCC partner Culture and Free Thought Association are making materials for their community advocacy campaign for traffic safety, January 19, 2017

Despite five decades of brutal military occupation, our partners and the people of Palestine continue to embody sumud. This is because—despite all evidence to the contrary—they believe there is hope. In 2009 the Palestinian Christian churches issued a statement called “A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering.” Known popularly as the Kairos Palestine document, it describes hope in this way:

“Hope within us means first and foremost our faith in God and secondly our expectation, despite everything, for a better future. Thirdly, it means not chasing after illusions – we realize that release is not close at hand. Hope is the capacity to see God in the midst of trouble, and to be co-workers with the Holy Spirit who is dwelling in us. From this vision derives the strength to be steadfast, remain firm and work to change the reality in which we find ourselves. Hope means not giving in to evil but rather standing up to it and continuing to resist it. We see nothing in the present or future except ruin and destruction. We see the upper hand of the strong, the growing orientation towards racist separation and the imposition of laws that deny our existence and our dignity. We see confusion and division in the Palestinian position. If, despite all this, we do resist this reality today and work hard, perhaps the destruction that looms on the horizon may not come upon us.”

This is not a passive hope. This is a hope which calls all of us to action—to act in solidarity with those who suffer. It calls us to responsibility. In the face of such injustice and violence, we are called to act justly and peaceably in the hope that God can take our humble actions, multiply them and make them bear fruit. We are called to remain steadfast—to embody sumud—by never giving up on our responsibility to God and our neighbour.

Such a hope and such a steadfastness is terrifying for those bent on propping up such a terrible occupation. The resistance, however small it may be, will always be the quiet voice that bears witness to truth, and tells the world that this unjust and evil occupation must end.

Omar Haramy

Omar Haramy leads a group through Sabeel’s Contemporary Way of the Cross, which takes participants to locations representing the various forms of Palestinian suffering. In the background are soldiers preparing to discharge tear gas and rubber bullets at children who were throwing rocks in Shoufat Refugee Camp in Jerusalem. Sabeel, the Palestinian Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, is an MCC partner organization that seeks to deepen the faith of Palestinian Christians in Palestine and Israel and works for justice, peace and reconciliation by using nonviolence.

So let us have the courage to join this resistance. Let us call for justice and peace. Let us call for an end to this occupation.

A note to Canadians:  Please send a message to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, letting her know that 50 years of occupation is enough.

The regularly destroyed village of Alhadedya

This piece was prepared by MCC Palestine staff and was originally published on the MCC Palestine Update.

After the rains of the winter months, the typically dry and yellow Jordan Valley turns a beautiful green. Tucked in between the rolling rocky hills lies the Palestinian village of Alhadedya. We visited Alhadedya with Stop the Wall, a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) partner organization that does grassroots community organizing in villages, refugee camps and cities across the West Bank. At the start of the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank in 1967, the village boasted 300 families. In 1997, however, only 150 families lived in the village. Finally, in 2017, Alhadedya only has 15 families remaining.

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On a tour with MCC partner organization Stop the Wall, Abdulrahim Sharat talks about how the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank has negatively impacted Alhadedya, his village in Area C, January 24, 2017. Photo courtesy Stop the Wall.

The dramatic drop in the village’s inhabitants is no mistake, explains Abdulrahim Sharat, the village elder. We met Abdulrahim in the community tent and we were offered coffee and tea immediately, as is customary in Palestinian culture. He greeted us warmly and began explaining the difficulties his community has faced with the Israeli authorities.

“They started in so many ways, in experimental ways, to chase us away. They first started to chase the shepherds and the farmers, taking them to military courts.” At the beginning, the Israeli authorities began to give out fines as a way to cripple the village economically and force the people to leave. “When this did not work,” Abdulrahim recounts, “they started chasing the animals with the military and began killing them from the helicopters.” Neither the fines nor the deaths of their animals were enough for the villagers of Alhadedya to leave.

This type of pressure by the Israeli military continued until 1987 at the beginning of the First Intifada, or Palestinian popular uprising. “The three years during the First Intifada was the best time for us. The Israelis were too busy with people in the city and left us alone.” However, this tranquility came to a halt after the Oslo Accords, signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993 to begin realizing the dream of a two-state solution. For the villagers of Alhadedya, the agreement was a nightmare.

