By Sherri Muzher
Special to PalestineChronicle.com
I knew that the letters I received were typed by someone else, but the signature was his – a purple fingerprint made by placing one of his fingers on an inkpad and pressing it down on paper.
Ramzi was a disabled Palestinian 11 year-old I sponsored several years ago. One of four children, his mother had a physical disability and walked with a limp and his father had a mental disability, preventing him from any real employment.
Ramzi suffered from both types of disabilities, and it was hard not to choke up when I first saw his picture. Wearing a white T-shirt, Ramzi had to be held up by two individuals in order to sit up.
Two years later, I was informed that Ramzi’s school, “The Ihsan Charitable Society for the Aged, Handicapped, and Orphans” was shut down by the Israeli Army because it allegedly “harbored terrorists.”
Nobody answered the phone at the Hebron Hschool, and it was the school that facilitated payments for kids. My new plan to send monies directly to the family was shelved since only the school held the contact info. It wasn’t even that much money but every little bit mattered for his family, who lived in one room of the grandfather’s house.
I was told that I could sponsor another child but, emotionally, I couldn’t. I felt like I had been forced to abandon a vulnerable child. And what if the Israelis did the same to the school of the next child?
With no specifics discussed at the recent Annapolis peace summit, there was little talk about the real victims of this tragic Palestinian-Israeli conflict – children. As Israel prepares to invade Gaza , many Palestinian children now go to school unable to concentrate from malnourishment resulting from the Israeli siege. And according to the Defense for Children International (DCI), there were 385 children doing time in Israeli prisons as of July, 2007.
The DCI also notes that, “amongst the denial of many other fundamental rights, children do not have the right to a parent, a responsible adult or a lawyer to be present during the interrogation process. On average, Palestinian children are detained before being taken to court from between 8 and 21 days. As with adults, under Military Order 378, a child can be detained and interrogated for up to 90 days without charge.”
Then there’s two-and-a-half year old Muhammad a-Shanti and his brother Mustafa, who is sixteen months old, who have cystic fibrosis. They live in the Gaza Strip, where the health system is unable to treat their serious illness, and have to go to Hadassah Hospital , in Jerusalem , once a month for treatment. But there are no visits now because Israel won’t grant a travel permit.
And as of this writing, another playground is slated to be demolished by the Israeli Army – a playground that is primarily funded by USAID through the YMCA. The reason? The playground on Palestinian land has been built without an Israeli permit.
With the swimming pools, pre-schools, and playgrounds that permeate Israeli settlements, it is clear that Israelis believe that children deserve a place to laugh, thrive and call their own. That’s the right attitude, so why destroy Palestinian playgrounds, often the only respite that Palestinian children have?
Recently, C-SPAN hosted a talk about the Annapolis “photo op.” Palestine ’s Ambassador Afif Safieh made a poignant distinction between politicians running the Palestinian-Israeli process v. the statesmen who are needed to solve it.
Politicians focus on short-term benefits at the cost of bad decisions, whereas statesmen transcend the short-term to focus on long-term benefits. We need statesmen, Safieh said.
Amen, a thought that is also relevant with the 2008 presidential campaigns underway.
I don’t know how Ramzi and his family are doing today. He would be about eighteen years old now. Is he alive? If so, has his condition significantly worsened? Is he dead? 969 Palestinian children have been killed out of 4,954 Palestinians killed since the 2000 Uprising for freedom, as well as 3,471 additional injured. (MIFTAH, Decembedr 10, 2007 report)
All I can do is wonder as I look at the letters with Ramzi’s purple fingerprints.
-Sherri Muzher, an American of Palestinian descent, is a political writer and activist. She is the Director of the Michigan Media Watch: /www.mmwatch.org