How Israel's Occupation Affects Palestinian Children

News Abroad

Mr. Cole is professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian History at the University of Michigan and author of Sacred Space and Holy War (I.B. Tauris, 2002). His website is: www.juancole.com.

Over one in five Palestinian children in the West Bank and Gaza (22.5 percent) now suffers from chronic or acute malnutrition. About one in five is anemic. This mass of hungry humanity amounts to a population the size of Minneapolis, about 380,000 kids.

Malnutrition in children makes them more likely to contract life-threatening diseases. It permanently reduces intelligence and vastly increases the rate of attention deficit disorder. Women who were malnourished in their youths have increased rates of premature birth and high blood pressure in pregnancy.

The occupying power in the territories, Israel, enjoys a per capita income of some $17,000 per year, higher than Spain. In contrast, half of Palestinian families must now borrow money just to buy food.

Palestinian terrorists certainly bear a great deal of the blame for this tragedy, insofar as their horrific actions against innocent Israeli civilians have understandably led Israel to close its borders to Palestinian laborers. Unemployment is a prime source of the problem.

Yet, while the scourge of terrorism in Israel has been unspeakable, none of it has been committed by toddlers or infants. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's current lockdown of the entire population of the West Bank is a massive form of collective punishment that has worsened the problem. As the occupying power, Israel cannot escape responsibility for seeing that its colonial subjects are at least fed.

The specter of a rich occupying country presiding over a famished subject population is not unusual in history. Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen has pointed out that colonial and other undemocratic governments often allow hunger and famines, since they are insulated from popular protest.

Famously, even in the midst of the Great Hunger in Ireland of 1845 through 1850, eight ships a day left Ireland carrying exports of wheat, barley, oats, beef, pork, butter and eggs, sent abroad by British landlords while their peasants starved.

The French, who ruled Algeria 1830 to 1962, claimed to be on a "civilizing mission" to their subjects. Yet their policies of selling grain reserves on the world market led to a massive famine in the late 1860s when droughts produced starvation and pestilence.

Only the intervention of the French colonial authorities could have forestalled the deaths of thousands, but such officials have often maintained in history that they bear no responsibility for averting famine deaths. Some 300,000 Algerians died of hunger or of the consequent disease outbreaks.

In Sen's classic case, the British civil service in India failed to stop the starvation of three million Bengalis in 1943. He argues that famine is not caused by lack of food, but by an increased inability of the poor to afford it. Only government intervention, he argues, can stop such a tragedy.

That Palestinian children are not going so far as actually to die from their hunger in great numbers has helped conceal the depth of the crisis. Israel has ruled the West Bank and Gaza since it conquered them in 1967, and cannot disclaim responsibility for a population still under its military rule. A Palestinian Authority constantly under attack and immobilized cannot be expected to do hunger relief.

A wealthy and militarily powerful Israel is responsible under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 to see that persons living under its occupation are not harmed. Letting 380,000 children go chronically or acutely hungry is a serious violation of international law.

Since the United States still gives Israel billions of dollars every year and has acquiesced in the current West Bank reoccupation and curfew, it also bears a responsibility for this tragedy. The Palestine issue has dropped out of news coverage, and even when it is noticed the focus is on strutting adult male politicians and military men. Will anyone speak for the children?


comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Di Med - 7/17/2007

"Over one in five Palestinian children in the West Bank and Gaza (22.5 percent) now suffers from chronic or acute malnutrition. About one in five is anemic." Where do you get these numbers from?

If indeed this is the case, why doesn't the PLO, which has billions of dollars in investments and bank accounts, use some of its money to purchase food for the "famished" Palestinian children? And why don't countries like Saudi Arabia and Dubai donate some of their money to feed the "starving" Palestinian children instead of building artificial islands?

If the Palestinian economy got devastated as a result of of the Intifada and now Palestinians can not feed their children that's one side of the stody, but what about all the prosperous Arab countries, why does their support only end with words and not with material help?

Accusing Israel of starving Palestinian children is a serious allegation and one that should not be made in a shallow one sided representation of the situation.

