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This transcript has been typed at speed, and therefore may contain mistakes. Newsnight accepts no responsibility for these. However, we will be happy to correct serious errors.

Why are so many Palestinian children being killed?

Deep underground in Bethlehem are the remnants of an atrocity so vile, so far back in history, that it almost seems impossible. King Herod's slaughter of the innocents. All the little children under two were killed. Throughout the ages, the children of this region have been victims of conflict, and they still are now. In the square above the tomb, there's a rally in honour of the latest 13-year-old to die. The star pupil of his school was killed by a bullet to his head. His schoolmates are soaking up the lesson they're being taught:
that he's become a martyr in the fight against Israel. A fight that they're part of too. It's 7.30 in the morning and these refugee children have hardly slept. Overnight, Israeli rockets and tank fire pounded the area. The headmaster at the school pleads with the children not to go near any riots today, and to stay away from the Israeli soldiers. "Can a child fight an M16?" He shouts? "No." For the children here, the dangers of the daily riots are real. 20 children at this school alone have been injured in the protests and no-one will sit at the dead boy's desk. Still, though, they all cheerfully admit where they go after school.

Have any of you have been to the checkpoints to throw stones?


The dead boy's family is starting to digest what happened. His mother showed me how his bullet wound was to the back of his head. Even though she's lost him, she's proud of how he died and she never tried to stop him from joining protests against the Israelis.

(TRANSLATION) They want to fight and liberate Palestine. If we all stopped our sons, there would not be a fight. It's not just up to me.

But he was only 13 years old. Is it right that children should be fighting an adult war?

He's not a child. He's a young man. And this is the age when they all go out and throw stones and fight. How can I stop him?

His grandmother went even further. "If they all died and this was the last child we have left, we would send him to fight too," she said. Many families do try to stop their children from fighting, but this family have lived in a refugee camp for over 50 years. They see no way of ever getting their land back unless every Palestinian is involved. So, there are plenty of recruits. Every year, Yasser Arafat's Palestinian authority holds military-style camps for the children. They're taught the history of Palestine in the morning and the tactics of insurgency in the afternoon. How to take cover, battlefield first aid and slitting the throats of Israelis are all part of the curriculum. 10,000 children pass through these camps every summer. The youngest are 12. The authorities insist this is not part of a policy to prepare children for the front line, even if that is what it looks like.

You can't say military application, but we tell them about the weapons we have. And you know that the Israelis give us the right to have such weapons like Kalashnikov, and pistols. We don't have any other kinds of weapons.

Why does a 12-year-old need to know how to assemble and disassemble a Kalashnikov?

Because the men or the women who will take the right to be leader of the country after us.

Yasser Arafat's party also helps organise marches, like this one in Bethlehem, for the children. The marches often end up at the Israeli checkpoints. The adults don't exactly take the children to the protests, but they do nothing to stop them. Each boy's slingshot is his pride. These battles are rituals. It is a modern day version of David and Goliath. About half of the protesters in this crowd are under 18. Some of them are 12, a few are even as young as eight. They are here right on the front line of the struggle because they believe, or they've been told to believe, that this is their struggle too. The soldiers fire rubber-coated metal bullets into the crowd in response to stones. They have an accurate range of 70 metres and can kill. After 70 metres, the bullets spread randomly. Palestinian petrol bombs and gunfire are often met with live ammunition. On the hills nearby are Israeli snipers and gunmen. This modified M16 has a telescopic sight that can bring a human into close focus from a kilometre away. Children or not, the Israelis are treating this like a guerrilla war, not a civilian uprising.

You can see exactly who you're shooting, and you can see exactly if it's an adult or a youngster, if he's holding a weapon in his hand, if he has or hasn't got uniform, and you hit exactly who you want to. That's what we trained our snipers to do.

Israel's army says its gunmen aim at the lower half of protesters' bodies and that they don't generally aim for children. But the statistics tell another tale. UN figures show that out of 1992 Palestinians that have been killed, 73 were children. That's roughly a third. Palestinian hospital figures show that 60 of them were hit in the upper body. 31 in the head, the others in the neck and chest. The Israelis insist it's not deliberate

I said very, very clearly and very carefully what I meant. There is no such policy, and I'm sure no-one shot on purpose at the small child at the age of eight, nine, ten, 12 and so on.

You're saying it's all an accident.

If it happens it's an accident. It's not on purpose. There is no Israeli soldier who would kill a child on purpose.

Back in Bethlehem, the latest casualties from the new Palestinian Intifada are coming in. Three more children were shot in the latest riots. This 13-year-old, Mohammed, was hit in his side. The bullet fractured into tiny pieces which the doctors say will probably stay in his body for the rest of his life.

There was an explosion, and they get inside the body.

The Israelis say the Palestinians want the children to die to help their propaganda. But to the families whose lives are being ripped apart by it all, the claim is outrageous.

To kill children, it's against our values, against our very basic and fundamental moral concept and against our values.

But you're still shooting.

We are trained...

You're shooting them.

Who sent them to the place?

Who is shooting them?

We are shooting, but we do not initiate this Intifada. Those who initiate this violence, I would say, outburst of violence, sending to the fighting place children, they should be asked why they do so.

No. We don't do that. This is what the Israelis are trying to tell the world. We don't want to lose our children. We don't want to lose anybody in our land. We just want our right. Our right to live in this land.

Once a week a few young Palestinians have a chance just to be children again. A small Palestinian theatre group travels around the West Bank, trying to relieve the inescapable tension. Some children are wetting their beds, some have nightmares, a few even have friends who have died. Palestinian children grow up fast. Unwittingly they've become political pawns. Even on their death beds. This girl is on a life support machine and she's only 14. The doctors say that she was hit by a rubber coated metal bullet, the Israelis say it was a car crash, both sides hope she'll help their propaganda. There's a public debate about what her death might mean for Israel's image, or how it might spur on the Intifada. In all this she's become more of a political symbol than a child.

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