Recruiting or using children in armed conflict is illegal under international law, yet over the past decade DCI-Palestine has documented numerous cases of child recruitment by both Israeli armed forces and Palestinian armed groups.
Child recruitment refers to the practice by armed forces or armed groups of recruiting or using any person below 18 years of age, in any capacity. The current generally accepted definition of what constitutes a child associated with an armed group or force is broad and can include the use of children in both combat and support roles, including as fighters, informants, human shields, messengers, lookouts, cooks or porters.
"Recruitment" is defined the Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups (the Paris Principles) as the "compulsory, forced and voluntary conscription or enlistment of children into any kind of armed force or armed group."
The use of children in armed conflict is prohibited under customary international law, international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and punishable as a war crime under international criminal law.
The primary means by which Israeli forces seek to recruit Palestinians, including children, as informants appears to occur during their interrogation following arrest. These attempts include the use of both threats and inducements, such as offering early release or money or other benefits in return for information. Attempts to recruit children as informants violate international and Israeli law.
Since 2006, DCIP has documented at least 20 cases involving attempts by Israeli forces to recruit Palestinian children as informants during interrogations following arrest.
Informants are recruited to monitor the movement and activities of people living in his or her community and pass this information onto Israeli forces. This information might include the names of people involved in armed resistance, those who are politically active, or even the names of children who throw stones.
Due to the sensitive nature of this issue within Palestinian society, it is very difficult to ascertain the scale of the problem as many people either refuse to discuss it altogether, or deny that any attempt was made to recruit them. If they are exposed, informants and their families risk being ostracized or punished by their community.
Child recruitment also includes the use of children as human shields. International humanitarian law explicitly prohibits parties to a conflict from directing "the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to attempt to shield military objects from attacks or to shield military operations."
Despite an October 2005 ruling of the Israeli High Court of Justice prohibiting the practice under Israeli domestic law, evidence and documentation collected by DCIP suggests that Israeli forces continue to use Palestinian children as human shields during ground military operations.
Since 2004, DCI-Palestine has investigated at least 20 cases of children being used as human shields. Most of these cases occurred after the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled the practice illegal in 2005.
During Operation Protective Edge in July and August 2014, DCIP documented one incident where Israeli soldiers detained and forced a 16-year-old boy at gunpoint to search for tunnels for five days, during which time he was interrogated, verbally and physically assaulted, and deprived of food and sleep.
At least seven Palestinian children between the ages of nine and 17 years were used as human shields in Gaza by Israeli forces during Operation Protective Edge in December 2008 and January 2009.
Children Affiliated with Palestinian Armed Groups
Reports of children recruited by Palestinian armed groups continue to surface. During Israel's military offensive on the Gaza Strip in November 2012, known as Operation Pillar of Defense, DCIP documented one case involving a child recruited by Hamas' military wing that served as a lookout on the Israel border with Gaza. During Operation Protective Edge in July and August 2014, DCIP documented six cases involving children killed who were likely affiliated with Palestinian armed groups.
Recent changes to the Palestinian legal framework have helped reduce unlawful recruitment of children by Palestinian armed groups. In 2012, the Palestinian Authority enacted the amended Child Law that "prohibits the recruitment or use of children in military actions or armed conflict" and requires the State of Palestine to take measures to ensure that children are not recruited or used by armed forces or armed groups. These changes show progress, yet they have failed to end child recruitment.
DCIP remains highly concerned that the ongoing Israeli blockade of Gaza significantly increases the risk that children will be vulnerable to recruitment. The blockade has devastated livelihoods and created a man-made humanitarian crisis where the economic situation is constantly deteriorating. The potential result is that children may be pushed to volunteer or join armed groups to help provide for their families.
For more information, see our latest report Operation Protective Edge: A War Waged on Gaza's Children.
To end child recruitment, Israeli and Palestinian authorities must:
- Educate forces with clear guidelines
- Ensure guidelines are followed through enforcement
- Hold those responsible to account