Mr.Rational - 1/3/2003

Mr. Fahim states: "I do not believe that [suicide bombings] are the cause for the appalling situation in the country." --Mr.Fahim is committing the fallacy of Special Pleading, in keeping one standard for himself, but quite another for Israel. It is the stated objective of the Arabs who call themselves "palestinian" to destroy Israel, and it is by their own admission that they are engaged in a war with Israel. Homicide bombings, motar fire, machine gun attacks are how this war is waged. Arabs attempt to justify this war by calling it a war of liberation from Israeli occupation, but that only confirms that it is a war. Such an ongoing war is in the context of 5 wars of aggression by Arabs (who already possess 99% of the region for themselves) who openly regard the "palestinians" as their front line. -- Although Israel has repeatedly offered land for peace, the Arabs continue to answer with war. In such circumstances, Israel has and ought to invoke its right of self-defense. And while Israel has shown greater restraint in keeping this war as surgically precise and sparing of civilians as possible (even at a death toll to the Israel that any other country would find intolerable), war is still war- all the people of the inimical group/nation are subject to it. That Israel prevents free movement across its borders for fear it will unwittingly permit yet another homicide bomber, is both morally and legally justifiable. That Israel reprises attacks to its people is both morally and legally justifiable.

The Arabs who have waged this war with Israel are fully responsible for the harvest they reap. They could have had peace and cooperation back in 1949, or at any time since then, but they reject it. Most importantly, instead of using the billions of dollars that flow to the "palestinians" from Arab and other countries each year for food, education, proper housing, and infrastructure, it is spent on weapons, military training, and corruption. So, once again, it is the Arab "palestinians" who bring their misfortune upon themselves.

The world is mostly against Israel, though their reasoning is based on factual error and is inconsistent. --The Arabs who call themselves "palestinians" (only since 1967) have never had a legal or historical claim to the land they now inhabit. The British partitioned the Trans-Jordan territory into two parts, one for Arabs living there (more than 80% of those Arabs inhabited what is now Jordan), and the remainder to the Jewish residents and Jewish refugees. While Israel gained territory in its wars of self-defense against Arab aggression, Israel returned the vast bulk of this land in exchange for peace. The remainder has hardly increased the girth of Israel (which is still smaller than the state of New Jersey). It belongs to Israel as much as California belongs to America, as much as any country's war-established borders belong to it (which includes every country in the world). If anything, it is the Arabs who call themselves "palestinians" who are illegally occupying the lands which they are killing for.

ghadder - 11/10/2002

أنتم أمل المستقبل فابقوا على ما أنننتم عليه

Chris Messner - 10/2/2002

The killing of Mohammed Eldorah on 30/9/2000 reflects the Israeli army’s deliberate targeting of children.

It is incredible that this is still trotted out, after the ballistics study done after this case conclusively proved that the IDF position was unable (due to the concrete barrel) to hit the child, and the bullet hole positions indicated a position behind the Palestinian photographer that killed the child (a position that was occupied by Palestinian gunmen). The fire that hit the child and his father was automatic (per the bullet holes and audio on the film), the IDF had single shot sniper rifles. Oh wait, it must all be a Zionist (TM) conspiracy.


Brian Villa - 9/29/2002

It does not help to spread fabricated or vastly exaggerated stories [[billions of dollars--stolen]Misrepresentation is what has always fueled the passion for war. These misrepresentations in the end are lethal

The rest of the comment -this particular indictment of Arafat- is not particularly persuasive either since Arafat's only hope of satisfying Israel was to control the terrorists for which he needed a massive security force. In this the CIA encouraged Arafat. I agree it was bad advice, what the region needed and needs is an international peacekeeping force and an imposed peace from outside. Nothing else will stop this endless bloodshed.

Glenys Sugarman - 9/27/2002

The plight of Palestinian children is beyond belief. But hunger is only one problem. The Hamas organisation this week made it know that they are to introduce a program to Palestinian mothers based on the story of a heroine Moslem woman from historical times who was prepared to sacrifice her children for the some or other cause. The purpose of this is to imbibe their children with the same aspirations. The Hamas went on to say that this would also be taught to preschool children. I am an Israeli Jewish mother of four, I have Palestinian friends of many years who are also parents - we were wondering whether the international community has ever thought of applying human rights to Palestinian children. i.e. Should not pressure be brought to bear on adults who misuse the innocence of children for their own political gains. We know of a prominent Hamas mother who refused to have "recruiters" enlist her son for a suicide bombing, she has other plans for her son's future. She is incredibly brave for the stand she has taken - why cant people such as this woman - who has to remain nameless - be the recipients of international credit and support ?

