Reader comments may often be the best litmus test for public opinion. They are sometimes even more interesting than the article itself because they provoke varying points of view from a wide spectrum of people, many of whom violently clash.
This was certainly true of a recent story and video showing a settler leader in Silwan running down two Palestinian boys with his car. The video, understandably, generated a barrage of comments, some of them shockingly callous.
"Those aren't mere kids, they had murder in their little hearts," read one comment about the children captured on film who were later arrested by Israeli authorities. "Lock 'em up", read another.
One of these children was Omran Mansour, who was released on October 17 after spending nine days in an Israeli detention center. While some reports put the boy as young as eight others have reported him to be 12. In either way, he is a child. After his release, the boy was ordered under house arrest – allowed only to go to school and back with a parent. He was also made to pay a fine of NIS2,000.
Mansour was throwing stones, there is no question about it. Yes, he and a few other children were hell-bent on stoning the settler car as it entered their neighborhood. No one is denying this. However, it is very disturbing that one, Israeli authorities treat these children like commonplace criminals (adults nonetheless) and two, that some malice-filled readers repeatedly suggest that Palestinian adults staged the whole thing. Oh, and that the kids deserve everything they get.
Several comments fed into the ugly stereotype of Palestinian parents inciting their children towards violence. "… the video, showing how the kids were incited by adults holding cameras to attack the car," read part of one comment.
Another wrote, "Why don't you write about what kind of parents send their 6 and 7 year olds to a main road to throw stones!?" One particularly disturbing comment to a related article on the Jerusalem Post read, "If you throw rocks at my car I will run you over…it is obvious that the Palestinians do not want to peacefully coexist with Jews. They should all go to Jordan."
Of course, there were many friendly and supportive comments by people around the globe, calling Israel's action shameful. The settler, whose car was stoned, was taken in for questioning and let out on bail on the same day.
While opinions may vary as to the effectiveness of stone-throwing, especially by children, the more important issue is the motive behind it. Unlike some would want to portray, Palestinians - children or otherwise - are not more inclined to violence than any other people on this earth. In Silwan, the extenuating circumstances surrounding the "violence" show a much more complex picture than meets the eye. Jewish settlers, illegally squatting on Palestinian land in Silwan, have been the source of the real violence in this east Jerusalem neighborhood and the reason why its residents are fighting home demolition orders, land confiscation and overall everyday harassment. Settlements are a manifestation of the violence of the occupation and in Silwan, it is at its worse.
So, it is no surprise that the residents of Silwan would want to resist the settlers' presence. Even internationally, these settlers have no right to be there. East Jerusalem is occupied territory, which means that members of the occupying power cannot live or alter the land. When legalities become personal stories, the urgency only gets stronger. To the people of Silwan, the occupied land is theirs, handed down from their fathers and grandfathers. The homes Israeli municipal authorities tack demolition orders on have been their shelter for decades. The streets the settlers so self-righteously roam are Palestinian and thus severely impinge on the Palestinians' right to the same luxury.
So, when children, who have lived, breathed and tasted this ongoing injustice day in and day out, see an intruder (in this case, settler leader David Be'eri), they choose to fight back in any way they know. This in no way means their parents incite them to take to the streets armed with roadside stones. All parents love their children in much the same way. The universality of wanting to protect and guide your children to safety and happiness applies to Palestinian parents just as much as to parents of any other nationality. To insinuate otherwise is racist to the bone.
Besides, what justification can be given for dragging a child of 10 or 11 years of age out of his home after midnight without allowing his parents to accompany him and keeping him locked up for nine days in an adult detention center? Children, according to universal laws, are to have special treatment and should only be detained or imprisoned as a "last resort."
"The welfare, special needs, best interests, and human rights of juveniles 'shall be a primary consideration'," reads the UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty. Furthermore, while Israeli children are those aged 18 and under, Israeli military law considers Palestinian children as young as 12 as a young adult.
With that attitude, it is no surprise that this month, Israeli Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch announced that "[Palestinian] children could not receive immunity." He was right. Palestinian children are imprisoned, held for days without charge, beaten, sexually harassed and isolated then put under house arrest for months. Yes, Omran Mansour threw rocks at a settler car in his neighborhood. While this is true, there is also another glaring truth that cannot be overlooked. If Mr. Be'eri were living somewhere in Tel Aviv (or the US) and illegal settlers were gone from the occupied sector of Jerusalem, little Omran would have been living a normal life (without stone throwing) very much like any other child in the world.
Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.