Most Palestinian children live in what are called "difficult circumstances." By this I mean that the prevailing political, economic and sociocultural situation is unstable, and, more often than not, deteriorating. The basis for determining whether or not children live in difficult circumstances is the supposition that children are exposed to conditions detrimental to their well-being. In the case of the Palestinian child, he/she has been raised and continues to grow up under grave political circumstances, where children's issues have taken a back seat in the political arena, while economic conditions continue to deteriorate. According to Palestinian Authority (PA) conservative estimates, four million dollars per day are lost due to the closure of the territories and to travel restrictions, while the gross national product (GNP) in the West Bank and Gaza has dropped by over 20 percent in the last four years (estimates of the office of the UN Special Coordinator, Gaza, 1996). The local community bears the effect of these negative developments because they impact directly on the quality of their life.

Empowering Communities

The local as well as the international community must resolve what kind of life Palestinian children will enjoy. This is not an easy task for a community that has grown up under a repressive occupation which explicitly discouraged and prevented the development of Palestinian-based services or programs. It is incumbent upon all Palestinians to free themselves from the psychological bondage which was rampant for thirty years.
One way of achieving a better life for children is by making the community - adults and children - aware of what their rights are or should be. What follows is a simple case study that represents some of the problems, and hopefully solutions, that face Palestinian children.

Nine-year-old Samar awakens to find that her mother and father have both left for work and her slightly older sister, Huda, is yelling at her to "hurry up and get dressed for school." Samar puts on her old school uniform and walks that half kilometer to school. On the way she is confronted with speeding traffic, children bullying other children, and the hunger she feels in her belly because she did not eat breakfast. Huda is still at home trying to get the other children ready for school and to care for Osama, her six-month-old brother. It's on days like this that Huda feels like crying uncontrollably and just giving up on life. Huda is thirteen years old.

In the above scenario, which is quite common in Palestine, the parents could be judged as "unfit parents" because they have failed to provide their children with a safe, secure, and protective living environment. But this judgment would be of little concern to the parents who would justify their behavior based on their interest in providing their children with the basic necessities for "survival." If Father does not work, the family will have no money to buy food, clothing, electricity, water and heat. Even with his job, the money he brings home is not enough and Mother complements his salary by working in the fields (harvest, planting), caring for the goats and sheep, working as a maid in the nearby settlement, or as a teacher, a secretary, or a seamstress. All of these jobs provide below-minimum wages, but the family needs the money in order to survive.
Hypothetically, this situation could easily be remedied in the following manner:
A. Mother or Father stops working and cares for siblings and Osama continues breast-feeding.
B. Mother or Father works part time and finds alternate care-giver who is older and more mature.
C. Mother or Father places child in a suitable nursery while at work.
D. Huda goes to school, completes her education, and has time to play and enjoy life as a child.
E. Samar wakes up on time, eats a healthy breakfast, and takes a small lunch to school with her.
F. Samar walks on properly built and safe sidewalks, traffic is properly monitored and managed by police, and children do not fight with one another.
However, for each of the above solutions, certain preconditions have to be met:
A. Adequate funds have to be allotted to cover costs of maternity leave and salaries of nursery and day-care staff.
B. The state and its citizens provide sufficient funds to maintain streets and public areas in a manner which does not present a safety hazard for children.
C. Parents and the community would be aware of the negative impact of not providing children with a proper education and the basic skills for life. Often parents, themselves, cannot read, write or compute at an appropriate level to support their own development or that of their children.
D. Parents and the community in general would appreciate the importance of breast-feeding for babies, early stimulation and appropriate care of children, and the rights of both girls and boys to survival, protection, and development as laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.¹
These basic preconditions indicate the need for governments and families to place the interests of children high on their priority lists.

