Teach Them to Hate: The Use of Palestinian Children

     A Legal and Political Analysis Justus Reid Weiner Watching the television coverage of the daily Palestinian riots, known as the Al-Aqsa intifada, one is immediately struck by the near total absence of adults. Indeed, most of those hurling Molotov cocktails and stones are teenagers; many are even younger. Intoxicated by the challenge of becoming a hero, lacking the maturity to calculate the dangers they are assuming, these young people are easily motivated to place themselves in harm?s way. Media reports highlighting the instances in which Palestinian children have been killed or injured by Israeli troops or policemen have generated much criticism of Israeli policies. The Palestinian leadership has attempted to convince the international community of the need to dispatch a contingent of international observers to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, ostensibly to protect the Palestinians from the depredations of the IDF. The presence of rioting Palestinian children is not accidental. The Palestinian Authority (PA) has intentionally mobilized Palestinian children to man the front line in its struggle against Israel, frequently using them as shields to protect Palestinian gunmen. This mobilization of Palestinian youth has, moreover, been facilitated by the long-term impact of PA curricula, government-controlled media, and summer camp programs, which indoctrinated the youth for armed confrontation with Israel even prior to the current crisis. The utilization of children in armed conflicts has been increasingly condemned by the international community. It is barred by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and recent UN Security Council Resolution 1261, which specifically described the use of children as soldiers as a ?violation of international law?. International law broadly attempts to protect children from the horrors of armed conflict. Jean Pictet, in the official Red Cross commentary on article 28, notes that the use of civilians (of any age) as shields has been condemned as cruel and barbaric. Moreover, the Palestinian leadership, in a classic case of bad faith, accuses Israel of committing human rights violations for the fatalities, while evading its own responsibility for the orchestrated appearance of children in the front lines of the conflict. This constitutes a cynical exploitation of human rights concerns. While the PA is not formally bound by international human rights conventions, it nonetheless is required by the Oslo agreements, which PA Chairman Yasser Arafat signed, to honor ?internationally accepted norms of human rights and the rule of law?. The new Palestinian violence undermines not only the spirit of the Oslo peace process but its raison d?Ítre ? to resolve differences through negotiation rather than violence. The problem of incitement to violence has been repeatedly addressed in the interim peace agreements. However, none of the anti-incitement provisions in the interim peace agreements, each one signed by Arafat, has been honored in practice. The message from the top, from PA Chairman Arafat, is unequivocal. Arafat ruthlessly encourages the involvement of Palestinian children in violence, referring to them as ?the generals of the rocks? and boasting after the IDF attack on Fateh offices, ?[the attack] cannot shake one eyelash of a Palestinian child holding a stone to defend holy Jerusalem.? Arafat plays to their pride; he would have them believe they are ?generals? and heroes when they function as cannon-fodder in the media campaign to discredit Israel. According to international law, in particular Article 43 of the Hague Regulations of 1907, Israel is obliged to ensure public order and safety in the areas it occupied in self-defense in the Six-Day War of 1967. This means that Israel must carry out necessary security measures in response to the widespread shooting and stoning that has characterized the Al-Aqsa intifada. The force employed by the IDF in response to these complex and dangerous confrontations is not indiscriminate. Nor is it intended to harm the Palestinian youths. Rather the goal is to restore safety on the highways and other locations where violence has been instigated. IDF regulations make every effort to avoid incurring unnecessary casualties. Any soldiers who violate the rules of engagement are subject to investigation, disciplinary trial and, in serious cases, court-martial, as well they should be. It is unquestionably a tragedy when children fall victim to the Al-Aqsa intifada, but the blame does not rest with the IDF. The tragic reality is that children, often of primary school age, man the intifada?s first line of offense. Thus, it is not the IDF, but rather the Palestinian leadership, which should ultimately be held responsible for the injury and death among their rioting children.