The media is awash in moral equivalence, thanks to Amnesty International's new report: "Killing the Future: Children in the Line of Fire," which details how children on both sides have been victims of recent Mideast violence.
A summary of Amnesty's report is online at:
Comments on Amnesty International's report can be sent to AI's international secretariat in London:
firstname.lastname@example.org, or to AI's Israeli branch: email@example.com (http://www.amnesty.org.il/).
Many media reports blanketly compared Israeli children who were intentionally targeted (e.g. the Tel Aviv Dolphinarium disco), with children who were unintentional collateral damage (e.g. killed with Hamas leader Salah Shehadeh).
Typical of media coverage was this short article by CBC (Canadian television), which simply reports: "Amnesty says both the Israeli Defence Force and armed Palestinian groups show an utter disregard for the lives of children and other civilians."
Below we present a comprehensive overview of the issue of child casualties, including 5 key points of background information:
Readers may also wish to refer to
http://www.opsick.com, a website dedicated to stopping abuse of children in the Mideast conflict.
Justus Weiner has authored a comprehensive issue brief entailed, "The Recruitment of Children in Current Palestinian Strategy." Weiner is scholar in residence at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (http://www.jcpa.org), headed by Dore Gold and Lenny Ben-David. (To subscribe to the Jerusalem Issue Brief, please send a blank email message to:
Weiner cites recent examples of how Palestinian children and teenagers have assumed an integral role in the murder of Israeli civilians:
- February 2002 - Nora Shalhoob, a 16-year-old Palestinian girl, was killed while charging a group of Israeli soldiers at a military checkpoint with a knife in her hand.
- March 2002 - A 16-year-old Palestinian girl named Ayat Akhras walked into a Jerusalem supermarket and detonated a bomb concealed under her clothing, killing two Israelis and wounding 22 others.
- April 2002 - 17-year-old Andaleeb Taqataqah was recruited by a terror squad and sent to her death in a suicide attack on a crowded Jerusalem market.
- April 2002 - Three teenagers - Anwar Hamduna, Yusef Zakut, and Abu Nada - from Gaza, attempted to crawl under the perimeter fence and attack the residents of the Jewish community of Netzarim, only to be shot dead by guards.
- May 2002 - For over a month, Palestinian children as young as 10 barricaded themselves in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, alongside Palestinian gunmen.
May 2002 - A 16-year-old Palestinian boy was arrested in a taxi near Jenin with a suicide bomb on his body.
- June 2002 - A 15-year-old Palestinian girl, arrested for throwing a firebomb at IDF soldiers, admitted during interrogation that she had previously been recruited as a suicide terrorist.
- July 2002 - Israeli security forces arrested another 15-year-old Palestinian girl who admitted to having agreed to carry out a suicide attack in Israel.
Early in the current intifada, Weiner notes, children acted as decoys, burning tires and shooting slingshots to attract TV cameras while making it harder for the world to identify the gunmen lying in ambush. Knowing that Israeli soldiers are ordered not to shoot live ammunition at children, Palestinian snipers hide among groups of youngsters, on rooftops or in alleys, often using kids as shields when aiming at exposed IDF soldiers. On some occasions, these gunmen apparently have inadvertently shot Palestinian children from behind.
USA Today correspondent Jack Kelley reported:
"Children serve as infantry in the confrontations between Israeli and Palestinian soldiers. In scenes reminiscent of Iranian children sent to the Iraqi front equipped with plastic keys to heaven, Palestinian children are sent close to Israeli positions with rocks and Molotov cocktails, while the gunmen and snipers fire from positions hundreds of yards back." (Oct. 23, 2000)
The Jordanian newspaper "Alrai" (citing an interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper "Alzaman" on 20 June 2002), quotes Abu Mazen, Deputy Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, who spoke of how Palestinian children are being exploited into carrying out terror attacks:
"At least 40 children from the city of Raphah have lost their arms as a result of the explosions of pipe bombs. They received five Israeli shekels (about one U.S. dollar) for throwing them."
(see original article at
The Palestinian Authority has provided children with military training. The New York Times reports that 25,000 children were trained in the summer 2000 in PA camps in the use of firearms, the making of Molotov cocktails, the methods of kidnapping Israeli leaders, and conducting ambushes. (New York Times - Aug. 3, 2000)
The use of children reflects a long-time Palestinian strategy in the fight against Israel. In June 1982, the PLO issued a military call-up order for all boys aged 12 and older whose fathers served in Fatah units. The children were promised $80 a month and were attached to regular PLO battalions, each serving in his father's company.
