No way to treat a child

By Helen Smith

Yesterday when we visited Yad Vashem, the most difficult part for me was the sights and sounds of the children – in the ghettos and camps.

Today began with a trip to Mehwar, a women’s shelter. The name means “core”. Women are the core of the society. The shelter covered prevention, empowerment, integration back into the community for women who have been abused, and their children. Unlike shelters in Canada it was very open. Its gym was also used by people in the community. We even joined a Zumba class much to the hilarity of the regular participants. Community members could come for seminars. The shelter part was in the middle, not obvious to the rest of the facility so the women and their children were safe and secure. Children from the community, as well as children of staff and children of the women in the shelter used a well- equipped nursery with a great outdoor playground. Again, the lives of children came to the forefront for me.

Our next visit was with Bishop Sani Azar, ELCJHL in the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer, the old city, Jerusalem. He began by telling us how the Lutheran Church work started here with Germans setting up a school for girls in 1853, and for boys, in 1860. And they are still involved with the work of education with 4 schools, 2,500 students, about half of whom are Christian and half are Muslim. Again, a focus on children.

At lunch we were joined by Yusef (WCC-JIC). He is involved with the EAPPI program of the WCC. Although the number of accompaniers is down, I knew that many accompanied children on the way to school to make sure they got fair treatment at the checkpoints. Children again. There is a thread running through this day. Yusef also gave us one of our favourite quotes: “Equality is the pre-condition for justice and peace is the fruit”.

The last visit of the day was very hard. At the office of the Defense of Children International-Palestine we heard of the work they do monitoring the violations of the rights of Palestinian children in the military court, in which they are tried. We heard the tragic stories of family homes invaded in the middle of the night, of children from 12-18 taken into custody, blindfolded, cuffed with plastic ties, of many violations of their rights, from not having a family member present for their interrogation, to being asked under threat of harm to family members to sign documents in Hebrew which they didn’t understand and which amounted to a confession of guilt. Most alleged crimes are stone throwing and the conviction rate is 99%. Defense of Children International in being proactive holds workshops with Palestinian children to demonstrate to them what happens if/when they are arrested and what their rights are. It is a tragedy that these workshops are needed instead of workshops Canadian children might have on bicycle safety or orienteering.

Last night at the reception with church and civic leaders, Bishop Attallon Hanna of the Greek Orthodox Church spoke of how in a month or so we would be home celebrating the birth of the Child of Bethlehem. He said that when we do this, “do not forget the children of Palestine”. May it be so.

Filed in: Gender Justice/Women of Courage, Middle East

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