Gideon Levy
Selected Articles from Ha'aretz

All My Sons

March 23, 2001

Sixty-six children - 16 years old and younger - have died in the Al Aqsa Intifada. The IDF Spokesman: 'The Palestinians send, consciously and intentionally, children and youth to the lines of confrontation'

Wa'il al-Nashit, 12, from the Jabalya refugee camp, killed October 22

Ubei Daraj woke up early in the morning. Even though it was a Friday, which meant he didn't have school, he was awake by five. Maybe he was excited about the holiday or anticipating his presents, just like we, as children, were excited when our long-awaited birthday arrived.Ubei certainly didn't imagine that this would be the last morning of his life. He told his mother he was going to get a haircut and reminded her about the new holiday clothes she'd promised to buy him. This was exactly three weeks ago. Ubei's family had moved into the apartment building on the outskirts of El Bireh 10 days before. After 22 years of living in rented apartments, Mahmoud Daraj, a laborer and father of five, had managed to purchase this apartment on an installment plan. The settlement of Psagot was visible from the windows. 

Ubei, a third-grader at the Mu'tharibi elementary school, returned from the barber at 11 A.M., his hair freshly cut and groomed in honor of the holiday. The crowded apartment building (containing 17 units altogether) had no yard, so Ubei played in his room. His two brothers were not at home. His parents and two sisters were in the other room. His mother told him they'd go to Ramallah in the afternoon to buy the new clothes she'd promised him. At 12:30 P.M., they ate their lunch and then Ubei went into his room with his father, who'd started painting the windows of the children's room, which also faced Psagot. 

Ubei watched with the usual fascination of a child as his father worked. At around 2:30 in the afternoon, while he was still busy painting the windows, Mahmoud suddenly heard gunshots. Ubei yelled, "Daddy, Daddy!" and patted his chest with his right hand. Blood was flowing from the bullet wound. Mahmoud yelled for his wife and ran downstairs to the grocery store next door to call an ambulance. The Red Crescent arrived within minutes.

Ubei was rushed into the operating room at the hospital in Ramallah; half-an-hour later, the doctors came out and informed Mahmoud that his son was dead. The bullet had sliced through his heart. 

This wasn't a "terrorist action" or even a "shooting attack"; the perpetrators were not "terrorists." It was just the case of a little boy being fatally shot in his own bedroom, right near his father. Mahmoud says he'll continue to live in the house across from Psagot. It's the only home he's got.

This was the last winter for Ubei and for another 65 Palestinian children and teenagers age 16 and under. Sixty-six youngsters - enough to fill two average-size classes or six soccer teams. About half appear here in passport photos; the details of their ages and the dates on which they died have been cross-checked with information provided by the Palestinian Authority, Bassam Eid's Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group and the B'Tselem organization.

'You're too young' 
These passport photos can do no more than hint at the full story of the children pictured in them. Here and there, a glimpse of the child's character emerges: Muayyad Jawarish's suit and tie and his shy smile; Wajdi Hattab in a T-shirt in the living room of his home, a plastic flower vase visible in the background; Jihad Abu Shahma's army fatigues and visor; Samer Tabanja's baby-face; the beret-type hat worn by Wa'il Al-Nashit from Jabalya; Nizar Ida's budding, first mustache. 

The mere fragments of information offer no clue to the tragic stories of the dozens of children and teens killed in this Intifada. Some threw stones at soldiers, some were playing in the yards of their homes. 

There is teenager Majdi Muselmani, who was killed in the riots next to the Al Aqsa Mosque; Samer Tabanja, who was apparently shot from a helicopter while he was walking down the street; Hussam Al-Disi, the carpenter's son from the Qalandiyah refugee camp who was throwing stones. And, of course, there was Mohammed Dura, whose image has become iconic. Perhaps no IDF soldier meant to kill them, but more than a few soldiers did not try hard enough not to kill them.

Some of them went to throw stones or to participate in demonstrations with their parents' knowledge (sometimes to their dismay). This is how Taisir Qatawi, bereaved father of Wa'il (whose picture does not appear here) described the day on which his son was killed to B'Tselem investigator Raslan Mahajneh: "We both got up at 6:30 in the morning. There was a strike and there was no school. I told Wa'il not to go out of the house and to stay with me the whole day, since there had been problems the day before and things had happened in the refugee camp and in nearby Nablus. People had been injured and killed and the situation was dangerous. 

"He didn't refuse my request. He stayed home with me. We ate breakfast and I started to think of what I could do to keep Wa'il busy so he wouldn't leave the house. I was thinking of finding something for him to do inside the house. I went up to the roof and discovered that it needed cleaning, so I told him to clean the roof. He started to clean it and I was supervising. 

"I stayed with him until noon and then I went to sleep because I felt tired. I gave him some other chores so that he would keep working until the end of the day. I was very afraid that Wa'il would leave the house." 

After his father fell asleep, Wa'il left the house and headed toward town. He was killed by sniper fire that came from the IDF post at Mount Grizim.

Aliya, the mother of Khaled Bazian, also tried to keep her son from going out: "I told him - 'You're too young. You can't take part in the parade.' He said to me, 'I'm going to be a martyr for Al Aqsa.'" And that's just what happened. He was 16 when he died. His birthday is next week.

