"War on children" is undoubtedly one of the most inhuman legacies of the 20th century. More than 1.5 million children were killed in wars world-wide during the 1990s. Palestinian children were not exempted from this scourge. To mark the third anniversary of the Aqsa Intifada the PRC decided to organize a special week of activities in honor of the sacrifices of Palestinian children. The publication of this thought-provoking study falls within the scope of these activities.
Whether under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (WBGS) or in the refugee camps abroad, the life of Palestinian children is characterized by misery and deprivation. While schools are forever in short supply, recreational facilities are virtually non-existent. In Bethlehem where the Blessed Child was born 2,000 years ago there is not a single playground in the year 2003. The net result has been low educational achievements, high drop out rates from schools, economic exploitation, and an imposed dependence upon Israel, the Occupying Power.
While the challenges facing Palestinian children are by no means insurmountable, they are certainly formidable. Yet, Palestinian parents continue to invest invaluable time and resources in their young; hoping that their future will not only be different but actually better than their past.
Present conditions, however, cast a long and dark future over the future. Three years ago the British Member of Parliament, Mr. Richard Burden, told a House of Commons debate (30/11/99) on the Palestinian right to return that "half the refugees are children, who are growing up with an uncertain future." Instead of being inspired by pleasurable childhood memories they are slowed down and impeded at every turn by the permanent psychological injuries inflicted by the Occupier.
With the clouds of political uncertainty still hanging over the WBGS, the rights of Palestinian children remain constantly under threat. There is no definite answer as to who is responsible for protecting them. In theory, Article 22 of the Basic Law of Palestine states that: "Motherhood, childhood, the family, the young and the youth have the right to protection and to the availability of proper opportunities for the development of talents." In reality, though, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has practically no control over parts of the WBGS. It does not have the control over its borders that enables it to import medicine or transfer patients abroad for treatment if the need arises. Until these matters of sovereignty, borders and legislation are resolved the rights of Palestinian children in the territories will remain dead letters on paper.
Having long shattered the barriers of fear, the Children of the Catastrophe [Awlad al Nakba] are, without doubt, Palestine's greatest asset. Tested and pushed to the limits many times in the past they have proven themselves stronger in some ways than their heavily armed adversaries. This is because, "It takes much more courage for a child armed with stones to confront gun-toting troops than it does for those troops to confront children."1 On the occasion of the "Palestinian Children's Week" the PRC offers this tribute with the hope that their current dreams will become the realities of tomorrow.