As this summer’s Palestine Works fellow at Defense of Children International- Palestine, my work is focused on how children in Palestine are suffering under the Israeli occupation.
Among all the ways that the occupation impacts children, there are big things and small things. The big things are at least somewhat reported in the international media. Killings, night arrests, detention, home demolitions, checkpoints, injuries. However, it’s the small things that, in sum, are the most dehumanizing, humiliating, and destroy the futures of so many bright, promising children.
For instance, in East Jerusalem, the Oslo Agreements specify that Palestinian students are to be taught according to the Palestinian national curriculum. However, Israel is constantly chipping away at this mandate. First, they have censored Palestinian textbooks; removing any mention of the intifadas, national symbols, or leaders like Yasser Arafat. Then, they began forcing many schools to use Israeli textbooks, with maps showing all of historic Palestine as the state of Israel. And now, they are even forcing schools to teach only the Israeli curriculum, damaging the chances for Palestinian students to gain access to higher education.
While these changes seem minor, they rob children of their right to an education and strip them of their own history and national identity. If Israel is allowed to violate agreements with regard to even the smallest matters with impunity, then what hope is there for tackling impunity for the larger violations? Working in advocacy in this context can sometimes feel futile when looking at the never-ending list of discrete violations of rights, agreements, and promises. Tackling one problem, like the imposition of Israeli textbooks, doesn’t address the underlying problem, such as the annexation of East Jerusalem. Pressuring Israel to stop torturing children during interrogations doesn’t change the fact that they are children being persecuted through a military court system, with no kind of genuine due process.
I am grateful for all of the powerful human rights defenders that I have met here, will have the privilege of working with this summer, and have yet to meet. I am inspired by the work that they do day in and day out to tackle these issues, both the big and the small.