Under the Oslo Accords, Alhadedya was designated as Area C, which means that Israel has full civil and military control over their land. Under the agreement, these lands were supposed to be turned over to an independent Palestinian state after a tentative 5-year period. Nearly 25 years after Oslo, Israel is still in full control over Area C, which covers over 60 per cent of the West Bank. During this time, Israel has only intensified its efforts to force the inhabitants of Alhadedya off of their land.

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Abdulrahim Sharat shows his village to visitors from MCC partner organization Stop the Wall, January 24, 2017. Photo courtesy Stop the Wall.

“After Oslo, they began their destruction policies,” explains Abdulrahim. “They came to destroy the village – we call this a military campaign. They came with soldiers…and destroyed the tents, animal shelters, and water tanks.”

Abdulrahim told us that the Israeli authorities have destroyed the village many times afterwards. Enclosed by Israeli military zones and a nearby Israeli settlement (illegal under international law), the people of Alhadedya are slowly being squeezed out of their land. To fight this, the villagers went to the Israeli High Court to defend their case and prove their right to the land. Unfortunately, they have had little success in stemming the destruction of their village. Demolitions of Palestinian homes and buildings in Area C and illegal Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank are at all-time highs. The village of Alhadedya is feeling the pressure of these two dynamic forces and Abdulrahim questions why he is being forced off his land.

“What does it mean [to say] legally or illegally?” questions Abdulrahim. “We were born here and our ancestors have lived here.” He wonders aloud why the nearby settlement, full of settlers originally from the United States and Russia, is not considered illegal under Israeli law but his village is. “Why? What is their right to kick us from our land?”

 

No secure future

This week’s guest writer is Myriam Ullah, Community Engagement Coordinator for MCC Saskatchewan.  She participated in an MCC learning tour to Palestine and Israel in February 2017.

We pulled up to a modest, concrete house in a rural-feeling suburb just outside of the city. Honey bees, the smell of rosemary, and hot tea greeted us as we were welcomed by the home owners. At first glance, the property looked beautiful and lush, with ten or so beehives scattered among the fruit trees.

The family who lives in this home is one of 500 living near Jerusalem that MCC has supported by helping to install water treatment systems and connect them to community agriculture projects. Through a translator and through MCC’s partner Applied Research Institute, Jerusalem (ARIJ), the family told  how they had been helped by such subsidies in a time of real need and were grateful for the access to a secure water source.

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ARIJ agricultural support project. Photo/Myriam Ullah

Our group, a collection of MCC constituents and staff from Canada, was on a two-week learning tour to gain understanding of MCC’s long-term work in Palestine and Israel and to understand how we, as Canadians, could continue to support projects like this when we returned home.

We questioned the family about how the water treatment system worked, and we learned more about how they had cultivated a more resilient and diversified crop. It was an inspiring visit and  a success story for ARIJ, a well-established NGO that was started with MCC seed-funding 25 years ago.

As we thanked the family and shuffled back onto the mini-bus, I thought to myself, “This situation could be anywhere in the world.” It is, after all, a fairly common story from MCC’s partners—supporting sustainable livelihoods for those found in unstable conditions because of conflict, war, or natural disaster.

The difference here was that we were just outside of a major tourist city. There had been no recent natural disaster, and access to food and water was actually abundant! Lush fields and crops grew just a few kilometers away.

The unique edge to this story is that ARIJ provides water treatment systems to Palestinian families living near Jerusalem because they are living under occupation. This means that their access to water is controlled by the Israeli government, which favours Israeli settlers in the West Bank by providing them with more than 3x the amount of daily water than their Palestinian neighbours receive. To conserve water, Palestinian families regularly endure weeks without running water, having to rely on rain collection barrels and systems like the ones ARIJ provides.

Although the West Bank and Gaza are considered Palestinian land by the international community, ARIJ spent the morning outlining for us the systematic increase in Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank on Palestinian-owned land.

