The government of Israel has wisely chosen to cooperate with a U.S.-led international commission that began investigating Israeli-Palestinian violence this week. Led by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, the commission hopes its work will reduce the violence in the region and lead the parties back to the negotiating table.
By cooperating, Israel can have greater input into the commission's agenda. Here, for example, is one area for the investigators to consider: whether Palestinian parents are recklessly endangering the lives of their children by allowing them on the front lines of the conflict.
The images of Palestinian children confronting Israeli soldiers have by now become symbolic of Intifada II. They are standard fare on nightly news programs and have turned up in full-page ads taken out by the Arab-American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee as evidence of Israel's excessive use of force. But though the ADC ad and the news broadcasts evoke the lone Chinese protester facing a tank in Tienenman Square in 1989, there is one big difference: the Chinese protester was an adult. In the ADC ad, the protester is Fares al-Uda, age 14.
The Israeli human rights group B'tselem, which has monitored human rights violations by all sides in the conflict, criticized the Palestinian Authority last month for urging Palestinian youths to confront Israeli troops. According to the ADC, since the beginning of Intifada II, 258 Palestinians have been killed, 68 of them under the age of 18. Among the dead is Fares al-Uda, killed days after his photo was taken.
Children under 18 years of age are not old enough to know what's worth dying for. Are they aware, as Palestinian and Israeli leaders are, that the war they are fighting on the streets can only lead back to the negotiating table?
Do Palestinian children racing out of the house to join in protests know their deaths are merely chits to be cashed in when Yasser Arafat and the Israelis once again sit down? Do they know their young lives may feed a propaganda machine but will hardly change Israel's negotiating position? After all, Israeli children have also been victims of Palestinian terror.
Around the world and throughout history, children have been used to fight adult wars, and the Middle East is no different. These Palestinian children are taught to hate the Zionists, and they are egged on by adults who should know better. Caught up in the violence, they become victims.
There is something cruel and cynical about allowing children to place themselves in harm's way, but that seems to be part and parcel of the Palestinian strategy. To people who accept the inevitability of a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians -- and this includes a majority of Israeli and American Jews -- the martyrdom of Palestinian children is mystifying. Why are these children anywhere near Israeli guns? In Los Angeles, concerned pediatricians have spoken out against such child sacrifice (see page 11), but Palestinian spokesmen say it is Israeli military policy that accounts for the exhorbitant child death toll. In a recent report, Amnesty International took Israel to task for using "excessive force" against demonstrators, but it also criticized Palestinian leadership for not doing enough to keep children away from the violence. Perhaps Mitchell's commission could help distribute the blame more evenly, and maybe even save young lives in the process.