A Palestinian Authority tactic is to encourage children to seek heroic Shahada (martyrdom) -- and then use the numbers of dead children in their PR war against Israel. Sam Kiley describes in The London Times:
"Since birth, Palestinian children have been pumped full of religious fundamentalism which promises paradise for those who die for the cause of free Palestine... Approving or not, the Palestinian authorities have done nothing to stop children playing with their lives. Let's face it, dead kids make great telly." ("A Deadly Game" - Oct. 19, 2000)
The average Western mind has trouble comprehending a society that might intentionally seek death, in order to advance a political cause. Reporters assume that if Palestinian children are being killed, it can only be Israel's fault.
Yet as Arafat adviser Bassam Abu Sharif told Time magazine: "If he knows he will achieve a political point that will get him closer to independence and if that will cost him 10,000 killed, he wouldn't mind."
Indeed, fault for most of these casualties lies strictly with the PA. Salah Shehadeh operated from a heavily populated neighborhood, precisely because he knew the civilians would serve as a human shield against any Israeli attempt to assassinate him. Writing in the NY Post, John Podhoretz explains:
"The Fourth Geneva Convention goes into great and elaborate detail about how to assign fault when military activities take place in civilian areas... Hamas is at war with Israel. But instead of separating themselves from the general population in military camps and wearing uniforms, as required by international law, Hamas members and other Palestinian terrorists try to use civilians -- the "protected persons" mentioned in [The Fourth Geneva Convention] 3:1:28 -- as living camouflage. To prevent such a thing from happening, international law explicitly gives Israel the right to conduct military operations against military targets under these circumstances."
Speaking about another region of the world, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said:
"Let there be no doubt, the responsibility for every casualty of this war, lies with the Taliban. They use civilians as human shields, and place their arsenal among their homes. We did not look to commence this conflict -- the war was thrown at us, and we are defending ourselves."
In recent searches of Palestinian homes, the IDF has discovered disturbing "family photos": One shows a Palestinian baby with a semiautomatic pistol and machine gun, and another shows a baby wearing a pretend explosives belt with red wires strapped to his waist.
The Palestinian media is a primary vehicle used to promote the martyrdom of children. In Sept. 2002, the PA renewed broadcasting of one of the most odious PA video clips, the "Farewell Letter." In the clip, a child writes a farewell letter to his parents, glorifying his desire to die, and then places himself in front of Israeli soldiers during a violent riot where he is shot and dies, achieving his goal. The words are sung: " For my country, I shall sacrifice myself... How sweet is Shahada [martyrdom]... Be joyous over my blood and do not cry for me." (source: IMRA.org)
Another Palestinian Authority TV program clip, aimed at young viewers, features a boy killed in Gaza arriving in heaven where there are beaches, waterfalls, and a Ferris wheel. He is saying, "I am not waving goodbye, I am waving to tell you to follow in my footsteps." On the accompanying soundtrack, a song plays, "How pleasant is the smell of martyrs, how pleasant the smell of land, the land enriched by the blood, the blood pouring out of a fresh body."
Religious leaders also encourage the martyrdom of children. Sheik 'Ikrimi Sabri, the Palestinian Authority-appointed mufti of Jerusalem, declared: "I feel the martyr is lucky because the angels usher him to his wedding in heaven... The younger the martyr, the greater and the more I respect him." ("Al-Ahram Al-Arabi" - Oct. 28, 2000)
Parents are also portrayed in Palestinian society as supporting their children's death. "Al-Ayyam" newspaper quotes a mother who encouraged her sons to sacrifice themselves for Palestinian beliefs:
"The danger of injury to the boy Tzabar Ashkaram, 18, paralysis and permanent disability, just added to his mother's determination to encourage her sons to participate in the intifada riots... the fact of his injury by a live bullet did not cause her to mourn. She said she had previously lost her older son, Iyyad." (Nov. 1, 2000)
Another Palestinian mother was quoted in the London Times: "I am happy that [my 13-year-old son] has been martyred. I will sacrifice all my  sons and daughters to Al-Aqsa and Jerusalem."
BBC broadcast a video of a proud Palestinian mother embracing her son and sends him proudly on his way to kill Jews. "God willing you will succeed," she says. "May every bullet hit its target, and may God give you martyrdom. This is the best day of my life."
