Children in volatile distress zones like the Gaza Strip, the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem can easily relate to the message in Michael Jackson’s song: “They Don’t Really Care About Us,” a protest anthem describing the plight of marginalized people and their oppressive relationship with their oppressor.
The slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza by the settler occupier power of Israel, backed by the United States since October 2023, knows no boundaries. From elders to toddlers, no one is spared nor protected.
The United Nations Secretary General deemed Gaza “a graveyard” for children because of the numbers of slain and displaced children by the Israeli war. However, that is only part of the story, because the unspeakable is not new.
Long before October 7, 2023, children were also dying and persecuted in the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem territories in record numbers, according to a December 28, 2023, statement by an official with the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF).
“As the world watches on in horror at the situation in the Gaza Strip, children in the West Bank are experiencing a nightmare of their own,” said Adele Khodr, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.
They are living with “a near-constant feeling of fear,” and “grief is, sadly, all too common for children affected,” she added.
On the mental and emotional toll of children, Ms. Khodr said many reported that fear has become a part of their daily life. Many are fearful just walking to school or playing outside due to the threat of shootings and other conflict-related violence.
By Final Call presstime 22,438 people, including over 9,100 children were killed in Gaza, and some 324 people, including over 83 children were killed in the occupied West Bank, according to figures from the Palestine Health Ministry reported on the Al Jazeera daily tracker.
Children in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, experienced grinding violence for many years, but the intensity dramatically increased after the Oct. 7 attacks by Palestinian resistance groups on illegal Israeli settlements. Prior conflict-related violence killed 124 Palestinian children and six Israeli children since the start of 2023.
Ms. Khodr noted in the first 12 weeks of the Israeli onslaught of Gaza, the number of children killed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem more than doubled the number killed in all of 2022, amid increased military and law enforcement operations. More than 576 have been injured and others have reportedly been detained. Furthermore, the West Bank has been heavily affected by movement and access restrictions.
“The suffering of children in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, must not fade into the background of the current conflict—it is part of it,” said Ms. Khodr.
According to UNICEF, across the globe children and families are facing unprecedented humanitarian crises. Around 300 million people are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance and protection as devastating earthquakes, weather related disasters, disease outbreaks and new and surging conflicts have left tens of millions of children and their families reeling.
“Behind each of these numbers is a story of unimaginable child suffering, of rights violated and rights denied,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell in a year-end assessment.
“The suffering of these children is an indictment of a world that has failed to protect them from the dangers of war,” she added.
According to Save the Children data in early November, a child was being killed every 10 minutes.
Global opinion, international law experts, and human rights advocates agree that Israel is practicing nothing short of genocide and an agenda of ethnic cleansing.
Muhammad Sankari of the U.S. Palestinian Network-Chicago told The Final Call that even a lay person’s understanding of genocide and ethnic cleansing could see 22,000 people slain and 1.9 million displaced in a majority youth population under the age of 18, absolutely means ethnic cleansing, and arguably genocide. “And Israel famously said, there are no red lines in this war,” said Mr. Sankari.
When you consider the West Bank, he notes, a number of Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations well documented the crimes of the Israeli occupation against children. The killings, incarcerations and targeting children for interrogations in Occupied Palestinian Territories are part and parcel of the mass killings of children in Gaza.
“Israel imprisons children as young as 12,” said Mr. Sankari. “What kind of society imprisons children as young as 12?” he asked. “Therein for us is all the evidence that we need of Israeli crimes,” he added.
UN human rights experts deem the targeting to be contrary to international law and constitutes “collective punishment” that prevents civilians from securing their basic rights. Collective punishment is explicitly prohibited under international humanitarian law.
Israel as an occupying power is responsible for ensuring the welfare of the Palestinian civilian population and has the primary duty to provide for basic needs. According to the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Israel has breached their obligation to freedom of movement, the right to an adequate standard of living, health, education, work and family life. Killing children is a clear infraction.
It is part of the modus operandi of illegal settler colonial powers, political analyst, Wilmer Leon told The Final Call in an interview. “With all settler colonies the ‘removal/extermination’ of the indigenous people is a fundamental element to settler colonialism,” said Mr. Leon. “The United States did that with the colonies and the Native Americans,” he pointed out.
“That’s what settler colonial states do. The Afrikaners did that with the indigenous Black Africans in South Africa.” That is what seven decades of resistance, and the struggle for self-determination was against, he explained.
Justice for the shrouded ones, injured ones, and the current and yet unborn generations of Palestinians may take time. But South Africa, whose history knows the sordid road of life under the oppressive grip of European settler colonialism, has brought Israel up on genocide charges, at the International Criminal Court of Justice (ICJ).
It is a bold move, say justice advocates, and a necessary and timely move. Some nations driven by public pressure on their streets are speaking out. Other nations condemn the carnage with tepid lip-service and political anxiousness about America—which hard-blocks any clapback towards Israel.
“The action by the South African government is a courageous attempt to do no less than salvage the credibility of the international mechanisms that were meant to protect human rights and international law,” said Ajamu Baraka of the Black Alliance for Peace (B.A.P.).
He said the petition is a reminder that it is a legal and moral imperative for states and international civil society to oppose impunity. “If the Israeli state and its backers are allowed to escape justice and international condemnation, it will strip the current international system of justice of any legitimacy,” said Mr. Baraka.
The B.A.P. is part of a newly formed International Coalition to Stop Genocide in Palestine and calls for nations to invoke the Genocide Convention as a way to end Israel’s bombing campaign and additional war crimes committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
“It’s imperative that more states follow South Africa’s historic leadership demanding Israel is held accountable under international law,” said Suzanne Adely, president of the National Lawyers Guild. “One clear and immediate way to do that is to file Declarations of Intervention supporting South Africa’s filing in the ICJ under the Genocide Convention,” she said.
The coalition urges human rights, labor, anti-colonial, anti-imperialist and other groups to increase public pressure by mobilizing to demand that their countries submit Declarations of Intervention to the ICJ.
The coalition includes Progressive International, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, Black Alliance for Peace, Popular Resistance, CODEPINK, the National Lawyers Guild and numerous other groups.
“This is the rare case where collective social pressure urging governments to support the South African case can be a sharp turning point for Palestine,” said Lamis Deek, a Palestinian attorney based in New York.—Brian E. Muhammad, Staff Writer