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 Palestinian children doing battle
 Gila Svirsky, Israel
 November 4, 2000
 
Considerable attention has been paid recently to the fact that Palestinian teens and even children are "sent" to do battle against Israeli troops. "How could a mother send her children to face armed soldiers?" it has been asked. I would like to share a few thoughts about this subject.

Palestinian children do come out in large numbers to throw stones and sometimes even "Molotov cocktails". I do not approve of this violence, but neither a stone nor even a Molotov cocktail is worthy of bullets in response. There are more humane methods to disperse demonstrations. While tear gas is used, Israeli forces too quickly abandon this and escalate to lethal weapons.

I am truly incensed by the thought of Palestinian gunmen who fire from within a crowd of children. However, the killing of Palestinian children who are "shielding" gunmen accounts for only a small number of their deaths.

Palestinian parents with whom I speak—middle-class, educated—tell me that they and their friends keep their children away from dangerous areas. The children who do throw stones are generally from the poorest of families. This says a lot about the politics of poverty—that the poor are always the ones who end up being cannon fodder, unfortunately.

Most Palestinian children who were killed or injured were not shielding gunmen. In fact, many were not involved in acts of stone-throwing at all, but innocent bystanders. They were killed because the "frontline" is actually where they live or go to school.

Sadly, the act of sending children off to fight is characteristic of many peoples struggling for independence. How often have I been to our military cemeteries in Israel and seen visitors proudly point to the graves of the very young buried there. In fact, many of the soldiers who are doing the shooting are 18-year old children themselves.

Finally, blaming the child or his parents for his death is cruel. The children who were killed did not deserve capital punishment for throwing stones. I think our efforts should focus on stopping the shooting, not blaming the victim.

Gila Svirsky is an Israeli human rights and peace activist.