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Opinion As Irish schools reopen, consider children in Palestine who face horrendous hardship

Many Palestinian children will face violence at the hands of Israeli soldiers and settlers as they return to school.

THE DEATH OF another Palestinian teenager was in the headlines again this week, with 15-year-old Imad Khaled Saleh Hashash killed by Israeli gunfire in the Balata refugee camp. The Israeli army said it had conducted an overnight operation in the camp to apprehend “a suspect”.

The young boy is just another victim of the ongoing conflict in this region. Already this year, 71 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli forces. Many more have been injured or traumatised. Palestinian children are under daily attack and the journey to and from school is just part of these wider assaults.

As the children of both Palestine and Ireland return to school, we are focusing on defending and promoting the rights of Palestinian children, and have launched “A Different Kind of School Run,” a campaign to highlight the extraordinary difficulties faced by Palestinian children as they return to their schools.

Children, tormented

One girl, 16-year-old Aya, who lives in the northern occupied West Bank, is forced to walk through an Israeli military checkpoint gate alongside her classmates to go to and return from school every day. She must show her birth certificate and permit and be subjected to a search by the Israeli military. Aya had this to say about her experience:

I remember once we asked the soldiers if we could go through the pathway without going through the search room. One of the soldiers shouted at us and threatened to shoot at us. My classmates and I were terrified and immediately went into the search room.

South of Bethlehem, Israeli forces arrested another student, 17-year-old Khalaf the night before his high school graduation exams. He was detained in the middle of the night, handcuffed and blindfolded, and interrogated by Israeli soldiers. Khalaf was released on bail a week later and no charges were filed.

Khalaf was lucky. He was able to retake his high school graduation exams and passed. Many children who are arrested during exam season fall so far behind that they end up repeating a grade or dropping out.

Near Nablus, in the northern occupied West Bank, 15-year-old Zaid’s classroom was raided by Israeli soldiers. Soldiers detained and interrogated Zaid for about three hours, insisting that he tell them who among his fellow students was throwing stones. His school principal said that Israeli soldiers block entrances or cause disruptions about twice a week, causing intense stress and anxiety to students.

While these individual instances have caused great pain to the children and their families, they are also symptomatic of a much wider campaign of obstruction and disruption to children’s education throughout Palestine being conducted by the Israeli authorities.

Deliberate targeting

The impact on Palestinian students and education is not just happenchance. Israeli forces systematically target Palestinian children and schools. During 2020, the Norwegian Refugee Council documented an average of 10 attacks on education per month by Israeli authorities and settlers.
Currently, at least 53 schools in the Occupied Palestinian Territory have demolition orders issued against them by the Israeli authorities, according to UNOCHA, The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The United Nations also verified 30 attacks on schools and hospitals, including on protected persons in relation to schools, attributed to Israeli forces or Israeli settlers during 2020. Attacks on schools by Israeli forces violate international humanitarian law and may constitute war crimes.

Between 500 and 700 Palestinian children are arrested, interrogated and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system each year. Israel is the only country in the world to routinely arrest, detain and try children in a military court system.

Overall, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that more than half a million children across Palestine face challenges in accessing quality education in a safe, child-friendly environment.

Israel is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and has been heavily criticised by the Committee on the Convention for its abuse of Palestinian children and multiple breaches of its responsibilities.

What can we do?

In the coming weeks, the political parties will hold their meetings to set out their strategies for the coming Dáil session. Before the summer break, the Dáil unanimously passed a motion recognising that Israel has in fact annexed large portions of the West Bank and now consider them part of Israel. It is in these very same areas that these crimes against children are being perpetrated and will continue if Israel is allowed to act with impunity.

The political parties must now ask themselves if condemnation of breaches of international law is enough or if more needs to be done to end these egregious violations against children.

We need to be able to look forward to a future where, like Irish children, Palestinian children can be safe and protected at school, a future free from harassment, violence, arbitrary arrest, and attacks from Israeli soldiers and illegal settlers.

A future where Aya can leave her birth certificate safe at home, where high school seniors like Khalaf don’t have exams interrupted by arrests, and where Zaid and his classmates study in peace and safety, without soldiers bursting into their classrooms.

Khaled Quzmar is the General Director of Defence for Children International – Palestine and studied International Human Rights Law in NUI Galway as part of the Irish Aid Fellowship Programme. Marie Crawley is Chairperson of Sadaka – The Ireland Palestine Alliance. Sadaka – the Ireland Palestine Alliance, and Defence for Children International – Palestine (DCI-Palestine), an independent human rights organisation.


Khaled Quzmar & Marie Crawley
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