Children of the Palestinian revolution | Middle East | News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 22.07.2015

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Middle East

Children of the Palestinian revolution

Palestinian children are getting more involved in the protests against Israel. Arrests and injuries are the result. Mel Frykberg spent an afternoon with some of them in the northern West Bank.

With blaring sirens and flashing lights the ambulance navigates the rock-strewn, sand road, rushing Amjad Abu Khalid, 17, to Rafidia Hospital in Nablus in the northern West Bank.

He has just been shot in the leg by an Israeli sniper during clashes with Israeli security forces in the village of Kafr Qaddoum near Nablus in the northern West Bank.

The villagers are protesting the closure of a main road linking Kafr Qaddoum with the city of Nablus. The road was closed in 2000 by the Israelis during the second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, for the security of the nearby Israeli settlement of Qadumim.

This has forced the villagers to take an alternative route which adds an extra 20 kilometers on to their journey to Nablus.

Qadumim, an illegal settlement under international law, is built on large swathes of agricultural land confiscated from Kafr Qaddoum, decimating the economy of the village, which had been dependent on the harvesting of olives but now depends on employment by the Palestinian Authority.

Young revolution

The rustic village is situated on a hill top with sweeping, panoramic views of the valley below with Palestinian villages nestled among the plains. The village is one of many where young Palestinian children of the revolution take part in the protests in a disturbing dichotomy where courage and fear overlap.

It's Friday afternoon and Kafr Qaddoum swelters under the summer sun, the conditions exacerbated by the holy month of Ramadan when most teenagers were fasting along with the adults.

Dozens of children, some of them as young as six, are preparing for the protest, kitted out in gas masks, Palestinian flags and Keffiyahs (traditional Palestinian head dress).

Some of them are carrying slings, others stones while several of them are collecting the remnants of empty bullet casings, tear gas canisters, and rubber-coated metal bullets from previous demonstrations.

The children are excited and pose for photographers, mingling amongst the Israeli and international activists who come to the village to support the protest.

"I want a normal life"

"I take part in the protests every Friday. I act as a scout, warning the young guys where the soldiers are. I take part because I want to live a normal life, I want the road opened and the Israeli settlers off our land," Khaled Shitawi, 10, tells DW.

masked child Copyright: Mel Frykberg

Bravado mixed with fear

His younger brother Moamen, 6, full of a youthful innocence mixed with bravado tells DW he is not afraid of the soldiers. "We will continue to take part in the protests until our village and our land are free."

But the mood quickly changes as the protest moves toward Qadumim settlement and their blocked off road.

Groups of heavily armed Israeli special forces, clad in riot gear and black uniforms, start firing rubber bullets and teargas and running toward the protesters.

Young Palestinian men respond by throwing rocks and stones at the advancing forces. Moamen now appears afraid and runs home to safety and the comfort of his mother.

He switches on the TV and watches cartoons as he tries to hide his fear and block out the deafening sounds of sound grenades hurled by Israeli soldiers.

The house fills with teargas as the soldiers aim at the windows of the home breaking several with teargas canisters.

Simultaneously the noxious smell of skunk water, a mixture of chemicals smelling like faeces and garbage, filters in as the skunk vehicle sprays high volumes of the liquid toward homes lining the street, and at protesters.

Murad Shitawi is the coordinator of the protests and he explains why his sons take part in the protests and defends their participation against criticism.

Appeal for help

"My sons Khaled, 10, and Muanem, 6, take part in the peaceful protests as do many other children in the villages. The excessive force used by the Israelis is part of their policy to stop our protests," Shitawi tells DW.

masked child copyright: Mel Frykberg

Their parents say the keep them away when it gets too dangerous

"We do everything to protect our children and keep them away from the protest when it gets dangerous. Unlike children in the rest of the world the children here can't live normal lives so their participation in the peaceful protest is a message to the world. If the international community is so worried about these children why are they not taking action to stop Israel's occupation and the human rights abuses associated with it?"

Meanwhile, Amjad's injuries are not life threatening. He is one of many Palestinian minors to be injured during the regular clashes which take part all over the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem.

According to the Defence for Children International in Palestine (DCIP) Israeli security forces killed 11 Palestinian children during 2014 with the use of live ammunition with only one of these cases resulting in an investigation and an indictment by the Israeli authorities.

Israeli rights group B'tselem says that 94 Palestinian minors were killed by Israeli forces between 2009 and the end of May 2015.

However Israel says it is taking appropriate measures to deal with the protests and prevent them from spiralling out of control. A spokeswoman for the Israeli Defence Forces told DW: "On Friday (July 10th) during routine IDF activity, a violent riot took place near the village of Kadum. A crowd of a hundred Palestinians hurled rocks and rolled burning tires at the force who repeatedly called the rioters to halt, using riot dispersal means. Rubber bullets were used as part of the riot dispersal means."