When the first Palestinian Intifada began in December 1987, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) did not exist. When the Convention came into force in 1990, Palestinians working on children's issues hoped that this would be a powerful tool in building a better future for Palestinian children. However, while significant advancements have been made in terms of awareness on the international level, the status of Palestinian children's rights remains as jeopardized as ever.
In 1992, five years after the beginning of the first Intifada, DCI/PS was founded by a group of child rights activists with the aim of fulfilling the vision of a better life for Palestinian children. The biggest obstacle DCI/PS had to overcome at the time was how to deal with the effects of Israel's attempt to crush the first Intifada. How could DCI/PS achieve a brighter reality and a healthy environment for Palestinian children - respectful of their rights and offering a future with the chance to learn, play and grow? DCI/PS based its work on the understanding that the end of the Israeli occupation is the critical step in fulfilling this vision; however, we also understood that efforts had to be made in combating the direct effects of the occupation on children. The occupation kills Palestinian children - mentally, psychologically, socially and physically - and it robs them of hope for a better future.
Ten years later, this reality is clearer than ever. DCI/PS's work on all levels in the past 10 years has proven without a doubt that the Israeli occupation is the direct cause of the gravest violations of children's rights. The occupation is a system of control that governs all aspects of the lives of approximately three million Palestinians residing in the occupied territories, 53% of whom are children. The implementation of this system results in gross human rights violations and prevents the fulfillment of child rights embodied in the CRC. The dismal reality for Palestinian children is that they live in an environment where they suffer collective and simultaneous violations of their rights at all times. In the course of one day, the average Palestinian child residing in the occupied territories faces violations of his/her right to life and security, health, education, freedom of liberty, and freedom of movement, among others. These violations not only impact the child's day, they constitute a major obstacle to the child's healthy development, and, thus, impede the child's prospects for a bright future.
At the same time, DCI/PS's experience during this Intifada has shown that the understanding of the root causes of the conflict remain as misunderstood as ever. While gross and systematic violations of Palestinian children's rights are well documented, reporting of the situation often fails both to reflect the extent of child rights violations or to enumerate the causes and perpetrators in a way that is understandable for the average, uninformed reader. Thus, the myth of the conflict as one based on religious hatred or equal and competing claims is reinforced. Combined with this is a lack of concrete action on the part of the international community to directly intervene to improve the situation. Instead, the reality on the ground is obfuscated by repeated claims to 'end the violence.§ DCI/PS believes strongly that the situation will not improve until the root cause is addressed, that is the occupation.
It is within this context that DCI/PS undertook its work in defence of Palestinian children's rights in the year 2001. Intensified restrictions on freedom of movement, along with the continued massive onslaught of child rights violations, made the past year by far the most difficult and challenging in DCI/PS§ history. Measures of collective punishment carried out by the Israeli military as well as direct attacks on children were the two main factors resulting in gross violations of children's rights in 2001.
Restrictions on freedom of movement, including checkpoints, closures, and curfews, resulted in isolating Palestinian villages and cities from one other, led to a further decline in the economic situation, and had a devastating affect on Palestinian children in 2001. Movement restrictions prevented more than 13,000 Palestinian children from their right to education in the old city of Hebron for instance. Gaining access to medical facilities and clinics was extremely difficult, if not impossible, and in nine reported cases in 2001, pregnant women were forced to give birth on checkpoints leading to the deaths of three newly born children. During the year 2001, unemployment rose to 35% and the percentage of children living under the poverty line increased to over 50%. Workers in national and international humanitarian agencies were targeted too; decreasing their ability to provide essential goods and services to Palestinian civilians.
Other measures of collective punishment, such as home demolitions, led to the destruction of more than 478 houses, leaving homeless 1,812 Palestinian children. In addition, thousands of dwellings were damaged as a result of Israeli attacks on Palestinian residential areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, depriving thousands of Palestinian children of their right to adequate housing. Seventy-one Palestinian schools came under Israeli attack either through tank shelling or rockets fired from helicopters. In some cases, school students were present during these attacks. Some schools were partially destroyed. Remains of rocket missiles were located in some schools endangering the lives of students. Other schools were bombarded during school hours such as Shahidayn Al Ibrahmiyyeh School in Jenin, and the National School for the Blind in Al Bireh. DCI/PS documented 98 cases of schools fired at by Israeli soldiers using live ammunition, rubber-coated steel bullets or tear gas. In some cases, school students were present during these attacks. The Israeli army took over five schools and turned them into military bases, after the students and faculty were forcefully evacuated. Eight schools were closed by military order, preventing students from attending school for varied periods of time.
In 2001, the organization documented 98 cases of child death as a direct result of Israeli military and settler presence in the occupied territories, including 12 children who were killed during Israeli assassination attempts against Palestinian activists. Two characteristics of the Israeli violence stand out in a comparison of child deaths and injuries between 2000 and 2001. Israeli forces killed significantly younger children in 2001 than in comparison with the year 2000 and they did so with a much higher level of force. DCI/PS research indicates that the percentage of Palestinian children killed under the age of thirteen doubled from the year 2000 to the year 2001. More than 1/3 of children killed in the year 2001 were under the age of 12. The vast majority of Palestinian children were killed going about their daily lives in circumstances where they should have been completely safe from Israeli aggression. They were not presenting any threat to the lives of Israeli soldiers or settlers. There can be no moral justification for these deaths. They must be unequivocally condemned and the perpetrators brought to justice.
DCI/PS documented 3,750 cases of children injured by the Israeli army and settlers, while the Red Crescent Society estimates the total number of injured children ranged between 6000 and 7000 children during the year 2001. The sheer volume of child injury, along with strict military closures and sieges of Palestinian towns and villages often prevented field researchers from reaching all injured children.
Moreover, thousands of children lost a parent, hundreds were arrested, tortured, & imprisoned, and thousands traumatized. The cumulative psychological effects of the last two years on children have been immense. Air strikes, shelling, missile attacks and forceful entry into houses have traumatized children and will take many years of intensive, serious work to treat.
In dealing with this situation, the organization was challenged to be as flexible and creative as possible in undertaking work in spite of the objective obstacles repeatedly placed on the ground as part of Israeli occupation policy. Thus, one of the organization's foremost goals has been to raise awareness of the effects of Israeli policy through disseminating information about the status of children living under such conditions, in addition to working with children directly to alleviate the effects of the occupation, closure and curfews on them.
As this report highlights, in 2001 DCI/PS continued to provide hundreds of Palestinian children with legal aid services, documented thousands of violations of Palestinian children's rights, conducted research and disseminated volumes of information regarding the circumstances in which Palestinian children live, and carried out hundreds of activities for thousands of Palestinian children throughout the occupied territories.
The information that follows outlines the main work of DCI/PS in 2001, implemented within the framework of three main programs. In addition, it highlights the cross-cutting research and advocacy work the organization engaged in, discusses developments on the administrative level and elaborates on the main obstacles encountered in the process of carrying out work in the past year and the ways in which the organization overcame them.
Though 2001 has been an extremely trying one, DCI/PS believes that it has also taught us valuable lessons that will assist in more efficiently and effectively working to promote and protect Palestinian children's rights in an environment of ongoing crisis.
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