Said M. Hamad is the chief representative for the Palestinian General Delegation in Canada
I couldn't agree more with the sentiments expressed yesterday by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird in his Globe op-ed, "It's time to demilitarize the West Bank and Gaza."
The first step toward demilitarization, naturally, would be to end Israel's military occupation, which began in 1967 and which continues to prevent Palestinians from exercising their inalienable right to self-governance.
Mr. Baird reminds us that the new Palestinian unity government is in compliance with the Quartet principles; it has renounced violence, recognized Israel, and sworn to uphold all previous agreements.
The question is why should Israel be held to a different standard? Is it too much to ask that Israeli governments abide by the same principles: recognize Palestine, renounce violence, and uphold all previous agreements?
In the discourse over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I believe we have come to occupy a kind of moral safe house, where everyone is to blame so no one is guilty.
This logical and ethical fallacy has been thrown into stark relief by the suspected kidnapping of three missing Israeli teenagers, Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Frankel, 16, and Gil-ad Shaar, 16. The Palestinian Authority is co-operating fully in the search and we are all praying for their safe return. Children should be off-limits and no double standards should be tolerated.
It therefore bears reminding that Palestinian families are all too familiar with the nightmare of child abduction. According to Defence for Children International (DCI), each year approximately 500-700 Palestinian children – some as young as 12 years old – are detained in the Israeli military prison system, where a 2013 UNICEF report noted ill-treatment of children is "widespread and systematic."
The majority of children are abducted from their homes during the middle of the night by heavily armed Israeli soldiers. During 2013, 76.5 per cent of Palestinian children detained by the Israeli military in the occupied West Bank endured some form of physical violence during arrest, transfer, or interrogation. DCI notes that Palestinian child detainees are then prosecuted in Israeli military courts that "lack fundamental fair trial guarantees and are not designed or administered to respect children's rights." Some are not even charged or tried and languish indefinitely in what is euphemistically known as 'administrative detention.' These kidnappings have coincided with other recent tragedies. Last week, Israeli security forces murdered a Palestinian youth in the streets of Ramallah for participating in a demonstration. That news followed closely on the heels of the murder last month of two unarmed Palestinian teenagers – 15 and 17 years old – by Israeli forces using live ammunition.
With these facts in mind it's time to reassess the current situation. The root of the pain and suffering of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the Israeli occupation of Palestine. End the occupation and our children will finally be able to walk the holy land as equals. Continue the occupation and our collective misery will endure for another generation, an inheritance ultimately unworthy of our two great peoples.