A stormy debate took place in the Knesset on Monday, July 2, during a forum on the subject of Palestinian children under occupation, initiated by four anti-occupation MKs: Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh (Hadash), Dov Khenin (Hadash – Joint List), Michal Rozin (Meretz) and Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union).
The meeting organized by the four MKs to highlight the plight of children in the Gaza Strip was so packed with lawmakers, journalists, activists and others that many had to line up outside the Knesset chamber in which it was held. Among those in attendance were diplomats from the EU, the Netherlands and the UK.
Four right-wing Knesset members were forcibly ejected from the emotionally charged meeting. Far right and settler MK Oren Hazan (Likud), who in January was banned from plenum and committee deliberations for six months following a series of offensive statements against MKs, was allowed to attend but at one stage was removed after he yelled at moderator, MK Rozin, “Do you have a face that can look in the mirror while you are betraying the state?”
Also removed were MKs Anat Berko and Nurit Koren (Likud), after they cut off Breaking the Silence spokesman Dean Issacharoff, clashed with former cabinet minister Ran Cohen, and interrupted other participants’ remarks.
Before the conference began, the organizers intended to show a seven-minute video specially prepared for the event, but Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein forbade its screening. In the film, Israeli and Palestinian children discuss their hopes and fears. The organizers of the meeting attempted to show the film despite Edelstein’s ruling, but someone saw to it that the screening system was disconnected. In lieu of this, the organizers sent an SMS message to all attendees with a link to view the video. Those who chose to do so could see it on their smart phones while the forum was taking place.
During the discussion, MK Odeh said that “the children living in the occupied Palestinian territories suffer from restrictions of movement, arrests, daily interaction with a foreign army, and a lack of water and electricity.” According to MK Svetlova, “[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s false narrative seeks to show the world that everything is fine. However, not everything is fine. What can we do, the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are here and are not planning to leave. We have to deal with this and not flee from our responsibility, because averting responsibility turns our children into occupiers.”
Omar Shakir, the director of Human Rights Watch for Israel and Palestine, whom the Interior Ministry has threatened to expel from the country on grounds that he supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, (BDS) said at the conference that: “As part of the documentation of abuse in more than 90 countries, Human Rights Watch has been involved in Israel for three decades… Year after year we document the same acts. The abuse is committed in the name of security. The children who don’t know anything other than occupation are the greatest victims of all.” Shakir told the audience that “There are no schools for a third of the residents in Area C, and many children simply drop out. The closure does not stem from security needs; rather it is a general ban. There is no solution without hope for the children, and we will all continue, despite the obstacles, to aspire to implementing human rights.”
According to data provided by B’Tselem, between January 19, 2009 (just after the conclusion of Israel’s brutal “Cast Lead” operation) and April 30, 2018, Israeli security forces killed 724 Palestinian minors, the vast majority of them in Gaza. Citing figures from the Israeli military and the Institute for Palestine Studies, a representative from B’Tselem also told those present that at the end of April of this year, 315 Palestinians aged 18 and under were being held in Israeli prisons as security detainees and prisoners; around a quarter of them were aged 16 and below.
Breaking the Silence’s Issacharof told the meeting that for occupation soldiers in the field, no distinction is made between children, youth, and adults when it comes to making arrests and the way suspects were treated in their homes and at checkpoints. “The only difference is that children often cry, scream, and even wet their pants,” he said.
The forum prompted outrage long before the doors to the meeting chamber opened. On Saturday, two days before the conference, Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid described the meeting on Twitter as a “gift to Israel’s enemies.” The Zionist Union had “lost it” when it invited “all the BDS supporters” to the meeting, Lapid said. Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev (Likud) dubbed the organizers of the meeting a “fifth column.”