On the situation of children and adolescents
(Text and photos: Hartwig Weber)
A growing number of Israeli children and adolescents find themselves in social and economic hardship. In 2007, 1.67 million Israelis, 244,000 families and well over 600,000 children lived below the poverty line. There are considerable differences between the various ethnic groups in terms of the standard of living and the level of education. Many young people drop out of the education system and the world of work. They do not go to school or training center. Every year more than 20,000 young people between the ages of 14 and 18 join the group who are not completing any training. Most of them are young people from immigrant families and from ultra-religious circles.
In Israel there are separate schools for Hebrew-speaking and Arabic-speaking children. The school enrollment rate is 97 to 98 percent. School attendance is compulsory up to the 9th grade. The literacy rate is 98 percent. However, the state spends three times as much on Jewish children as it does on Arab children.
The everyday life of Israeli children and young people is shaped by the confrontation with terror and violence. In September 2002 the so-called Second INTIFADA began. Since then, more than 10 percent of the population has been hit directly or indirectly by a terrorist attack. As a result of the terror, around 20 percent of Israeli youth are said to suffer from post-traumatic disorders. A quarter of them feel that their lives are in constant danger. Many are afraid of further terrorist attacks and, in particular, of the use of weapons of mass destruction.
Thousands of children and young people are affected by the insecurities and dangers of life in the disputed settlements. Many react to the crisis and stressful situations with escape or displacement strategies. In the past few years, the interest in religiosity and piety has grown even more among young people than among adults. More than half of the young people fast on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), the most important holiday for the Jews. Esoteric, New Age and Yoga are very popular.
Suicide rates are increasing among young people. Over 3000 kill themselves every year (see Ruth Sinai: Suicide rate steady, despite economic woes, HA’ARETZ Internet Edition 3.7.03). The rate for men is three times that of women. The background, especially in the case of immigrants, is economic and social emergencies or personal difficulties. The ongoing Jewish-Arab conflict and poor economic development lead to growing fears for the future. Many young people want to leave the country and look for work and a livelihood elsewhere. Very many fear that Israel could be defeated and destroyed by the Arab states. Young Israelis today are significantly more patriotic and less optimistic than they were at the beginning of the millennium (see www.israel1.org- Eye2Israel).
Studies show that the majority of Jewish young people are right-wing in old age. There is a pessimistic mood about the political future of the country. Disenchantment with politics is widespread. Young people are losing interest in the rule of law and are increasingly giving up democratic principles. You are in favor of the peace process, but you show no willingness to pay a price for it. Most of the youth have given up hope of reconciliation with the Palestinians. Almost half of the young Jews want to withhold political rights from their Arab fellow citizens. Only a quarter of them are in favor of a two-state solution, 20 percent are striving for a bi-national state with equal rights for Jews and Palestinians.
There are apparently great differences between Arab and Jewish youth. While the trend among young Jews is to the right, more and more Arab youth are giving up ties to the traditional political camps.
Actually, children in Israel are protected from exploitation and forced labor by law. You can only be employed as an apprentice from the age of fifteen. During the school holidays, 14-year-olds can be employed in light and non-hazardous jobs. Young people have limited working hours and must be given enough time to relax and study.
Yet there are many illegally working children in Israel. Their number is estimated at 5,000 to 10,000. The phenomenon primarily affects the Arab and Palestinian populations, and less so does the Israelite Jews. Children mainly work in restaurants, in markets, as helpers in factories and in households.
The 2008 World Report on Child Soldiers shows that Palestinian minors were used as informants by the army and police (see http://www.amnesty.de/journal/2008/august/weltbericht-kindersoldaten-2008). Israelite soldiers allegedly used Palestinian children as "human shields". The government of Israel has declared that child soldiers (soldiers under the age of 18) would definitely not be used in combat operations.
The state of Israel, the center of life, homeland and homestead of Jews all over the world, has attracted large waves of immigration since its inception and made the country a melting pot of cultures. In recent years, most of the migrants came from Ethiopia, Russia, France, the United States and Ukraine. The Israelite integration policy today wants to respect and preserve the traditions and religions of the immigrants.
In view of the cultural, ethnic and religious diversity of the immigrants, the government has developed programs for the training and integration of young migrants in cooperation with non-governmental organizations and international Zionist associations. In addition, material and financial help is provided. In view of the fact that 40 percent of children from immigrant families drop out of school and vocational training, numerous associations take care of their integration into society.
Hundreds of thousands of foreign workers are in a particularly problematic situation, including thousands of children and young people from Romania, Thailand and the Philippines who do not have official papers. The children born in Israel should be given the option of naturalization in the near future.
Over 10,000 refugees have come to Israel from African countries. Many come from Sudan, where they fled the civil war. The legalization of their stay in the country is a matter of dispute.