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Water treatment system.  Photo/Myriam Ullah

There are over 760,000 settlers living within approximately 200 illegal settlements and just over 260 outposts (which are planned-for settlements). These settlements, and the people living in them, are most often enjoying a high standard of living with maintained roadways, 24/7 security, strong education systems, and abundant food/water sources. Palestinians, on the other hand, are crowded into smaller strips of land with separated roadways, frequent military detentions, limited access to water, risk of home demolitions, and the inability to travel within their land without permits.

After 50 years of living under the longest occupation in history, organizations like ARIJ offer Palestinian families much-needed, immediate support. However, they can’t instill long-term hope for a people who have little assurance they will not be issued a home demolition order at some point in the near future.

When we first arrived at the airport in Tel-Aviv, our learning tour guide welcomed us with a challenge: to fully listen as we hear the stories of loss and pain, and to do so without trying to offer simple solutions or explanations of a situation we don’t fully understand.

Throughout our two weeks, we saw time and again evidence of Palestinian homes and villages destroyed. We even heard stories of some families choosing to demolish their own homes, as this was less expensive than being made to pay the bill for having their homes demolished by military order — and for the cost of the security personnel needed to force them out.

We heard stories of children as young as 12 being imprisoned and elementary school students being tear gassed. We felt the presence of the security wall, as it shadowed over a single, remaining home we visited—a home surrounded by settlements and fences where a Palestinian family (with their own checkpoint) was restricted from leaving their own driveway.

I don’t believe anyone from our group came home with a full understanding of the situation in Israel and Palestine. And we definitely didn’t return home with a sense of a solution. However, for me, I did leave with a sense of the incredible disparities between those who are afforded a livelihood and hope for a secure future, and those who calculate their days by permits, checkpoints, and rubble.

I returned home haunted by the notion that power does not want to hear truth and that the conflict over these lands has a lifetime yet to live.

What are Israeli settlements?

On December 23, 2016 — to great surprise — the UN Security Council affirmed the illegality of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. The resolution asserted the settlements constitute a violation of international law and an obstacle to peace between Palestine and Israel. It also called for an end to all forms of violence, incitement and provocation.

UNSCR 2334 passed by a vote 14 to 0 with 1 abstention, that of the U.S.  Traditionally, the U.S. has used its veto power to defeat such resolutions critical of Israel; this time it did not.

Like most of the world, Canada has long considered Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem illegal under international law. In the wake of UNSCR 2334 and a strongly worded speech by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the office of Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion quietly reiterated Canada’s support for a two-state solution, with no mention of the settlements.

Given the significance of settlements as a point of tension in Palestine and Israel, it is important to know what the settlements are and what their impact is.

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The Israeli settlement of Har Homa built on Jabal Abu Ghneim, a mountain south of Jerusalem, near Bethlehem.  MCC photo/Doug Hostetter

What are Israeli settlements?

  • Settlements are colonies established by Israel within the occupied Palestinian territories of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Some of these settlements are large cities. Only Jewish people may live in them.
  • Outposts are much smaller clusters of Jewish settlers scattered throughout the West Bank. They are not officially sanctioned by Israeli authorities and are considered illegal under Israeli law. But they often receive support and assistance from government ministries. Some outposts eventually develop into settlements.
  • Approximately, 700,000 Israeli settlers live in settlements and outposts. (Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem)
  • Settlement construction is ongoing. In 2015, Israeli authorities approved the construction of 8979 new units in 37 settlements. In the first half of 2016, they approved 1000 units in 35 settlements. (Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem)
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A map of Israel settlements, settlement blocks and outposts in the West Bank.  Map/Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem

Why are the settlements considered illegal by the international community?

  • According to the Geneva Conventions, the key international law governing the conduct of armed conflicts, an occupying power is prohibited from making permanent changes to the territory it has occupied. It is also prohibited from moving its own citizens into the territory occupied. Israel has violated both of these provisions.

What is the impact of the settlements on Palestinians?