(All this makes one wonder about the sanctimonious pronouncements of Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi who, when asked about the Palestinian Authority dispatching children into battle with Israeli soldiers, angrily turned on her interviewer:
"They're telling us we are -- we have no feelings for our children? We're not human beings? We're not parents? We're not mothers or fathers? This is just incredible. I sometimes I say I don't want to sink to the level of responding, or proving I'm human. I mean, even animals have feelings for their children." ("60 Minutes," October 24, 2000)
Encouraging children to martyrdom extends into Palestinian classrooms and textbooks as well. Palestinian Brig. Gen. Mahmoud M. Abu Marzoug reminded a group of 10th grade girls in Gaza City that "as a martyr, you will be alive in Heaven." After the address, a group of these girls lined up to assure a Washington Post reporter that they would be happy to carry out suicide bombings or other actions ending in their deaths. (Washington Post - April 24, 2002)
Ramahan Sahadi Abed Rabbah, 13, when asked why he participated in clashes with soldiers, was quoted in "Al-Hayat" as saying, "My purpose is not to be wounded but something more sublime -- martyrdom." (Nov. 8, 2000)
The problem has infested all parts of Palestinian society. Suicide bombing is considered a source of neighborhood pride, as streets are named after the perpetrators of these atrocities. Signs on the walls of kindergartens proclaim their students as "the shaheeds [martyrs] of tomorrow." Some children draw pictures and fantasize about the day when they achieve their goal.
"When I become a martyr, give out Kannafa [sweet cake]," one 14-year-old boy was reported to have told his friends in the days prior to his death in the riots. A 12-year-old boy who died in the fighting was reported to have so yearned for martyrdom that he wrote his own death announcements on the walls of his home.
Under these cultural influences, many children readily admit that they want to become suicide bombers. In June 2002, a documentary on PA television presented a survey conducted by Dr. Fatsil Abu Hin, a lecturer in psychology in the Gaza Strip. He interviewed 996 children between the ages of nine to 17. Ninety percent expressed their desire to participate in intifada activities, and 73% expressed a desire to become martyrs.
"Muslim Fun," a CD-ROM produced in the UK, includes a game called "The Resistance" in which "you are a farmer in south Lebanon who has joined the Islamic Resistance to defend your land and family from the invading Zionists." The Islamic Fun Web site recommends the game for children ages five and up and says: "Your child will learn about Islam by playing lots of exciting games, full of colourful animations and cute sounds effects."
Palestinian children at the Balata camp have thrown away their Pokemon cards in favor of necklace-pendants with pictures of Palestinian suicide bombers. The children spend their meager allowances to collect and trade them, hunting for prized martyr pictures like a vintage baseball card.
One Palestinian parent told the Toronto Star (June 17, 2002): "I opened my son's closet and found it full of martyrs posters and necklaces. I said to him... `Ultimately, you'll be rewarded with your picture hanging from a necklace, and we will have lost a son.'"
"These children are convinced that martyrdom is a holy thing, something worthy of the ultimate respect," said Munir Jabal, head of a Balata teachers association. "They worship these pictures. I think it will lead them in the future to go out and do the same thing."
Weiner reports that a another reason Palestinian parents allow and even encourage their children to get involved is the financial incentive offered to families of "martyrs." Thus, the Palestinian Authority furnishes a cash payment -- $2,000 per child killed and $300 per child wounded. Saudi Arabia announced that it had pledged $250 million as its first contribution to a billion-dollar fund aimed at supporting the families of Palestinian martyrs.
In addition, the Arab Liberation Front, a Palestinian group loyal to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, pays generous bounties to the injured and the families of the dead according to the following sliding scale: $500 for a wound; $1,000 for disability; $10,000 to the family of each martyr; and $25,000 to the family of every martyr suicide bomber -- lavish sums, given the chronic unemployment and poverty of the majority of the Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Yet not everyone agrees with the PA's techniques of child abuse.
Fox News quotes Atta Sarasara, a father of a 16-year-old suicide bomber, who Fox says "is angry with not just the Israelis, but also with the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades for preying on impressionable teenagers and giving his son a bomb. 'They used a child. He was very kind, handsome, smart. They used him,' Sarasara said."
Sweden's Queen Silvia raised the issue at a meeting of the World Childhood Foundation at the United Nations. She strongly criticized Palestinian parents and leaders for "exploiting them [the children] and risking their lives in a political fight... As a mother, I'm very worried about this. I'd like to tell them to quit. This is very dangerous. The children should not take part." (Jerusalem Post - Nov. 27, 2000)
Appearing on NBC's Meet the Press, Condoleezza Rice said:
"What does that picture of a baby dressed as a suicide bomber say about the hopes of Palestinians for life with the Israeli people as good neighbors? You know, we've all, in our lives, had experiences with hatred. I certainly have in Birmingham, Alabama. And it all starts with recognizing that the other person is human and deserves a future. If you're going to send your babies and your teenagers to kill other teenagers, something has broken down in this concept of humanity."
