Knesset guards eject four MKs as debate over Gaza children hits raw nerves
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Knesset guards eject four MKs as debate over Gaza children hits raw nerves

As left-wing groups present testimony about alleged abuse by Israeli soldiers, right-wing lawmakers hurl accusations of lying and treason

From left: Lawmakers Zouheir Bahloul and Aida Touma-Sliman  (Joint Arab List), Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) and Dov Kheinin (Joint Arab List) listen to presentations during a special conference on children growing up under occupation held at the Knesset on July 2, 2018. (Hadas Parush/ Flash90)
From left: Lawmakers Zouheir Bahloul and Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint Arab List), Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) and Dov Kheinin (Joint Arab List) listen to presentations during a special conference on children growing up under occupation held at the Knesset on July 2, 2018. (Hadas Parush/ Flash90)

Four right-wing Knesset members were forcibly ejected from an emotionally charged Knesset meeting on Monday, as lawmakers clashed during a special conference to highlight the plight of children in the Gaza Strip.

The meeting — so packed with lawmakers, journalists, activists and others that many had to line up outside — was organized by four opposition MKs, and held in a Knesset chamber under the auspices of diplomats from the EU, the Netherlands and the UK.

Among the groups invited to take part and present testimony were Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights, and Combatants for Peace — groups sometimes derided as treasonous by right-wing Israelis.

Breaking the Silence allows Israeli soldiers to provide anonymous testimony about military activities they took park in that they deemed immoral or illegal.

In February, a bill primarily directed at Breaking the Silence, which empowers the education minister to ban organizations critical of the Israeli military from entering schools, passed its first reading in the Knesset.

As spokespeople for the organization tried to provide testimony Monday, right-wing MKs heckled and hurled insults to the extent that, at times, it was hard to hear anything else.

Likud MK Oren Hazan slammed opposition lawmakers as “traitors and collaborators with terrorists” for inviting the activists, and asked, “To what depths are you willing to sink? To bring the enemy into your homes? You are harming the country.”

Oded Forer (Yisrael Beytenu ) screamed at Michal Rozin (Meretz), a co-organizer of the event, that she should be “ashamed” for not mentioning Israeli children who were murdered by Palestinian terrorists.

Likud MK Anat Berko accused Breaking the Silence spokesman Dean Issacharof of lying, as he presented testimony describing what he said was abuse by Israeli soldiers of Palestinian children.

All three had to be forcibly escorted out of the meeting room by security officers, as was Nurit Koren, also from Likud.

Meanwhile, MK Jamal Zahalka of the Joint (Arab) List charged that children in the Gaza Strip were being deliberately killed by Israeli troops.

“In Gaza, instructions were given to use the wonders of technology to have bombs dropped by pilots who listen to Mozart and don’t see the children,” he claimed.

The conference — titled “A generation without a future: children under occupation” — was initiated by Knesset members Rozin, Ayman Odeh and Dov Khenin (Joint List) and Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) to highlight aspects of children’s lives in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Gaza faces a lack of electricity, drinkable water, and food. Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on the strip to prevent Hamas from importing weapons and other goods that could be used to build fortifications or tunnels.

More than 2,000 Gaza children have been injured during violent protests held on the Gaza-Israel border in recent months, according to figures from the health minister in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

According to data from B’tselem, 724 Palestinian minors were killed by Israeli security forces between January 19, 2009 and April 30, 2018, the vast majority of them in Gaza.

As of the end of April, 315 Palestinians aged 18 and under were being held in Israeli prisons as security detainees and prisoners, around a quarter of whom were aged 16 and under, B’tselem says, citing figures from the Israeli military and the Institute for Palestine Studies.

Breaking the Silence’s Issacharof told the meeting that in the field, no distinctions were made between children and youth and adults, when it came to arrests and the way suspects were treated in their homes and at security checkpoints.

“The only differences is that children often cry, scream, and even wet their pants,” he said.

Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, June 11, 2018. Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The event prompted outrage long before the doors to the meeting chamber opened.

On Twitter on Saturday, Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid described the meeting as a “gift to Israel’s enemies.”

The Zionist Union had “lost it” when it invited “all the BDS supporters” to the meeting, he went on, referring to the international pro-Palestinian movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev (Likud) dubbed the organizers of the meeting a “fifth column,” while Eli Ben-Dahan of the right-wing Jewish Home party tweeted about Jewish families that had been murdered by Palestinians, because “on the other side there are those who do not hesitate to murder babies and children in their beds.”

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein prohibited the screening of a seven-minute video clip prepared for the debate, in which Israeli and Palestinian children discuss their hopes and fears.

Edelstein said that the event was a meeting and not a conference, and that Knesset rules did not allow films to be screened at meetings.

During the event, organizers texted a link to the clip to participants, who could be seen watching it on their cellphones instead.

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