PALESTINIAN CHILD SACRIFICE
by Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg
Director, Program on Conflict
Resolution and Negotiation
Political Studies, Bar Ilan University
October 25, 2000
According to the Palestinians, over 40 children have been killed in the waves of violence and confrontations that began at the end of September. They have been killed in the front lines, providing cover for the armed Palestinian militias with machine guns and other weapons seeking to overwhelm isolated Israeli guard posts. The outnumbered Israeli soldiers, defending the civilians behind these outposts, cannot see the children through the small slits and openings (as was clearly the case at the Netzarim crossing in Gaza). The tragic images of these young victims provide first-rate propaganda to use against Israel.
Interviewed by journalists after these tragedies, some parents of these young victims refer to their children as "shaheeds" (martyrs), whose lives were given willingly and proudly to the Palestinian cause in fighting the hated Zionist enemy. In a scene that was unbelievably shocking, one mother boasted that she bore her son precisely for this purpose, and the father proudly claimed credit for providing the training. (The parents will also receive a sizeable financial "reward" from the Palestinian Authority.)
For a people who count Abraham (or Ibrahim) among their ancestors, this willful child sacrifice violates the fundamental tenets of morality and ethics. The message of Abraham's non-sacrifice of Isaac was and remains first and foremost the absolute rejection of such practices. This prohibition, for the children of Abraham -- Jews, and later Christians, and Moslems -- stands in sharp contrast to the paganism and idolatry that existed at that time, and apparently still exists in some cultures. Child sacrifice was the most fundamental expression of idolatry, and forms the basis for the central Biblical message, prohibiting any contact with or tolerance for such practices. That the Palestinian leadership could encourage such behavior as part of their political and military campaign against Israel, or for any other purpose, is beyond belief or explanation.
After first buying into the Palestinian propaganda, the forces of morality in the world are beginning to confront this horrible reality. Sweden's Queen Silvia was among the first voices of conscience outside of Israel to raise this issue. In a meeting of the World Childhood Foundation that took place at the United Nations, she strongly criticized Palestinian parents for abusing their children in this way. "As a mother I'm very worried about this. I'd like to tell them to quit. This is very dangerous. The children should not take part." While the Palestinian leaders were cynically pursuing their political efforts to isolate Israel in a special meeting of the UN General Assembly, the Swedish Queen placing the responsibility precisely where it belongs, declaring, "The Palestinian leaders are exploiting them and risking their lives in a political fight."
Queen Silvia's is not the only voice to be raised against this practice. A few journalists have begun to ask difficult questions to the Palestinian spokesmen whose presence on interview programs in newspaper reports is so ubiquitous. There are, of course, no good answers, and the questions themselves, as well as the very visible discomfort of the Palestinians, speak for themselves. The dispatch of children to the front lines, in a brutal war that has no purpose or justification, will haunt Palestinian society for generations. Indeed, there are also an increasing number of Palestinians who are upset by the high price of Arafat's adventures, and, in particular, the cynical exploitation of their children. As these young victims are buried, and the war produces only more suffering, primarily for the Palestinians themselves, the promise of martyrdom seems less appealing. Suddenly, the game of provoking the Israeli soldiers and playing before the news cameras, while Palestinian gunmen fire from behind, has become deadly.
Eventually, enough of these parents, and the children themselves, will bring the sacrifices for Arafat's war to a stop. They will need the support from many other parents and voices of morality around the world. Instead of investigating politically based charges of Israeli human rights violations, Mary Robinson, the commissioner responsible for human rights for the UN can save the lives of Palestinian children by following the lead of Queen Silvia. The committee for the Defense of Children International (DCI), based in Geneva, has an important role to play as well. The Palestinian branch of DCI, which is supported by donations designed for protecting children, uses these funds for propaganda attacks against Israel, while ignoring the abuses of children by the Palestinian leadership. In a recent conference on the dangers of landmines that took place In Geneva, the Palestinian members of DCI were too busy circulating denunciations of Israel to discuss means for cooperation in protecting children from these dangers.
When Yassir Arafat was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, it was not for sending children to be sacrificed as part of a wider war of terrorism and brutality against Israel. By revoking this award, the Norwegian prize committee would reverse some of the damage it caused in the first place, and send a powerful message in support of basic human morality. It would also help to save Palestinian children.