The Children Come First?

Sally Campbell


The Children come first?

The first 5 Calls to Action of Canada’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission’s final report are concerned with child welfare. This reflects a universal consensus that the needs and interests of those least powerful among us should come first. It is common ground shared by literally all of humanity. Our children are our most vulnerable and our most precious asset. The claim that certain people do not value the lives of their children as much as “we” do is a racist one. The idea that our children’s lives are more valuable than the lives of other children elsewhere is founded in our myopic privilege.

While we’re trying to respond to a global pandemic that has demonstrated that we are indeed a shared humanity, that a virus knows no borders, we’re also in the midst of grappling with systemic racism, climate crisis, settler-colonialism, patriarchal structures, militarism and disaster capitalism. The list could go on, and readers may be exclaiming: what about…….?

For some, it is all so depressing they restrict their focus to their immediate environment – their families, garden, local volunteer work or a passionate hobby. We do need to resist becoming overwhelmed and ensure we pay attention to our own well-being. And those who study us say that our well-being increases when we look beyond ourselves and serve others. Especially for us seniors, there’s an imperative to let go of old resentments, prejudices, ways of thinking about “us and them”. We don’t have time to delude ourselves!

Aging challenges us to clean out our closets so to speak. And one of the ghosts in many a closet is the fearful voice that places our own “security” above the needs of the other. It can be helpful to notice those voices in our head, and to reassure ourselves that the worrying, anxious voice is only one aspect of our being. We are more than our thoughts, thankfully! I love the idea that we are beings of many parts, and often those most unsettled, anxious, or demanding internal voices are simply trying their best to manage or protect us. When we can acknowledge them and give them a rest, the space opens up for us to hear the wisdom of our deeper, calm and clear self – our essential self. [1] That essential wise self has often been injured by trauma, which can be external and intergenerational, like the collective Residential School legacy, or sourced by “smaller” events such as feeling unseen, unheard and utterly alone as a child.

In the West Bank of Israel–Palestine, known as “the Territories” or “Judea & Samaria” to the Israeli occupiers of that land, one practice involving children stands out as particularly egregious and trauma-inducing: nighttime raids, arrests and removal of children 12-17 from their homes. These home invasions occur between midnight – 3am, involving as many as 30 Israeli soldiers, masked and fully-armed. [2] West Bank population is 3.5 million, of whom approximately 500,000 are illegal Israeli settlers. Settler attacks against Palestinians are on the increase. There is a strong geographical link between night arrests of children and proximity of the settlements. Violence against children is most rampant within 800 metres of Israeli settlements, of which there are hundreds.

Most children are arrested for allegedly throwing stones. Upon removal from their homes, they are blindfolded and transported to an interrogation centre or prison. According to Military Court Watch statistics, there are about 250 night raids in the West Bank/year, processing about 1,000 children. 70% are strip-searched, 3/4 are beaten, and the children are held for an average of 4-6 months. Because most children are duly terrorized by the experience, they sign confessions in Hebrew (not their language).

Israel is the only country in the world to prosecute children in military courts with no right to a fair trial.[3] Most are encouraged to enter into plea bargains, even though they may be completely innocent. The conviction rate is over 95%. Often the family is fined and the child is given a suspended sentence. If rearrested, the child faces much more serious consequences, possibly years in jail. Many are never charged but rather held in “Administrative Detention” where no charges or trial need take place, and one can be jailed indefinitely (through 6 month renewals). Parents are forbidden to accompany or visit their child, and 88% report that they were never told why their child was being taken. They become socially-isolated pariahs upon their return home because their friends now fear and mistrust them. And they mistrust their peers as they don’t know who named them. They disrespect their fathers who could not keep them safe.

Human rights groups such as Defense for Children International (DCI) are active on all 5 continents in support of children’s rights and international law. DCI-Palestine has just been named a “terrorist organization” by Israel along with 5 other Palestinian human rights organizations. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child IS international law and Israel is a signatory. Israel’s Youth Law is based on that convention, but (except for Jewish settler youth) it isn’t implemented in the occupied Palestinian territories (West bank & Gaza), because Israel claims the occupied territories are not part of “Israel proper”. [4] Yet Palestinians in these areas are utterly bound by Israel’s brutal matrix of control in all aspects of life.

Palestinians repeatedly ask the international community to demand an end to the occupation and to pressure Israelis to provide equality under the law for all. We who have the privilege of living in places where equal protection is a given at least in law, need to step up despite our preoccupation with the many other aspects of “full catastrophe living”[5] we currently concern ourselves with. How can we declare that children come first when they so obviously come last in the West Bank and Gaza?

  1. Schwartz, Richard, Phd., No Bad Parts: Healing Trauma & Restoring Wholeness with the Internal Family Systems Model, Sounds True Inc, Boulder, Co., 2021.
  4. Canada, Stand up for Palestinian Children’s Rights Campaign. (
  5. Jon Kabat-Zinn