29 January '16..
Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, head of the Israel National Council for the Child, has been searching for his Palestinian counterpart for months, to no avail.
Kadman, like most of us, is horrified by the growing trend of child terrorists. He has reached out to Palestinian Authority officials, used all his contacts to reach out and convey a simple message: "War is not a game and children are not toys."
But he soon learned that he has no Palestinian counterpart.
Kadman's interest in the current violence has been triggered by the fact that time after time it turned out that the perpetrators were children, blinded by hatred and incitement. Palestinian children, it seems, no longer believe the "norm" of throwing rocks and firebombs at Israel security forces is enough, and have graduated to full-fledged terrorism, taking an active part in the wave of stabbing attacks.
Some of them, in their early teens, have been shot dead by Israeli troops. The media usually conceals the identities of the soldiers or police who neutralize these young assailants, over concerns for their safety.
In one case, an unidentified soldier allowed the media a glimpse into the experience of having to kill a teen terrorist. The incident took place at the A'zaim checkpoint, east of Jerusalem, several weeks ago, when a 16-year-old Palestinian brandishing a large butcher's knife stormed the post. He refused to stop or back away, leaving the soldier no choice but to shoot him dead.
"Everyone praised me for my vigilance and professionalism. At that moment I felt good about myself, like a hero … but when I got back to the base, I lay down on my bunk and just started crying," the soldier said. "I felt terrible. … Yes, he was a terrorist, and yes, he tried to hurt us, but he was a 16-year-old kid. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't stop crying. My actions were just, but I still feel guilty. I took a life. I killed a kid, who just happened to decide to become a terrorist."
While the soldier's feelings are understandable, the Palestinian, like many of his friends, did not set out to be a terrorist by chance. When official or semi-official Palestinian Facebook pages post pictures of Palestinian babies and children holding knives between their teeth, when young children wear mock RPG launchers and explosive belts as part of a Fatah procession in Bethlehem, or when parents name their baby girl "Knife of Jerusalem," there is little wonder children decide to become terrorists.
According to the Israel-based nongovernmental organization Palestinian Media Watch, the "Intifada Youth Coalition of Jerusalem" recently uploaded a video to its Facebook page depicting an adult asking a little girl if she had anything to say to young Palestinians in the West Bank. Demonstrating the motion, the girl replies, "Stab them, stab, stab." Another video, posted by a Palestinian singer and actor, shows him declaring, "I stab Zionists. ... I exact revenge because I'm a Muslim Palestinian."
Many of the children's shows that air on an endless loop on Palestinian television convey specific messages to their young audience both covertly and overtly, preaching the right of return to all of Israel and lauding "shahids" ("martyrs").
It is particularly difficult to watch televised classes in which stern Palestinian teachers instill murderous theories in their young students' minds. One of them shows a Palestinian teacher in Nablus telling her students that the Palestinians "have sacrificed prisoners and shahids," then asking, "Who has a shahid in his family?" When several children raise their hands, she asks, "Why did they sacrifice their lives?" and quickly answers, "To free Al-Aqsa mosque. To free Haifa. For an Arab Palestine from the river to the sea!" She repeats the last sentence over and over, and the children echo her obediently.
Still, there seems to be something new in the internal Palestinian discourse, cracks in the endless incitement and hatred toward Israel. Alongside the continued encouragement of children and youth to pursue a path of terrorism, martyrdom and jihad, Palestinian intellectuals and journalists are -- for the first time -- leveling harsh criticism against terrorist attacks in general, and particularly against the child-terrorist trend.
The first to indicate this change were the researchers at the Middle East Media Research Institute, who say this criticism is driven by "pragmatic morals." Some critics believe the timing is wrong, others fear Palestinian terrorism will become synonymous with Islamic State-led global terrorism, while others still say the Palestinians must "remain humane" and refrain from "trading in the blood of children."
The most outspoken critic to date is Hafez al-Barghouti, formerly editor in chief of the Palestinian daily of Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda and a member of Fatah's Revolutionary Council. Contrary to Fatah's position, which encourages children to participate in acts of terror, Barghouti says that "even the Prophet Muhammad forbade including children in battle," and demands that the Palestinian leadership "keep children away from riots and flashpoints. Let them have their childhood. As difficult as it may be, it is better than having no childhood, being injured, imprisoned or a shahid."
Barghouti implores his fellow Fatah members and the Palestinian media to "stop lauding children who carry out stabbing attacks. Don't take pride in their actions. Blood is not a game. Anyone who praises a boy for brandishing a knife or a girl for wielding scissors should look at them as if they were his own children. Would he throw his own son into this furnace?"
Journalist Mohammed Daraghmeh, who writes for the Ramallah-based daily Al Ayyam, urges parents and their children "not to follow the path of death. Palestine needs you alive. You are free to get angry, to revolt. Take to the streets; go to the checkpoint. You can block roads, yell and scream and make a deaf world hear your voice. If it does not hear you today, it will hear you tomorrow. But do not seek death. We cannot have Palestinian youth rushing to their deaths this way."
