Reem Hassan, a 16 year-old girl from Gaza, was joined by Abdul Abdul Rahaman, 15, also from Gaza, and Jenin Zaal Abu Ruqti, 15, and Ahmad Khari, 16, both from Ramallah. They were introduced by the Director of the Tamer Institute for Community Education (Ramallah) and leader in the Palestinian Children's Rights Coalition, Jehan Helou. Today's press conference was sponsored by the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations.
Ms. Rahaman said they had come here because they believed that children must join every forum and conference that concerned them. That way, the decisions taken would be good for the children.
Mr. Khari said he had come to share the stories of what he was facing in Palestine and to describe what he was hoping could be achieved at the special session. He hoped to be able to share the experiences of Palestinian children with other children from around the world, and to hear theirs, in turn. He wanted to familiarize himself with people from around the world.
Some 10 years after the Convention on the Rights of the Child became operational, children were still being killed, abused, abandoned, denied education and recreation. Every bad thing imaginable was still going on. Many Convention provisions had pledged to honour and protect children, and leave their homes free from conflict, all of which was being destroyed by the Israeli soldiers in his country. He was here to tell the world that that was happening and to ask it what it planned to do about that, to support children.
Ms. Hassan said she came here with a voice of peace from all the Palestinian children and with a message that they wished to live in peace on their land, like children around the world. She had hoped to convey the real situation in Palestine. "We love everybody; we don't hate anybody, and we came here, again, with a voice of peace", she said.
[Ms. Ruqti spoke in Arabic. Her remarks were unofficially translated by Ms. Helou].
Ms. Ruqti said it had been extremely difficult to come here because of the closures, the curfews and the long time it took to commute from one area to another. She left her parents and people in a very difficult situation, as they were facing Israeli attacks and destruction. Her brothers and sisters could not reach their schools, the sick could not reach the hospital, but she had wanted to come to carry their message of suffering to the world.
She said she had come with three demands: the right to life; the right to education; and the right to protection. As children, they could not defend themselves. They needed the international community to provide protection. For a long time, they had been suffering, but apparently the world had not heard their cry. She wanted to tell the world to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child for Palestinian children.
"We as children -- we don't have playgrounds, we don't have clubs, we were born in a refugee camp and the only place to play are the slums of the camp", she continued. During Ramadan, the children were playing as usual in the slums, and the rockets came. One child was killed and four others were wounded. Their fingers were mangled, and it was a very traumatic experience.
Another very traumatic incident occurred when five children were walking to school and a landmine laid by Israeli occupation soldiers exploded, killing all five children from the same family. Their belongings were scattered; she had seen it happen (she held up pieces of a child's backpack and other scraps of clothing and schoolbooks).
Mr. Khari thanked his friend for sharing her experiences. He had been detained for 29 hours in a car at a checkpoint of the Israeli army, as he moved to another city en route to Egypt for a flight to New York. There was a long cue of cars, approximately 600, in the north of the Gaza strip. Another long line of cars was waiting in the southern end of the strip. When those checkpoints were closed, life stopped in the Gaza strip, preventing teachers and other workers from travelling.
He said he lived in one of the biggest refugee camps, but there were only three or four schools in the camp, with 60 students in the same class. That made it impossible for the teacher to explain the lesson to huge number of students. "We suffer from many problems; that's because we are refugees, and why are we refugees? Because we were occupied in 1948 by the Israeli army", he said.
When you tell your stories, what kind of response do you get from the grown-ups? a correspondent asked. Mr. Khari said he felt the others were "kind of with us". He felt their sympathy at hearing their stories. One boy told them that hearing the stories of the Palestinian children was changing his whole life. He would not complain about silly things anymore, like what he was having for breakfast, or too much noise, because other children were facing things he had never imagined.
"We want peace and we want to live like the other children", added Ms. Hassan. The other children had promised to try to push their governments hard to do something for the Palestinian children.
Directing his question to Mr. Khari, another correspondent asked "what is your position on the use of suicide bombings"? "First of all, we're not with killing innocent people, and that's the main idea", Mr. Khari replied. "But, when you're talking about somebody who has his land occupied, who has his friends being killed every day, being abused, checkpoints, their lands and their homes -- you can't tell somebody who is facing all this, 'don't defend yourself'. He has the right to defend himself, and if he hasn't any other way to defend himself but that, he'll use it. Again, I'm saying we're not with killing innocent people", he said.
You're saying, in effect, that it was still a useful weapon? the correspondent asked. Mr. Khari said he would say to the Israelis that the main problem was occupation. Let the refugees come back and give the Palestinians all their rights, and there would be no cause for a problem and, therefore, no bombings.
Asked what the international community could do to help, Ms. Ruqti said it should provide international protection for the Palestinian children. She also wanted them to facilitate the return of refugees to their homeland. The main thing was to end Israeli occupation because that violated the rights of Palestinian children.
Mr. Khari said all Palestinian homes had been destroyed in some way, and some houses had been totally destroyed, he said to another question. The home just beneath his family's was attacked by Israeli forces and totally destroyed.
Ms. Hassan said the whole world could see what had happened at the Jenin Camp. All the houses were destroyed, with children and families inside. A lot of them were pushed out to other camps and villages, so they became refugees all over again.
For one month after the attack on the West Bank, school was suspended, Mr. Rahaman added. It was completely closed because it was not even possible to move around. "If you moved for one metre, they will shoot you. How are you going to get to your school." Then, too, some schools were occupied or destroyed. He was supposed to finish school at the end of the month, but now one month of school would be added during the summer.
Since adults on both sides had so far failed to reach any peace agreement, as children, did the panellists have ideas? another correspondent asked.
Ms. Hassan said the first step towards peace was to "have our land back and the refugees back to their land". Peace was supposed to be fair for both sides.
Asked about the role of the United States in the peace process, Mr. Khari said the United States was not going to stop its support of Israelis. It did not want to support the Palestinians in their efforts to get their rights back. They just had to stop supporting Israelis, because they were supporting only the other side and, therefore, could not be neutral.
What did Ms. Hassan think of Graça Machel's response yesterday to her question about when she thought it would end? a correspondent asked. Ms. Hassan said her answer had been that they had nothing to do, because that big Power controlled the situation. But, she and the United Nations would try to get the needs of the Palestinian youth met.