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:
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
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
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
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
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.