Daraghmeh recalls that when the Second Intifada, known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada, ended, "No one had the courage to say in due time what was said after its painful end, for fear of the consequences, but now … we must confront ourselves bravely and say things as they are. ... Indeed, those who carry a knife and attack soldiers are suicide [militants]. … Every day several young Palestinians are killed and we remain silent and even praise their deaths. We have to stand as one and say, no more. "
Political scientist and columnist Jihad Harb presents an even more pragmatic approach. He believes the cycle of stabbing attacks has "exhausted itself" and they have "given Israel an excuse to kill our youth at the checkpoints." Harb stresses he does not call for a "tahadiya" -- a temporary calm -- but rather for "rethinking our options and develop means for popular resistance."
Fellow columnist Mahmoud Fanon slams late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's famous slogan, "A million shahids are marching to Jerusalem," writing, "Why 'shahids'? Why shouldn't we set out to win, to take [Jerusalem] back, and then we will arrive safe and sound, even if some are killed. This culture does not affect the enemy. On the contrary -- it welcomes it. … We march to our deaths, and we will die while the enemy continues to conquer the land. We may achieve shahada [martyrdom], but the enemy gets the land."
'Trading in children's blood'
The criticism does not spare heads of the Palestinian terrorist groups, who keep their children safe while encouraging the children of others to carry out terrorist attacks.
Addressing this issue, Barghouti wrote, "Some of the organizations and tribes … actively trade in others' blood, presenting themselves as the patrons of our blood, while not a drop of their own blood is spilled."
MEMRI researchers found this type of criticism more prevalent than we might think.
Palestinian journalist Amid Dwaikat, of the Nablus-based Tariq Al-Mahabe Radio, demands, "Let those who encourage children to reach this state show themselves. Let them show us their own children. Do not call for continued [attacks] while you sit [safely] in your offices. … Children are not robots for you to turn on and off with the push of a button. These children's blood is on your conscience."
Journalist Ihab Al-Jariri of Radio 24 FM offered harsher criticism, saying, "Those who post theories on Facebook, from behind a computer screen, supporting the notion of children carrying out stabbing attacks and encouraging them to do so, should first do it themselves, and only then ask the little ones to follow in their footsteps."
Emad Al-Asfar, of the Media Development Center at Birzeit University, near Ramallah, lays the blame for the child-terrorist trend not only on those who encourage children to carry out stabbing attacks, but also on those who offer their tacit consent.
"Those of you who do not speak out against this death, especially the media personalities and intellectuals, are even worse," he said.
The internal Palestinian criticism does not shy away from dealing with the role played by the Palestinian educational system in recent events.
"Death is not the goal in and of itself; do not praise it so we will not die in vain. It is our duty to educate the younger generation and instill within it the love of life, of education, of being earnest and studious," Barghouti wrote.
Al-Ayyam columnist Muhammad Abd al-Hamid urged the Palestinian people to "question social and cultural norms, the political and media discourse, and everything else that might encourage children to carry out acts of violence that contradict the natural development of childhood." He called for adopting "a national policy that encourages children to participate in nonviolent protests … far from clashes and violence."
Blogger Muhammad Abu Allan, who writes about Israeli media, called on Palestinian Education Minister Sabri Saidam "to send a message to schoolchildren that they have a long path to complete in school before facing a certain death. ... Resisting the occupation does not necessarily mean dying in vain."
Another viewpoint criticizes Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians, although this is mostly marginalized. This moral-tactical position warns against the risk that the world will come to see Palestinian terrorism as cut from Islamic State's cloth.
Al-Ayyam journalist Hamada Fara'na wrote that he hopes some prominent Palestinian intellectuals will be courageous enough to denounce Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians, "just like Haaretz journalist Ari Shavit," who denounced Jewish terrorism against Palestinians.
"The Palestinian struggle against Israel's Jewish-Zionist imperialist enterprise is legitimate. … However, the Palestinian struggle must be free of any suspicion of terrorism and it must not target Israel's Jewish civilians. It must be … the complete opposite of the Islamic terrorism of al-Qaida and Islamic State. … We must understand the importance of the moral dimension of the Palestinian people's struggle, so that the world feels solidarity and identifies with the Palestinian cause. We must be brave and condemn acts of terror, regardless of whether they are carried out by Palestinians or Arabs, Muslims or Christians," Fara'na wrote.
This criticism may be unusual, but it reflects a different Palestinian voice. Last week, when yet another youth from the Palestinian town of Sair, near Hebron, was killed by Israeli security forces, town elders decided things had gone far enough, that they could no longer allow the situation to continue, and that the attacks, prompted by Fatah's incitement, are futile.
Town elders met with Hebron governor Kamal Hamid and asked him to use his influence to put a stop to the incitement and attacks that are killing their youth. Sair, they said, has already made its "blood contribution" to the Palestinian struggle -- five of its residents had carried out terrorist attacks over the past few months, and several of them were killed. Hamid listened but did not say much, promising only to convey the sentiment to senior Palestinian officials.
While the chances that this is the beginning of a new conversation within Palestinian society that might change the terrorism curve are slim, one must remember that grass-roots revolutions can inspire great change. In the meantime, however, fiery texts laced with hatred, incitement and religious extremism continue to make their way to Palestinian children.
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