  • The settlements, and the special highways and bypass roads that link them to Israel proper, carve up the West Bank into unconnected pieces, making the possibility of a viable contiguous Palestinian state increasingly remote.
  • The settlements – and the soldiers required to defend them – severely impede movement for Palestinians. Checkpoints, barriers, and bypass roads, as well as the separation wall, make it very difficult for them to travel to nearby villages, seek out medical help, and even access their own agricultural land.
  • Settlers live under Israeli civilian law, while Palestinians in the West Bank live under military law and are routinely deprived of their civic and political rights. Palestinians – even children as young as 12 – are detained indefinitely in ways which constitute a violation of basic human rights. (Military Court Watch)
  • Settlements have access to water resources which are denied to Palestinians. Approximately 75 percent of the renewable water resources in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are used by Israel, both for settlements and for use inside Israel proper. By building settlements strategically, Israel has managed to consolidate its control over vital aquifers in the West Bank. Palestinians have access to 73 litres per day, while settlers access 240 litres per day. The World Health Organization recommends a minimum of 100 litres per day per individual. (EWASH, Emergency, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Group)
  • The growing presence of settlements in the West Bank is a constant source of friction and visual reminder to Palestinians of how Israel is confiscating their land and altering the map.

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for the Ottawa Office.

A prophet and truth teller

Lia Tarachansky is an Israeli filmmaker and journalist who is creative, compassionate and courageous.

She was in Saskatoon and Winnipeg this fall to screen her film “On the Side of Road” and to talk to audiences about coming to terms with what it means to be a Jewish settler on Palestinian land. I and several MCC colleagues were privileged to view her film, hear her speak, and engage her in conversation.

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Lia Tarachansky near the settlement in which she grew up.  Photo/Palestinedocs

Lia was born in Kiev, Ukraine, moved to Israel as a child, and studied in Canada, before returning to Israel as a journalist. Back home she began to report on the Israeli occupation of Palestine for a variety of alternative media. She soon embarked upon her ambitious film project—telling the “other” story of 1948, namely, the story of the Nakba.

As a Jewish Israeli, Lia grew up celebrating Independence Day, the May anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. But along the way, she learned there was another story: the story of the Nakba or “catastrophe” for Palestinians. Some 750,000 Palestinians—two thirds of the Palestinian population—lost their homes as a result of forcible displacement by the Israeli military in the weeks and months after Israel’s declaration of Independence.

Realizing that most Israelis are discouraged from knowing this story, Lia set out to tell the truth about 1948. She scoured archival documents, photographs and newspaper reports, and sought veterans who fought for the Palmach (an elite Israeli fighting force) in 1948. Some of the veterans she interviewed admitted to committing atrocities against Palestinians in their efforts to ethnically cleanse the land of its indigenous population.

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Qalandiya checkpoint. Photo/Esther Epp-Tiessen

Lia expresses profound sadness for the violence and injustice committed against Palestinians, realities that have only become more brutal over the decades.  At the same time, she feels compassion for the trauma of those Israeli veterans who participated in the atrocities, many of whom have carried their actions in secrecy and silence for decades.

Lia acknowledges that telling the truth about 1948 is a great taboo in Israel. In 2012 the Israeli government in fact criminalized groups that commemorate Nakba Day in May. Although the “Nakba Law” has not been fully implemented, it has cast a chill over Palestinians—and their Israeli allies—who regard the day in May as one of mourning, rather than one of celebration.

In her film, Lia also describes her own personal journey of coming to terms with the truth of Israel’s existence and, in particular, its continued theft of Palestinian land.  In the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel gained control over the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza and began an ambitious settlement building project. Today hundreds of thousands of Israelis[i] live in Jewish-only settlements throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem (Israeli settlements in Gaza were evacuated in 2005,) on land that most of the world, including Canada, considers occupied territory.

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A Jewish settlement under construction near Bethelehem. Photo/Esther Epp-Tiessen

Lia grew up in Ariel, a large Jewish-only settlement in the occupied West Bank, only a short distance from a number of Palestinian villages. But she admits to never noticing those villages, the people that inhabited them, or the call to prayer emanating from their mosques, until her exploration of her country’s history. She admits to being blind and deaf to the Palestinian reality.  In fact, she had never met or spoken to a Palestinian until she did so in Canada, during university.

