01/10/2018 13:06 EST | Updated 01/10/2018 13:06 EST

World Leaders Have Failed Palestinian Children

Ahed Tamimi and other Palestinian children should be playing, going to school and living their teenage lives.

Recently, a 16-year-old girl was arrested and charged for slapping an Israeli soldier. Her name is Ahed Tamimi. For many, she is a hero against occupation, apartheid and settler violence.

But for Israelis, this 16-year-old girl poses a security risk, as does her mother, who has also been arrested. However, putting aside the competing narratives, it needs to be acknowledged that here is a girl who grew up in a village around encroaching Israeli settlements and military presence and has only seen a life of "checkpoints, identity papers, detentions, house demolitions, intimidation, humiliation and violence."

Moreover, she is not the only youth who has been detained. There are many children who are arrested and imprisoned. Some, like Tamimi's 15-year-old cousin, have been mercilessly shot.

There is something incredibly wrong with this picture. Tamimi and other Palestinian children should be playing, going to school and living their teenage lives. Why should they have to face military soldiers, teargas and bullets in their daily life?

NurPhoto via Getty Images
Palestinians hold candles during a support demonstration for Ahed Tamimi in Gaza City on Jan. 8, 2018.

It is not clear if prominent world leaders have done much for the release of these children and youth. This is especially so when leaders are more concerned about regional politics than the lives of little children. Infact, many of them support punitive measures with the approval of their own conscience.

For many Israelis, Palestinians are terrorists, down to every woman, girl and child. This becomes apparent when a Jewish settler woman who slapped a soldier is let go, but several Israeli leaders support Tamimi's detention, who may face up to 10 years in prison. One prominent Israeli journalist was even reported to have called for "unspeakable acts" to be committed against Tamimi.

Youth like Tamimi are engulfed in a decades long conflict that seems to have no end. Israelis and Palestinians are deadlocked on peace, which usually requires a level playing field and not an asymmetrical distribution of negotiating power.

Palestinians want the liberation of their homeland. Each year on May 15, they mark the nakba (the catastrophe) when they commemorate the destruction of their villages and cities and mass atrocities.

However, many Israelis reject the statehood of Palestine, as they reject that there ever were a Palestinian people. According to them the West Bank is Judea and Samaria. Still others claim that the Palestinian state is Jordan.

It's not clear if the Arab states are interested in helping Palestinians.

If there is to be no Palestine, then what was the whole point of all the peace talks that would lead to two nations living side by side in peace? And where should all those people who have been living under military surveillance and ever increasing settlements go?

It's not clear if the Arab states are interested in helping Palestinians. There seems to be no initiative on part of Arab leaders to help Palestinian children and youth through scholarship funds, offers of citizenship or economic opportunities.

This is true even as they have kept the issue alive for more than half a century. According to some, the rich Gulf States have simply used Palestinians as pawns in regional politics.

Indeed, throughout history many Arab states have expelled Palestinians from their countries. This includes Kuwait in 1991 when Palestinian residents were subjected to a campaign of terror, violence, economic pressure and expelled.

No wonder, in one of the videos from a couple of years ago when Gaza was being bombed by Israel, Palestinians were shown as cursing the Arabs for their plight. Egypt had sealed its borders and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were depicted as having clandestinely supported Israel.

If politics drives the position of world leaders then civil rights and faith-based groups will have to stand up for Palestinian children.

While historically Jordan and Lebanon have taken in many Palestinians, there were reports that Lebanon too had been building a wall around a Palestinian refugee camp, Ain al Hilweh.

Turkey under Erdogan has flip-flopped on Palestinian concerns including that of the Gaza flotilla of 2010. On the one hand, it has immense trade benefits with Israel, but on the other, it has been muscling up rhetoric for Palestine.

Additionally, like Saudi Arabia that has been indiscriminately bombing Yemen, it is not clear if Erdogan's Turkey is interested in the lives of human beings, as many followers of Erdogan's rival Fethullah Gulen have been arrested, including 17,000 women along with 668 infants and children.

The same could be said for Pakistan, where many protest for Palestine, but where the lives of religious minorities, including Christians and Ahmadis, have been made a living hell.

If politics drives the position of world leaders then civil rights and faith-based groups will have to stand up for Palestinian children.

In this regard, the United Church of Canada, while denouncing all that undermines Israel's legitimacy as a state and upholding "zero tolerance" of anti-Semitism, stands firmly in its call for the end to the occupation.

Likewise, notwithstanding the rhetoric of those who portray them negatively, Independent Jewish Voices, Jewish Voices for Peace, Rabbis for Human Rights, B'TSelem, Rabbi Michael Lerner at Tikkun Daily and many other Jewish people have asserted their voices on the basis of their noble precept of tikkun olam (repairing the world).

While the Israel-Palestine issue is not a religious one, Muslims and Jews in the West who stand united against Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, can come up with position statements toward the protection and liberation of Palestinian children.

After all, what good are our common teachings of human dignity, compassion and doing good unconditionally if they are reduced to feel good words that simply give us a high in synagogues, churches and mosques.

In essence, a whole array of everyday citizens will have to find their voice through blogs, petitions, interfaith joint statements and stand up for Palestinian children by speaking truth to power and by standing up for justice even if it goes against oneself.

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