At the time of this writing, Ubei Daraj, eight, who was shot as mentioned above while playing in his bedroom three weeks ago, was the latest child victim of the Intifada.
The IDF Spokesman: 'We regret the deaths of children' 
Reaction of IDF Spokesman Brigadier General Ron Kitri: "Due to the fact that the article [by Gideon Levy] was not submitted to us for our perusal, our reaction is of principle and does not directly relate to the photographs and to the incidents mentioned in the article.

"We regret the deaths of children during the Palestinians' violent uprising. Since its establishment, the Israel Defense Forces has been considered to be the most moral army in the world. In all wars, as in the war against terror, preventing the injury of innocent people - particularly of children - has been uppermost in the minds of soldiers and officers. Also today, our soldiers exercise self-restraint so that they will not injure civilians by mistake, especially children.

"In the course of some 4,000 violent incidents in the territories which have been initiated by the Palestinian Authority since September 2000, the IDF has acted with great restraint in order to reduce confrontation, and to allow the return to political dialogue and coordination in matters of security. The IDF has been dragged into a confrontation which it did not initiate and did not seek. What began as violent confrontations at various road intersections has turned into a planned, ongoing confrontation with terror and guerillas on the part of the PA. IDF soldiers are responding to the acts of the perpetrators and their leaders in order to protect the citizens of the country.

"It is the Palestinians who are throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, and who are using live weapons. Cognizant of the constraints imposed on our soldiers, they send, consciously and intentionally, children and youth to the lines of confrontation. As horrific as this is, it seems that the Palestinians are interested in showing injuries of children because it serves their propaganda needs. In places where there are no children, no children will be hurt.

"During the aforementioned period, we have faced numerous instances in which Palestinians reported that children were allegedly killed by IDF fire. It subsequently became clear after investigation that these reports were totally unsubstantiated (such as in the case of death in traffic accidents or as a result of illness).

"It is not our intention to present data or statistical cross-sections. Every child is a world unto himself. Every loss in a family is a disaster which causes profound pain. This is true for Palestinian children and also for Israeli children - who, in recent months, have been injured or orphaned as a result of Palestinian terrorist acts against innocent people.

"The PA can stop the violence, terror and killing immediately. The IDF has called on it to do so many times, but it has chosen the path of violence and agony, the path of blood. This seems to serve the objectives of the Palestinian leadership."

A sensitive and humane army 
The number of Palestinian children killed and injured during the Al Aqsa Intifada is certainly shocking and it raises many questions. One of the most difficult and complicated types of wars that an army may ever be required to deal with is currently going on in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. 

The missions are complex and the conditions are burdensome: A regular and organized army is facing a popular uprising in a densely populated area in which terrorist organizations are interspersed with the innocent civilian population; Israeli settlements are encircled and isolated; Israeli civilians are living in the heart of Palestinian cities; and Israeli and Palestinian security forces are in a state of friction with one another. 

This is not a war of generals and strategies. It is a war of soldiers at isolated posts and points of friction, facing a constantly changing reality. A noisy and crowded market can suddenly be transformed into a battlefield; an innocent vehicle into a car bomb; students getting out of school at the end of the day into a violent demonstration. 

This is a war with unique rules. A war that is dragging an organized army into actions whose results are sometimes extremely cruel. For every child killed or injured there is a bullet that was shot, a finger that pulled the trigger, and a soldier who is sometimes just a child, himself.

I have been at countless briefings and drills given to thousands of soldiers before they were sent to fulfill their missions. I am very familiar with how all of the details are explained, with the probing questions that are asked, and with the attempt that is made to dispel some of the haze of uncertainty surrounding what happens in that fraction of a second between identifying and sizing up the problem and making the decision to shoot or not to shoot, and if so - in which direction and at whom. 

On more than one occasion, I have shared that experience together with the soldiers at the "front line," in the midst of an incident, and I have decided along with them and for them on the preferred course of action. The hard questions that come up in the briefings held after each incident are well etched in my memory. Why were weapons fired? Where was the fire directed? Whom did you want to hit? Were lives at risk?

This is why I can say with certainty that the Israel Defense Forces is one of the most sensitive and humane armies, an army whose fighters and commanders do their utmost to fulfill their missions as well as to maintain their humanity. Few are the armies in the world that have been tested with the kind of fighting going on in the territories - and have not been drawn into savagery and loss of all reason.

Behind the weapons being fired there are human beings and not animals; fighters and not child murderers. This is not a prettification of the situation. I know that we are not innocent of making mistakes. They are not a few and each one is one too many: human errors, errors in assessing the situation and the risk, the incorrect and unprofessional use of weapons, and even situations that cannot be described as anything other than sheer stupidity for which there is no reasonable explanation. 

But our strength lies in our ability to boldly face and recognize our errors, to examine them and to learn their lessons so that they are not repeated. We cannot be complacent about this for a moment. We must continue to work hard to educate and train our fighters, and always remember that we are in the midst of a complicated and cruel war, a war in which children and women are also sent to the battlefield and sometimes return in coffins. 



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