Palestinian Predicament

In the aforementioned case study, Samar, Osama and Huda have few options available to them. Even if they were to report their situation to a social worker (were one available), it would be considered "normal" because thousands of other young Palestinian girls and boys are in a similar plight. The agency or relevant ministry does not have sufficient human or financial resources to help ameliorate the condition of these children and their families. If Samar or Huda were to complain about the situation to outside family members, they would probably be ignored or rebuked for their lack of family loyalty or for failing to understand their parents' good intentions. Similarly, the community might disregard their views simply because of their age and/or sex.
The predicament of Palestinian children becomes much more complex when the following issues are taken into account: The vast majority of Palestinian children have grown up under Israeli occupation, a situation which has led to an imposed dependence of Palestinians on Israel, as well as to the quantitative and qualitative lack of appropriate health services, the disruption of educational services which were already deficient, and the haphazard and random selection of Egyptian, Jordanian, Ottoman, and British legislation used in legal cases involving children.2 These are but a few examples of the long-term impact of occupation on children's well-being as reflected in the stagnant economy and social and legislative disarray in the area for the last three decades.
With the signing of the Declaration of Principles (DOP) on September 13, 1993, the Palestinians obtained some autonomy in certain areas. Although, on April 5, 1995, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat provided verbal ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, only States Parties can formally ratify international conventions. Thus, the area of legislation is still dubious. Until there are clear lines of demarcation on powers, responsibilities, and the designation of specific, well-defined areas of jurisdiction and effective control, the rights of all Palestinians, especially children's, cannot be safeguarded. The issue of who is responsible for protecting Palestinian children remains blurred: East Jerusalem and certain parts of the West Bank and Gaza are under Israeli jurisdiction; the PA has limited control and jurisdiction in other parts of the West Bank and Gaza, but has no control over borders for the entry of vaccines, for example, or medicine or transference of patients to medical centers in other districts or countries. Naturally, until this issue is properly resolved, there is no feasible way of monitoring and ensuring that children's rights are upheld and protected. For instance, Article 22 of the draft Basic Law for Palestine states:
Motherhood, childhood, the family, the young and the youth have the right to protection and to the availability of proper opportunities for the development of their talents. Such protection is a duty of the society to be discharged by the Palestinian National Authority within the limits stipulated by law (emphasis - ¬CA.).

Impact of Occupation

Years of occupation have left their negative physical and mental impact on many children. Over 50 percent of the Palestinian population are children under the age of 18. It is currently estimated that three percent of the population of children under the age of 15 (36,500) are disabled. Many of these disabilities are a direct result of Intifada-related injuries which led to permanent disability or loss of an organ.3 The remaining disabilities could have been prevented had there been appropriate parental awareness and environmental and health-care services.4 These figures do not include the thousands of children who are currently suffering from mental problems, traumas, and disorders that are in part the outcome of decades of occupation and violence, civil and social underdevelopment of infrastructures, and lack of community awareness and involvement in children's issues and rights. With the PA's arrival comes the opportunity to plan and implement national programs for children. Multidisciplinary and multisectorial partnerships are required in meeting the needs and rights of Palestinian children. Fortunately, some positive steps have been made in the direction of a national program for children:
A. There is increased awareness of the need of and efforts towards the development of solid and sustainable infrastructures and programs for children and the general population by the PA, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), INGOs (international non-governmental organizations), and UN organizations.
B. A legislation which appreciates and respects human rights and the rule of law is slowly, but gradually, evolving. This must take into account the primary role parents and families play in providing children with a secure and wholesome learning environment. This requires the community to demand legislation which protects its children. The cornerstone for ensuring community participation is community awareness which, unfortunately, is still lacking.
C. The importance of establishing and upgrading policies in all sectors providing services for children is becoming a priority concern.
D. The current complex sociopolitical and economic situation, the result of decades of occupation has left many people of all ages frustrated and depressed. Human resources need to be re-energized and re-empowered to play an active role in effecting the changes that count.

Respecting Children's Rights

Although children's issues are still on slow burners, children's rights are gradually finding their place in our society. It is evident that the PA and many agencies and organizations functioning in Palestine are keen on using the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) as a policy framework for children as indicated by President Arafat's statements endorsing the CRC, the various ministerial documents and plans of action for programs which incorporate statements and articles from the CRC,5 and policy and statements from local and international non-governmental agencies functioning in the country. Even in the media, television shows, radio broadcasts, newspapers, conferences and workshops have repeatedly addressed issues of concern for children, allowed children a chance to air their views, and made mention of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. These efforts should be commended. They are the bases for working diligently towards a civil society which protects and respects children.


1. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 20 November, 1989.
2. Anita Vitullo Khoury, The Impact of Armed Conflict on Palestinian Children in the West Bank and Gaza UNICEF Qerusalem), August 1995 (unpublished).
3. Impact Mission Report (1996). WHO and UNICEF - Jerusalem.
4. National Program of Action for Palestinian Children (NPA), 1996. Ministry of Planning and International Coordination and Steering Committee for the NPA. Social Agenda for Renewal