Yasmine Fahim - 9/27/2002

I agree with you. Suicide bombings have not helped correct the situation in the occupied territories. I have one concern, however. Although I disapprove the suicide bombings, I do not believe that they are the cause for the appalling situation in the country. The malnutrition of the Palestinian children is part of Sharon's plan for ethnic cleansing. This leader is machiavellian. No argument will change his attitude toward the Palestinians. By hook or by crook, he will make them leave their lands in order to conquer them, and the end in this case will justify his means. Thank you for reading this.

Alec Lloyd - 9/26/2002

Gee, the Palestinian Authority press office blames Israel for everything. I’m shocked. Truly.

I don’t see any news stores about their extrajudical executions of “collaborators” nor a press release about how Chairman Arafat’s own people are trying to depose him. How about a basic grant release, for that matter? Something along the lines of:

“Chairman Yasser Arafat today announced a $200,000 economic development grant to increase health, education and welfare among the Palestinian people.

‘Converting this former terrorist arms factory into an industrial arts classroom will give our people the means to support themselves,’ Arafat said. ‘We are literally turning swords into plowshares.’”

Of course the reason you don’t see that is because IT DOESN’T HAPPEN. Arafat and his cronies have embezzled almost every cent of money, which is why they drive elaborate motorcades and have the one of the largest per capita “police forces” in the world (and multiple ones, at that). If Arafat ran New York City, there would be 1 million cops and pipe bombs in every basement. Meanwhile, the masses pay the price.

If he’s worried about feeding starving children, maybe Mrs. Arafat should sell the Mercedes.

fathi tobail - 9/26/2002

Palestinian Children under Israeli Siege
September 2000 - July 2002
‎ ‎
Prepared by the International Press Center


The subjection of Palestinian children to Israeli killing, torture, and dislocation is a flagrant violation of the 1989 Child ‎Rights Convention and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention and has raised the concerns of researchers, academics, ‎governmental and non-governmental institutions. ‎

Palestinian children are directly affected by these Israeli practices in the occupied territories psychologically, ‎educationally, socially, and economically.

Percentage of Children in the Palestinian Society:
According to the Palestinian Central Bureau for Statistics (PCBS), children under 18 composes 53% of the Palestinian ‎population; 50.9% of them male and 49.1% female. Male children under 18 numbered 913,000 and female children ‎‎881,000 at the end of the year 2001. 42.4% of Palestinian children in the occupied territories in the year 2000 were ‎refugees, 39% of them in the West Bank and 61% in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Violations of Children’s Rights:
Israeli violations of Palestinian children’s rights are numerous but this report will focus only on those killed, wounded, or ‎imprisoned. ‎

Targeting and Killing Children:
According to Ministry of Health statistics, Israeli fire killed 468 children and a total of 1878 Palestinian people from ‎September 2000 to June 2002; thus 25% of Palestinians killed were children. ‎

The killing of Mohammed Eldorah on 30/9/2000 reflects the Israeli army’s deliberate targeting of children.

In the Gaza Strip alone, 4000 children were injured, with 45% of the injuries to the upper parts of the body (head, nick, ‎chest), attesting to the deliberate targeting of children. ‎

Through June 2002, 329 Palestinian children, some under the age of 11, have been arrested and taken to Israeli ‎prisons. Palestinian prisoners, including children, have been tortured by Elshabak investigators, according to the Israeli ‎human rights organization B'Tselem.

Economic Conditions:
Economic conditions in Palestinian society have deteriorated due to Israeli siege and closure, which prevent thousands ‎of workers from reaching workplaces inside the Green Line. This results in unemployment and poverty which directly ‎affect children.

Unemployment in the Palestinian territories has risen to more than 65% of the labor force. Consequently, large ‎numbers of children are forced to work to help to their families.
The latest report of the PCBS, 14,792 Palestinian children, or 2.3% of Palestinian children between the ages of 10 and ‎‎17 years old, are working. ‎

Mr. Said Elmdalal, General Director of the Ministry of Labor, asserted that approximately 30.000 Palestinian children are ‎looking for job opportunities. In the meantime, the daily newspapers (Alquds, Elhayat, and Elayam) publish very ‎poignant stories of children’s suffering. In Jenin, for instance, difficult economic circumstances force children to sneak ‎through mountains and valleys to reach Nazareth inside the Green Line to sell cigarettes and water bottles at the road ‎junctions for little gain. This situation exists in all West Bank and Gaza Strip cities.

