Terre des hommes has been present in the Palestinian territories since 1973. This was the year of the Arab-Israeli Kippur war during which Syrian and Egyptian troops tried to reclaim the territory which they had lost in 1967 during the six-day war. The situation for Palestinians has not changed forty years later. The children of 1973 are the parents or grand-parents of today’s children and the prospects of peace seem farther away than ever.
Palestinian territory is being eaten away gradually by the settlements which are barricaded behind a security wall and isolated economically. Restrictions on movement (not including mobile checkpoints, there are no less than 100 checkpoints along the West Bank), red tape, confiscation of land and water, evictions and arbitrary arrests are just some of the things the local population has to deal with on a daily basis, despite the fact that international law should protect them from the occupying forces.
Being a child in the occupied territories means growing up in an atmosphere where the violence of military incursions is the norm, houses are raided during the night and family and friends thrown into prison. Sometimes it involves being arrested for no reason after school - as was the case for 27 children in Hebron aged between 7 and 15 last year on 23 March – and facing military justice from the age of 12 (see the recent UNICEF study on this). It might also be seeing your home destroyed by armed forces or watching settlers take over your home. In Gaza being a child means suffering the restrictions imposed by the economic blockade and living through the frightening night air raids: the last military operation “Defence Pillar” from 15th to 21st November 2012 during which 33 children died and the rest were left with traumatic scars. More than anything else, being a child in Palestine means growing up with feelings of hatred, anger and a sense of injustice.
Admittedly not all child protection problems are due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some common practices, such as honour crimes, domestic violence, child marriages also have an effect on the rights of Palestinian children. The situation for children who are born out of wed-lock is certainly not any better. For the past forty years, Terres des hommes has done its best to provide concrete and efficient assistance to children in this complex environment. After becoming established in the field of nutrition and child and infant health, and after setting up two specialist organisations in Hebron and Gaza (Ard al Atfal and Ard al Insan), we at Tdh are now able to concentrate on three main areas: 1) combatting child labour, 2) providing justice for minors and 3) implementing child protection systems. We are active in two particularly difficult cities: Hebron, where the city centre is occupied by Israeli settlers and where clashes take place on a daily basis; and Gaza, which has been subjected to an economic and military blockade since 2007.
Terre des hommes began its fight against child labour in Gaza the day after the military operation “Cast Leaf” during the winter of 2008-2009. During this period a large number of children could often be seen entering the dangerous buffer zone along the green line. Here they would rummage amongst the ruins looking for building material which had become unobtainable due to the economic embargo. Too often children could be seen getting too close to the separation barrier and thus becoming targets for Israeli snipers. As part of a 2010 pilot project in Beit Lahyia and Zeitoun, in the north of the Gaza Strip, Terre des hommes helped around fifty children reintegrate into schools and training centres, whilst at the same time providing their families with financial aid. Since June 2012, Terre des homes has been providing child labourers in Beit Lahiya with protection and education at a welcome centre and continues to play an active role, together with the community, in reintegrating these children into schools and the social community.
In the field of juvenile justice, Terre des hommes works closely with the Palestinian authorities to ensure that they are aware of children’s rights and international regulations in this area. One of the main objectives is to reinforce the work of social workers, in order to improve the care and monitoring of children during the entire judicial procedure. Palestine is a country in which justice carried out by non-state actors plays a major role alongside procedures established by the Palestine authorities. Two studies have been carried out in Hebron and Gaza in order to clarify the history of informal justice, examine how it works and identify the various actors who take part in order to understand how children fit into these mechanisms. Terre des homes now aims to concentrate its intervention on the reintegration into the community of children who are in conflict with the law, including children who have been imprisoned in Israeli prisons, and carry on with its commitment to setting up efficient protection systems in Gaza and Hebron.