War is no game, children are no puppets
By Dr. Issac Kadman, Director-General Israel National Council for the Child,
November 5, 2000
You don’t have to be a Palestinian nowadays to feel
shocked and saddened by the numbers of youths and children who have
been wounded and killed in the wave of rioting that has engulfed the
West Bank and Gaza in recent weeks.
You don’t have to be an Israeli nowadays to feel frustrated and
angry at what appears to be the cynical positioning – or at least
the condoning – of Palestinian children in the front lines of the
struggle, as if they were guerilla fighters.
It doesn’t matter at all what your political leanings are, who
you tend to side with in the Arab-Israeli conflict, or who is right
or wrong for that matter. Regardless, there must be agreement on one
point. We must remove the children from the battlefield. Children
shouldn’t be parties to conflict or to war. They shouldn’t be placed
in the front lines. They should not be the victims of adults. They
should not die.
What does it matter to a dead child if he is a symbol or a
martyr, a victim or a news item? What good is a dead symbol?
What will it benefit a dead child, if he knew, or if we know,
who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong. To a dead child none of
this matters anymore. To a dead child there is no present and no
future. A dead child no longer has any rights, and no longer cares
what he’s entitled to under treaties and declarations that have not
It is so easy for adults to use children for their own purposes.
It is so easy to drag children in to war games and to make them into
symbols. It is so easy and it is so wrong. So easy and so very very
It is so easy because children, throughout history and in every
society, are under the authority of adults and parents, whom they
are taught to respect and obey.
It is so easy because children are easily influenced and easily
manipulated. Propaganda, incitement and, most importantly, the
actions of adults are taken by children at face value – literally,
without qualifications and without moderating perspective. Even if
the adults didn’t mean it really, or were only exaggerating in order
to get their point across.
It is so easy to use children because, from time immemorial,
children have been thought of as the property of their parents and
as future resources of their societies. As the emissaries who will
carry the values and goals of today’s world into the future. In many
societies in the world, the biblical image of the sacrifice of Issac
is considered the ultimate test of faith. How unfortunate and how
tragic that the story of the near killing of a child by his father
has remained in our collective memory without the moral at its end –
God’s interdiction never to sacrifice a child.
It is so easy to succumb to temptation to use children, for they
are so easily used. Children are so easily confused between image
and reality, between fantasy and truth. And what child has not
played war games with toy guns? What child has not been raised on
tales of heroism in battle? All children are exposed to violence and
war in films, video-games and computer programs where all they have
to do is press a button in order to aim, fire and destroy – and to
win points for it at that. What child doesn’t want to be a fighter,
a hero, a victor, a symbol?
How easy it is for a child to think that it’s all just a game,
that can be started and stopped at will, all by pressing a button!
How easy it is for an adult to enlist a child in his struggle,
for his purposes – for, after all, the child is there so that the
legacy of the parent can live on. So that his path is not abandoned.
Thus, children are raised with their society’s myths and values so
that they may represent the future of their people.
And children photograph so well. They are a news item that no
journalist can afford to miss. If the enemy hesitates or misses, we
will vanquish him. And if he does not, a picture is worth a thousand
words, and a picture of a wounded or killed child is worth as much
as a million.
It is so easy and so wrong. So dangerous and so very, very terrible.
War is not child’s play. On the battlefield, the dead don’t get
up and walk away when the movie ends.
War is not a game. Children are not pawns on a chessboard or
puppets on a string.
Children, by nature, are easily wounded – easily and severely, in
body and in mind. Even if soldiers only aim for the legs, we have to
remember that the legs of adults are often at eye-level for
children. Children are physically weaker and are easily injured.
Wounds that would not be fatal for an adult can be deadly for a child.
Children are more likely to take risks. They are more likely to
be less cautious and thus expose themselves to far greater danger.
Consequently, they are far more likely to get hurt.
Tragically, the facts prove this to be the case. When children
are in the front lines, there are no miracles. Children are killed,
they are injured and harmed – in body, in mind and in spirit.
All children who have been exposed to battle and to bloodshed
will carry with them deep psychological wounds, even if their bodies
Placing children on the front lines, as active participants in
the violence, as aggressors or as victims, has dire personal and
social consequences in the long term.
Whoever opens a door to violence in the soul of a child, even for
what he believes to be a just cause, will have great difficulty
closing that door in the future.
A child who has tasted blood, as an active participant in
violence or as a victim, risks having violence branded on his soul
and in his deeds in the long term.
Violence tends to corrupt the soul of he who uses it, to lower
the threshold to aggression, especially when it concerns the young.
It is like a genie – easy to release, almost impossible to coax back
into its bottle.
A child who partakes in violence is a threat to himself and
others, as well as the society he lives in, now and in the future.
The violence planted within his heart is likely to be directed in
future not only against the enemy but also against his family, his
children, other adults and, in particular, against those weaker than
he. It is impossible to control how the seeds of violence, planted
in a child’s heart, even for ostensibly legitimate purposes, will grow.
The use of children for dangerous purposes is also likely to pave
the way for further manipulation of children by adults. If it’s
legitimate to risk the lives of children in the defence of faith or
ideals, what will stop adults from using children in the pursuit of
other goals – which may be just as unworthy, even if they are less
It is so easy to use children. So terrible and so very very wrong.
Children should not be sent to the front lines of struggle or
conflict. They should not be encouraged to participate in violence
and should not be tacitly permitted to participate by adults who do
nothing to restrain them.
Would that it were possible to stop the violence between adults!
But for as long as it continues, children must not be part of the
game. At least on this the adults must agree – even if on nothing else.
Children are not anyone’s object.
Children must not be a target for the guns of our side, or their
side, or anyone else’s.
Children need to live. Our children. Their children. Children
wherever they are and whoever they may be.