By Ramona Wadi
World Children’s Day is, sadly, a day like any other; its symbolism is nothing other than an international gimmick to proclaim rights while simultaneously taking them away. For Palestinian children, the commemoration reeks of hypocrisy and opportunism. On this day, despite Israel’s colonial violence and military occupation being common knowledge, Palestinian children are divested of their own reality; their violation at the hands of Israelis is normalized; and their dreams of a normal life are generalized without context.
In its annual review of 2017, Defence for Children International – Palestine declared that it was the worst year for abuse by Israel against Palestinian children. DCIP noted that this year, Israeli forces killed 44 children in Gaza and that the increase in the number of killings coincided with the Great March of Return protests.
In Gaza, children have suffered the full impact of the Israeli blockade and the Palestinian Authority’s sanctions. In the occupied West Bank, Palestinian children are arrested and imprisoned by Israeli forces and assaulted by illegal Jewish settlers. The education of Palestinian children is routinely disrupted by Israel – by bombings, raids, forced curriculum changes, the absence of safe routes to and from school, forced displacement and school demolitions – yet on World Children’s Day this entire spectrum is covered up to present an image of children dreaming without restrictions.
This year, Palestinian students participated in a drawing competition on the theme “Safety at School”. The competition, launched by the EU and the Palestinian Ministry of Education, encouraged children to express their ideal safe environments through art. According to EU representative Ralph Tarraf, “On the occasion of Universal Children’s Day this year, we joined Palestinian children in Palestinian schools to express their visions and dreams of a safe and protected world.”
A “protected world” is a figment of someone’s wild imagination due to the politics shaping human rights violations and, as a result, the absence of safety for children, especially in occupied Palestine. It is also an omission in terms of refusing to recognize the Palestinian reality endured by children on a daily basis. How is the EU ensuring its commitment to “supporting Palestinians and leaving no child behind” when, at an event in which Palestinian children participated, their reality was obscured by a more convenient global approach?
Meanwhile, in Israel the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Information launched a campaign to counter what it terms the exploitation of World Children’s Day “by pro-Palestinian groups to spread misinformation and construct a narrative about Israel’s inhumane treatment of children in its military operations.” World Children’s Day in Israel is also an opportunity for the colonial entity to increase its hyperbole about purported anti-Israel bias across the international community. Just for the record, though, over the past 15 years or so, Israel has, on average, killed a Palestinian child every three days.
How will the EU react to Israel’s manipulation of World Children’s Day to bolster its own agenda? It is most likely that under the auspices of the theme’s universality, there will be no reprimand of any kind. Yet here we have a clear situation where Palestinian children are being marginalize within the context of an “international day”, while also being singled out by Israel to promote and normalize its military agenda.
When all the fanfare dies down, the picture is clear for all to see: Palestinian children have participated in a routine that is meaningless because there is no entity that truly supports their independence, rights and autonomy. On the contrary, all of the evidence points to international entities giving tacit — and sometimes open — support to Israel’s colonialist aggression, at the expense of the children they claim to protect.