In her short life—she is in her early 30s—Lia has come a long way, geographically, politically and personally.  She has become a truth teller, committed to telling the history of her country honestly and in such a way that will hopefully open the ears and eyes of her people to the reality of the Palestinian people. “We have to know our history if we are going to move forward into the future,” she says.[ii]

More than that, she says, the current travesties must end.  Not only must the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and people end.  But so must the brutalizing of Israeli youth who are required to enforce the occupation through mandatory military service. “We continue to force our young men and women to do horrible things,” she says. “The human cost in this mountain of tragedy is enormous and it must stop.”

Lia sees her writing and speaking and film-making as her act of hope and an expression of her vision for just and peaceful co-existence between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians. “This is my truth and this is the way that I am going to continue hoping . . .”

Lia Tarachansky is a courageous voice for justice and peace in the midst of a seemingly intractable conflict. She is a prophet and a truth teller.

by Esther Epp-Tiessen, public engagement coordinator for the Ottawa Office.

[i]There is debate about the number of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, estimates the number to be 560,000.  Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem estimates the number to be more like 700,000.
[ii] Direct quotations are taken from interviews posted at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQf4MedPjeY  and https://soundcloud.com/greenplanetmonitor/liatarachansky

Support a future for Gaza!

“And this is how we see our future — to be killed by the conflict, to be killed by the closure (blockade), or to be killed by despair.”

These words, spoken by a 15-year-old boy, describe how the desperate situation in Gaza is destroying the hopes and dreams of Gazan youth. The boy shared this message with Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the UN, and Ki-moon shared it with the UN Security Council on July 12.

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This Gazan family (names withheld for security reasons) received MCC material resources after the 2014 war. MCC photo/Jesse Bergen

Through the months of July and August 2014, a war between Hamas and Israel resulted in massive death and destruction, primarily for Gazans. More than 2100 Palestinians, including 495 children, were killed, as well as 66 Israeli soldiers and 7 civilians. It was the third such war in six years. Two years after the most recent war, Gaza continues to suffer:

  • Of 11,000 homes completely destroyed in 2014, only 10 percent have been rebuilt; 75,000 people are still without a home;[*]
  • 250 schools were damaged or destroyed and many have not been repaired; 400 schools currently run double shifts as a result;
  • Severe electricity and fuel shortages lead to rolling blackouts that can last hours; this seriously hampers pumping systems for water and sanitation;
  • 80 percent of the population is dependent on humanitarian assistance for basic necessities;
  • Unemployment levels are estimated to be 40 percent or more – among the highest in the world;
  • The psychological trauma of successive wars and the stress caused by unemployment have resulted in increased levels of domestic violence and divorce; for children, the impacts are nightmares, bed-wetting, difficulty concentrating and even completing school.
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Many Gazans continue to live in makeshift shelters like this one. MCC photo/Jesse Bergen

A major reason for the lack of progress in Gaza’s reconstruction is because of the Israeli blockade on Gaza – a blockade on land, sea and air that has been in place for nearly a decade. The blockade has crippled the Gazan economy and isolated the people of Gaza politically and socially. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says that “the closure of Gaza suffocates its people, stifles its economy and impedes reconstruction efforts.” People frequently refer to Gaza as an open air prison with 1.8 million prisoners.

Israel says that the blockade is needed to limit Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli cities and towns, and to prevent the smuggling of weapons into Gaza. But critics say that the blockade actually fuels the rocket attacks and increases insecurity for Israelis; moreover, the blockade constitutes a form of collective punishment and a violation of international law.

A specific impediment to Gaza’s recovery is the restrictions placed by the blockade on the entry of basic building materials such as wood, cement, steel bars. The lifting of these restrictions would go a long way to rebuilding homes, even while a full end to the blockade is critical to a long-term solution for Gaza and for Israel.

MCC has joined the Association of International Aid Agencies in calling for action that will lift the Israeli blockade and specifically the restrictions on building materials.  Please join us by viewing this video and signing this petition.

Children constitute half the population of Gaza. Many of them have lived their entire life under the blockade. Please support a future for them.

Open Gaza

* MCC’s response to the 2014 crisis included emergency food assistance, the distribution of essential non-food items, and repair of 70 houses that had been damaged but not completely destroyed.

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for the Ottawa Office.

Let the little children come . . .

