As the clashes that began on 28 September 2000 continued to result in a high loss of life and level of injuries among the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip including many children, various Israeli official and media sources claimed Palestinians were using "children as shields", in some cases for financial gain, CNN broadcast an unprecedented feature on children throwing stones.
Every day I visit sites like CNN.com, look through the papers, watch the TV, in an effort to keep up with what is going on in the Middle East. As you know, it's been a long month for those of us concerned about the situation of the Palestinians.
Additionally, for those of us who have visited the West Bank and Gaza Strip, who have family and friends there, and in particular for those outside as a result of the conflict, the Palestinian refugees, these times can be particularly draining.
What we see on the media is often not comforting. The high death toll, the intransigence of leaders on both sides, the relentless violence. Looking at this bleak landscape we often fear that the next phonecall may tell them a relative, a friend is gone.
Many of us in this situation also fear the media, which has struggled for many reasons -- some understandable, some less so for us -- with the implementation of balance in a situation that is anything but.
We hear reports that make it appear as if those we know, those warm human beings over there that form the majority of Palestinian society, do not exist, creating an impression as if the Palestinians were cold, hard people, capable only of inhumanity, even among their own people.
The Jerusalem Post provided a particularly disturbing example of this the other day, in an article entitled, "Child Sacrifice is Palestinian Paganism", found below.
The article claimed that Palestinian parents went as far as giving birth to their children specifically in order to send them out to be gunned down, for societal status from their child's "martyrdom" and -- according to the writer Gerald M. Steinberg -- for "sizable financial 'reward' from the Palestinian Authority."
The climate that media reports like this create is what gives us fear. When a people are thus dehumanised, history has taught us that the world is in danger of shutting off the parts of its heart that can allow terrible things to take place. If knowledge is power, ignorance of the universal humanity of all people similarly weakens us as a human race from that all-important looking out for each other.
In the context of these recent claims about Palestinian parents being afforded increasing currency in the world's media, it was with some trepidation that I clicked on Richard Blystone's video report from today, on "how Gaza is a poisoned playground", found in the video sidebar on CNN's website at: http://www.cnn.com/2000/WORLD/meast/10/29/mideast.violence.03/index.html
I say with certainty that I have not seen any other news report about the Palestinians in my entire life that moved me so much.
The scenes of children throwing stones, of children in hospitals, of small coffins being bourne to gravesides by communities were nothing new. We see those all the time on our screens and I have also seen them in reality in the West Bank. Perhaps, especially when you live there, maintaining an emotional response is difficult, as these scenes are tragically all too common. Instead you learn a kind of numbness.
What was shocking about this report was how your team on the ground transcended all these obstacles and told the story in a way that unequivocally reasured us that both Palestinian kids and Palestinian parents were -- essentially -- just like us.
From the beginning where low-shot camera footage showed us the world from the point of view of the tinier stonethrowers, to Richard Blystone's sensitive interview with 13-year-old Ahmad who insisted with transparent bravado, "I can throw just as far as the older guys!" this was a report that gave a rare glimpse into what it's all about for them.
The varied motivations of Ahmad and other young boys who daily go out to throw stones at bunkered down Israelis in Gaza was also uncovered with commendable patience: "The hero worshiper, the teenageer's battle for manhood, the uncomplicated intensity of a small boy, the hand-me-down folk history of injustice at the hands of Israel, and the longing for a real match."
"How can their parents let them do that, you ask?" says Blystone, before going on to interview two parents. The first a mother who leaves us in no doubt that her 10-year-old isn't going anywhere, before smiling at CNN and telling us tha,t "we'll have to wait and see what he does when he gets older to liberate his country." The second, a father who was woken up and told his son was in the hospital, when he had thought he was sleeping next door. In other ways too, we are left in no doubt that Palestinian kids are, well, just kids.
The realisation that many parents around the world -- who had been asking exactly this question -- were sitting down and watching this from Tucson, Arizona to Sidney, Australia was something I'm sure you guys at CNN have a phrase for. For me it was a powerful TV moment, right up there with the Berlin Wall coming down and Nelson Mandela being released from jail. It was a triumph of humanity.
The seriousness of it all and the childishness of it all were perfectly captured in this report. Thoughtfully-shot footage edited in a way that brought real understanding of the complex facets to your viewers, a powerful and well-researched script -- the whole package from start to finish coming together notably as the result of Richard Blystone's senstitive narration which left you in no doubt that this too was a father who understood something about how kids are.
At times, I swear I could actually hear him wryly shaking his head behind the camera.
Thank you for this report CNN. They truly don't get any better.
Richard Blystone bio:
Friday, October 27 2000 The Jerusalem Post Child sacrifice is Palestinian paganism Gerald M. Steinberg (October 27) - 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 Palestinian militias armed 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 of the 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 an unbelievably shocking scene, 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 UN, 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, declared: "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. Several journalists have begun to ask difficult questions of the Palestinian spokesmen whose presence on interview programs in newspaper reports is so ubiquitous. There are, of course, no good answers, and the questions 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, 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 Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser 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.
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