The editorial board of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram wrote:
"According to the AP, polls repeatedly have recorded majority Palestinian backing for suicide bombings, with a recent survey indicating more than 60 percent approval. In such an atmosphere, amid accounts of parents piously sanctioning the idea of their offspring becoming instruments of civilian death, perhaps the idea of an infant swaddled in guerrilla's clothes should not be so shocking after all."
For a comparative perspective on the Israeli attitude toward Palestinian children, the media can look at an event this week in Israel: A 7-year-old Palestinian girl from Jerusalem is recovering well after receiving a kidney from Jonathan Jesner, the Jewish student from Scotland who was killed in a recent Palestinian suicide bombing.
(Ironically, earlier this year, the Islamic Association for Palestine reported that Yasser Arafat "has accused the Israeli apartheid regime of murdering Palestinian children and youths and extricating their vital organs for organ transplants.")Some Palestinian parents are speaking out as well. Abu Saber, the father of one suicide bomber, wrote a letter to the London-based Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat:
"I ask, on my behalf and on behalf of every father and mother informed that their son has blown himself up: 'By what right do these leaders send the young people, even young boys in the flower of their youth, to their deaths?' Who gave them religious or any other legitimacy to tempt our children and urge them to their deaths?... The sums of money [paid] to the martyrs' families cause pain more than they heal; they make the families feel that they are being rewarded for the lives of their children... Do the children’s lives have a price? Has death become the only way to restore the rights and liberate the land?
"And if this be the case, why doesn't a single one of all the sheikhs who compete amongst themselves in issuing fiery religious rulings, send his son? Why doesn't a single one of the leaders who cannot restrain himself in expressing his joy and ecstasy on the satellite channels every time a young Palestinian man or woman sets out to blow himself or herself up send his son?"
Following are excerpts from the IDF response to Amnesty International's recent report. See the full response at:
The Palestinian terrorists are solely and unequivocally responsible for the injuries caused to Palestinian children. Since the beginning of the conflict two years ago, the Palestinian terrorist factions have cynically exploited children in terrorist activity, in violation of international law. Children are groomed and dispatched to carry out suicide attacks in the centers of the Israeli civilian population; positioned at the front lines of demonstrations to hide snipers behind them; and used to plant explosives and deliver weapons. Moreover, the terrorist factions have transformed Palestinian civilian population centers into terrorist activity headquarters.... Whoever uses children to perpetrate terror attacks, anyone who uses houses were children reside to coordinate and perpetrate attacks is responsible for injuring these children.
Authors of the Amnesty report compare IDF operations in which Palestinian children were killed to Palestinian terror attacks in which Israeli children were killed. This comparison is unjustified and baseless. Palestinian terror attacks, especially suicide bombings, are designated to cause the death of Israeli civilians, including children: this is ruthless, unprecedented, inhuman terror. On the other hand, IDF activity is conducted in accordance with the laws of war and is not aimed at injuring civilians. Injuries are occasionally sustained only because the Palestinian terrorists act from within centers of Palestinian civilian population. Hence, any comparison between the two is groundless, and indicates a fundamental lack of balance among authors of the report.
The authors falsely claim the IDF does not investigate incidents in which Palestinian children are injured, and grants impunity to soldiers involved. The truth is, however, that IDF commanders separately investigate each incident in which Palestinian civilians are injured. When suspicion of criminal misbehavior of the soldiers' side arises, the Military Police launches an inquiry. Since September 2000, the beginning of "Ebb and Flow", over 220 inquiries of the Military Police were launched, some of which regarding incidents in which Palestinian minors were injured.
For example, the Military Police launched inquiries over the deaths of Palestinian children near Khan Yunis on 22 November 2001, the youth Yasser Kassabi from Kalandia on 8 December 2001, the death of Muhamad Hassan Altalalaka near Beith Hanoun on 1 March 2002, the death of children in Jenin on 21 June 2002 and over other incidents. The claims that incidents are not investigated and soldiers enjoy impunity are falsified. The IDF owes its professionalism and power partly due to its willingness to engage in investigations and inquiries even in the midst of intense fighting.