The increase in the unemployment rate leads to an increase in the poverty rate. According to the latest survey of the ‎PCBS, 2.2 million out of 3.2 million Palestinian people live below the poverty line. ‎

As children are 53% of the Palestinian population, 1.2 million children live below the poverty line. The survey also ‎pointed out that due to Israeli siege and closure, 66.5% of Palestinian families now live below the poverty line in ‎comparison to 25% before September 2000.

Psychological Effects:
Israeli oppressive measures caused psychological trauma in more than 68% of Palestinian children and arrested their ‎normal psychological, mental, and social development. Fear, nightmares, and enuresis are some of the psychological ‎problems.

For more than 22 months, the education sector has been exposed to Israeli oppressive measures. 211 students were ‎killed, 2404 injured, and 140 arrested before May, 2002. ‎

Israeli occupation forces closed 7 schools and hindered teaching at more than 850 schools. Schools stopped teaching ‎‎1800 days (for all the schools) as Israeli forces shelled and attacked 185 schools.‎

Bill Heuisler - 9/25/2002

Ms. Sobh,
You deserve much credit for attaining a Masters Degree in Colorado and for your graduate work at Illinois in Modern Middle Eastern History. Readers of this history site would surely be enlightened by your learned opinion of Professor Cole's thesis.
For instance, if the path from premise to conclusion is oddly attenuated - or if the postulate is flawed as Mr Lloyd posits - you could perhaps repair the defects. But arguments of "neo-Facist" and "two-bit apartheid-monger" while humorous, are not worthy of an excellent education in fine American Universities.
Bill Heuisler

aisha sobh - 9/25/2002

The previous replies to Prof. Cole's article are not reading it. They are merely trying to fire a salvo to try to reduce its impact. My advice? Try hard, very, very hard to focus...and stay on the issues. For those who are into the neo-Fascist Sharonista front, know that while you feel smug in your brute force now, it is just a matter of time before ethical values and world opinion rises up against you. Then, you will be a tiny, hated minority known in the public eye for your atrocities just like every other two-bit apartheid-monger.

Alec Lloyd - 9/25/2002

Interesting that the Palestinian Authority, which has stolen billions of dollars in aid, is not indicted in this one-sided article.

Perhaps if “Chairman” Arafat spent less on his “security forces” and more on the well-being of his subjects, the situation would be different.

don kates - 9/23/2002

Let's begin w/ the loaded term "occupation." The area Cole so deceptively refers to is part of historic ancient Israel. The Jews have at least as much right to possess it as we had to take California from Mexico (and I could add endless other examples). Moreover the area was "occupied" by Israel when Syria, Jordan and Egypt attacked Israel during the 6 Day War, but got creamed. When you provoke a war and lose, international law says you are liable to end up losing territory -- just compare the German-Polish border today to Sept. 1, 1939 when Germany attacked Poland.
There are vast numbers of malnourished Muslim children thruout the Middle East, as there were 35 years ago in the area Cole NOW focuses on. But the malnourished children now thruout the ME are mostly in Muslim nations and 35 years ago the area he now focuses on was run by Syria, Jordan and Egypt. Cole's crocodile tears, however, are reserved for a tragedy he can use to attack Israel.
It bears emphasis that in the era 1947-51 some half a million Jews who had lived in Muslim areas of the ME since before the time of Christ had their property expropriated and (excepting only those murdered) were expelled from these Muslim nations. Israel took them in and today they represent a well-nourished 10% or more of its population.
Why have not the oil-rich Muslim nations succored the children (and parents) to whom Cole refers; why did they not succor them when they controlled the area; and why do they not succor their own benighted people? Well, because they prefer to spend their money on planes and tanks w/ which to perpetrate a new Holocaust (their slogan, "drive the Jews into the sea," is not a poetic metaphor) and to reward the families of suicide bombers.
To see how phoney Cole's arguments are, just imagine what would change in the situation he desires: the Jew population of Israel exterminated and the area ruled by another corrupt, brutal Muslim dictatorship, presumably that of Arafat whose wife lives in a multi-million dollar Paris apartment while he and his gang send ever more of the monies given them for the Palestinian people to feather their Swiss bank accounts. Imagine what Cole will have to say about that: the same thing he says now -- nothing!