But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” – Mark 10:14

I read this familiar scripture text while travelling in Palestine a few weeks ago, specifically, the day we visited a Bethlehem refugee camp and learned about the life of children there. I read the text again a week later; it was posted on the wall of a Christian organization that provides rehabilitation services to children and youth who have been injured, detained or traumatized by political violence.

I have travelled to Palestine four times in the last dozen years.  This visit, more than others, I was touched with the devastating impact of military occupation on children.  Over and over I heard and witnessed how Palestinian children and youth are assaulted physically, emotionally and psychologically as they endure occupation. Israeli children suffer too.

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Boys play soccer next to the separation wall.  Photo Ryan Dueck

Palestine has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967. Over the past 50 years, that occupation has become entrenched by a high separation wall, hundreds of checkpoints, severe restrictions on movement, and the growth of Jewish-only settlements in Palestinian territory. An end to the occupation is nowhere in sight, and another generation of Palestinian children is growing up without the hope of freedom.

At the Bethlehem refugee camp, in existence since 1948 when the creation of the state of Israel created 750,000 Palestinian refugees, a father tells us how his 5-year-old daughter expresses the wish her mother give birth to another girl rather than a boy – because a boy is so much more likely to be detained, injured or even killed. When a baby boy arrives, the daughter tells her parents her new brother should sleep in an inside room, away from the window, where he will be protected from the teargas and the bullets that are common occurrences.

As we walk through the refugee camp, our guide points to a wall listing some of the names of the 551 Palestinian children killed during Israel’s war on Gaza in July 2014.  It doesn’t list the 3,346 injured and the 10 percent permanently disabled. Life is very cheap for Gazan children, it seems. During my two-week stay in Palestine and Israel, two more Gaza children are killed by an Israeli missile attack, a brother and sister, 10 and 6 years of age.

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Schoolgirls in East Jerusalem walk along the separation wall. Esther Epp-Tiessen

A group of human rights lawyers tells us about children and youth in military detention. Defense for Children International, an NGO monitoring children’s rights around the world, has documented the arrest of 8,000 children since 2000.  Most of them have been detained for throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. They are usually arrested by heavily-armed men during night-time raids, blindfolded and bound, taken to an unknown location without accompaniment and then interrogated at length.  While most youth detained are between 10 and 20, some are as young as eight years of age.

The lawyers tell us that the night raids are so terrifying, many mothers stay awake most of the night so that if soldiers arrive to conduct a raid, the mothers can waken their children quietly rather than have them woken by the door being smashed open by soldiers. (Not surprisingly, many mothers in Palestine suffer high levels of anxiety, headaches and hypertension.)

Children who are released from detention are severely traumatized. They sleep poorly, have recurring nightmares and often wet themselves. They typically withdraw from others, refuse to return to school or play with friends. Children who have been detained are 13 times more likely to drop out of school than others. Without rehabilitative help, young people who have been traumatized are much more likely to engage in violence and destructive behaviour themselves.

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Palestinian boys play with a kite while soldiers observe. Photo Ryan Dueck

As the occupation drags on, the hopes and dreams of young people fade and disappear.  Many youth cannot even imagine living freely in the land that is their home.  Another father, a longtime advocate for a free and independent Palestine, observes his daughter’s despair.  “Give up, Dad,” she says. “The Israelis have won; there will be no free Palestine.”  I wonder if despair is what drives Palestinian youth to attack Israelis on the streets of Jerusalem. Their actions are not defensible but they are understandable.

The occupation not only victimizes Palestinian children; it also harms Jewish Israeli children and youth.  At a new Jewish settlement In East Jerusalem (by international consensus, Palestinian land), I witness children playing behind a massive iron bar fence with separates them from soccer-playing Palestinian kids nearby. The Jewish children are guarded by a dozen or so machine-gun toting soldiers.  In a few years they will be soldiers themselves, as mandatory military service demands that they become part of the machinery that upholds the occupation.  I mourn that Jewish children and youth grow up with the sense that they are surrounded by danger, and that the only response is military might.

It is deeply and profoundly wrong that generations of Palestinian children have grown up essentially imprisoned in their own land.  It is deeply and profoundly wrong that Jewish Israeli children grow up learning that the security of their people requires the oppression of another.  It is unconscionable that much of the world continues to turn a blind eye.

“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator of the Ottawa Office.