Statistically speaking, there is a break-in every 13 minutes, a car theft every 17 minutes, and rape every 7 hours (cf. Medienspiegel, website of the German Embassy in Israel, February 22, 2005). Growing youth violence and juvenile delinquency attract considerable public attention. Violent clashes among children and adolescents are increasing sharply. The age of those involved is falling. Even eight to nine year olds are involved in theft and drug crimes.
The crime rate is particularly high among young people from families of newly immigrated people. Children with a migration background particularly often suffer from family breakdown, identity crises and violence. The proportion of young people who drop out between the ages of 14 and 17 is particularly high.
Numerous Israeli students have already been victims of physical violence. In both elementary and middle schools, many boys and girls feel insecure and fearful. Occasionally, there are incidents on school premises in which guns play a role. When it comes to youth violence and drug abuse, Israel ranks in the top group in an international comparison. Violence, drug use and mental disorders are even increasing among girls.
The conflicts between street gangs of different ethnic groups are carried out with violence. The Ministry of Education tries to counter this development with advice and anti-violence programs. In the fight against juvenile delinquency, the police work tries to get the young people affected out of their criminal environment, to avoid previous convictions and to strengthen their future prospects.
In hardly any other country in the world minors take tranquilizers as often as in Israel. The consumption of drugs for depression and anxiety is worryingly high. Almost 30 percent of men and more than 15 percent of women smoke. Daily cigarette smoking is already widespread in school age. Alcohol consumption is part of youth culture.
Around 5 percent of Israelis use illegal drugs occasionally or frequently, and consumption is increasing. Hashish used to be the drug of choice, then it was supplanted by marijuana. Meanwhile, the demand for hashish is increasing again. In addition to hashish and marijuana, students also consume hard drugs such as heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, opium and crack. Religious adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 are said to consume hard drugs more often than their secular peers.
Homeless young people who live on the streets without a permanent home are particularly at risk. Most of them are addicted to alcohol and hard drugs.
Organized Israeli-Russian criminal gangs, which control the European market and are also influential in the USA, play a major role in the international drug trade. An estimated 70 tons of heroin are brought into the country each year, mostly from Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan. Ecstasy and LSD are imported through seaports and airports.
There are drug counseling centers in every city in the country. Local authorities and initiatives develop joint awareness campaigns and aid programs for drug addicts.
Measures for young people in risk situations
According to Israeli law, young people under the age of 18 are considered minors, between 14 and 17 years as adolescents, over 18-year-olds as adults (see Hermann Sieben: International Youth Exchange and Visitor Service of the Federal Republic of Germany (ed.): Youth and Youth Work in Israel, Bonn 1995, p. 45ff.) The law on state education formulates general goals and basic lines of the state school and education system.The law on compulsory schooling stipulates general and free schooling up to the 10th grade for ages 5 to 15. Parents have the right to choose between one of the recognized parallel school systems (state, state-religious or independent) for their child.
The Law on the Right to Education of 2000 refers to the UN Charter and establishes the right of every individual to human dignity, education and participation in education in schools and universities. Children and adolescents up to the age of 18 are prohibited from consuming alcohol in public. The International Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the United Nations in 1989, was signed by the State of Israel in 1991 (see www.eliusa.org/home.htm: Israelischer Kinderschutzbund; www.crin.org/reg/country.asp?ctryID=102&subregID=13: Internationaler Child Protection Association - Israel Section; www.children.org.il: National Council for the Well-Being of the Child; www.mecaed.org: Israeli-Palestinian Child Protection Association).
The Youth Promotion Department of the Ministry of Education is committed to helping the offspring of newly immigrated Arab families who are struggling with major social and economic problems and whose main problems are violence, crime and drug consumption. Hundreds of educational institutions offer them all-day boarding and schooling. There are state and religious children's villages, open and closed shelters for young people at risk and special education schools for children and young people with learning problems and behavioral problems.
www.israel.de: Website of the Embassy of the State of Israel in Germany with general information on Israel;
www.mfa.gov.il: website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel;
www1.cbs.gov.il: Central Statistical Office of the State of Israel;
www.auswaertiges-amt.de/diplo/de/Laenderinformationen/01-Laender/Israel.html: Website of the Foreign Office on Israel;
www.iaic.org.il/Home: Israel Association for Immigrant Children;
www.orr-shalom.org.il: Housing project for vulnerable young people from immigrant families;
www.iba.org.il/reka/: Israeli state broadcaster's program for new immigrants;
www.macom.org.il/todaa-NGOs-report-2005.asp: Report on prostitution and human trafficking in Israel;
www.yeminorde.org: youth village for children from immigrant families;