Palestinian children live in inhumane conditions. They are deprived their simplest rights, those given as international standards: Their right to a life of freedom in which they are educated, are in good physical and psychological health, play and participate in artistic and cultural events, enjoy security and peace of the mind and the heart, all which make possible those children grow up in a healthy state and are provided a space to be creative.
These outlines were discussed during the meeting on the identity of Arab children, in the conference “The Arab Child Facing Various Cultural Effects”, organized by the Arab Council for Childhood and Development (ACCD) in cooperation with the Library of Alexandria and other Arab and international associations, such as UNICEF, ISISCO, UNISCO, and the Arab League, from the 25th to the 27th of September 2005.
The conference’s discussions approached the different cultural effects falling upon Arab children from all directions and attempted to know these effects’ nature and influence. The conference aimed to understand the social and cultural reality in an Arab child’s world as well as the amount of cultural influence that form that child’s consciousness and perspective. The conference also evaluated Arab and regional policies concerning meeting the needs of children, in terms of identity and energy to work. It compared between those policies and children’s rights that were given by Arab or international standards.
The conditions of Palestinian children were discussed in a meeting about the identity of Arab children who live in exceptional circumstances; migrating children, children in Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, and Palestine. Many thoughts were addressed in this discussion, some of which should be publicly discussed and on top of which comes the thought of an identity. What do we mean when we talk about identity? What is our cultural identity? Do we have, as Arabs, a unified cultural identity? Do we have a culture, or do we have cultures? Does the variation in cultures affect us positively or negatively? How do we perceive those with cultures not our own? Do we accept the existence of that other culture and form healthy debates with it? Or do we refuse it and try to keep it away from us?
In the paper I prepared for the conference I discussed culture in its broad definition; the spiritual, material, ideological, and emotional traits that form a society or a class within a society. These include: art, literature, and ways of life. They also include main rights given to people, in addition to the system of social judgment, traditions, and beliefs. In this perspective I discussed the cultural identity of Palestinian children.
I compared between children’s rights that came in international documents and those rights given to Palestinian children in reality through published statistics. The numbers in those statistics spoke for themselves; they gave evidence to the harsh reality of the lives of Palestinian children. Concerning children’s language and its relation to cultural values; it is noticeable that Palestinian children’s language is affected with some Hebrew terms. This reflects the burdens of occupation that exceed the danger of military occupation into cultural occupation. One can also see the effects of deteriorating economic conditions on cultural values; many families are constrained from buying newspapers and books or attending cultural films and plays. Thus, culture becomes a luxury to Palestinian children rather than a necessity.
In terms of education, many schools have been bombed and destroyed during Israeli invasions and attacks. Many checkpoints force the children even at very early ages to go to school by walking very long distances. This caused many dropouts, especially of girls; their parents fear their exposure to accidents or unethical Israeli troops. These circumstances have left dangerous cultural effects such as a rise in illiteracy and an increase in the percentage of young girls getting married.
In addition, there is the phenomenon of child labor in which children absorb traits of dishonesty, disorder, and sometimes fraud. Negative cultural effects are imposed on children through population high densities, especially in refugee camps, a deteriorating economy, and an unhealthy environment of housing. They also lead to destructive social problems, such as the killing of relatives.
Palestinian children are continuously exposed to violence, whether violence in speech or physical violence. The difficult political and economic situation plays a major role in perpetuating and increasing the levels of violence in the society. Little children imitate the occupation troops; they play using characters of the Israeli invaders, sometimes creating toy weapons that look like those invader’s weapons, and using language similar to that invader’s. This creates vicious danger upon those children’s lives on one hand and on their cultural values on the other hand.
The Israeli army pursues various actions to humiliate fathers and mothers in front of their children, not only in attacking homes or arresting one of the parents, but most significantly, through checkpoints and gateways. These actions leave disastrous effects on Palestinian children’s psychology; most importantly the feeling that the family no longer presents security to its children. It no longer represents safety and comfort. Checkpoints and gateways that always need you to stand in endless queues, regardless of the time or the weather, represent daily suffering to children; they retard children’s energy for schooling as well as bring those children closer to the culture of violence, mutiny, indifference, and melancholy.
Some scientific studies have tracked down the psychological effects of Israeli attacks on Palestinian children. They found that these attacks cause increasing violent attitudes for children, sleeping disorders, involuntary peeing, problems in speech, increasing child labor and girls’ early marriage, and other problems for those in the ages of puberty.
Child political arrest and imprisonment, mostly done in violent inhumane ways, leaves devastating effects on cultural values; that child substitutes laughter, playing and running, with isolation, doubt and caution. The world of innocent childhood is gradually and systematically destroyed, leaving Palestinian children with a life full of fear, a life that lacks an incentive to construct and innovate.