Ramallah, September 30, 2015—Children represent 46.2 percent of the 4.68 million Palestinians living in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Instability and violence has defined much of their lives since September 2000 when the second intifada, or uprising, broke out against Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territory.
The five-year period of conflict erupted after Ariel Sharon, then opposition leader of the Likud party, visited the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site, in Jerusalem’s Old City accompanied by 1,000 Israeli police officers on September 28, 2000. More than 700 Palestinian children died at the hands of Israeli forces and settlers between September 2000 and February 2005, according to Defense for Children International - Palestine research. Since then, at least 1,296 Palestinian children have been killed, including 551 in 2014 alone, the majority during Israeli military offensives on the Gaza Strip.
The deadliest Israeli military offensive, Operation Protective Edge, lasted 50 days between July 8 and August 26, 2014, and claimed the lives of at least 2,220 Palestinians. DCIP independently verified the deaths of 547 Palestinian children among the killed in Gaza, 535 of them as a direct result of Israeli attacks. Nearly 68 percent of the children killed by Israeli forces were 12 years old or younger. The second deadliest Israeli military offensive, Operation Cast Lead, launched on December 27, 2008, lasted 22 days, and claimed the lives of at least 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 350 Palestinian children.
Displacement, access to education and health care, and psychological trauma remain significant areas of concern for children in Gaza, particularly in the wake of Israel’s 2014 assault and eight-year blockade on Gaza.
In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Palestinian children have endured heightened levels of violence in recent years, as Israeli soldiers and police use excessive force to quash protests. Since 2014, 15 Palestinian children have died at the hands of Israeli forces, all except one with live ammunition, according to DCIP documentation. DCIP found no evidence that any of those children posed a direct threat to Israeli troops or settlers. OCHA estimated a further 1,477 children were injured in the West Bank from Israeli live fire and crowd control weapons, including rubber-coated metal bullets, tear gas canisters, water cannons, and sound grenades, during the past 21 months.
Earlier this month, Israeli authorities amended open-fire rules to allow Israeli forces to fire live ammunition during protests in Jerusalem when there is a “threat to life.” Previously, the regulations permitted live ammunition only when there is a direct, mortal threat to the life of a police officer or soldier. The move comes as Israeli officials also push forward stricter sentencing guidelines and fines for stone-throwers.
Palestinian children in the West Bank, like adults, also face arrest, prosecution, and detention under an Israeli military court system that denies them basic rights. Since 1967, Israel has operated two separate legal systems in the same territory: Israeli settlers live under civilian law whereas Palestinians are subject to martial law. Israel applies civilian law to Palestinian children in East Jerusalem. Israel is the only country in the world that prosecutes between 500 and 700 children in military courts each year. No Israeli child comes into contact with the military court system.
Since 2000, DCIP estimates that at least 8,500 Palestinian children wound up arrested by Israeli forces and prosecuted in the Israeli military detention system. Between 2012 and 2014, Israel held an average of 198 Palestinian children in custody each month, according to data provided by the Israel Prison Service. The majority of them faced charges of throwing stones.
DCIP received affidavits from 107 West Bank children detained during 2014 that showed three-quarters of them endured some form of physical violence following arrest. Israeli interrogators also used position abuse, threats, and solitary confinement to coerce confessions from some children. In 93 percent of these cases, Israeli authorities deprived children of legal counsel and failed to inform them properly of their rights. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz obtained a military court report in 2011 that showed a 99.7 percent conviction rate for Palestinian defendants.
In 1991, Israel ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). During its initial review in 2002, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the UN body that monitors implementation of the CRC, expressed serious concern regarding “allegations and complaints of inhuman or degrading practices and of torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian children” during arrest, interrogation and detention.
More than a decade later, the only change is that ill-treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention has become widespread and systematic. In June 2013, the Committee declared that Palestinian children arrested by Israeli forces continue to be “systematically subject to degrading treatment, and often to acts of torture” and that Israel had “fully disregarded” previous recommendations to comply with international law.
The past 15 years have also seen a growing number of Palestinian children and their families live in villages and towns hemmed in by expanding and often violent Israeli settler communities. Since Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in 1967, it has established some 125 Jewish-only settlements that house 515,000 Israelis. The international community considers them illegal. Israel, however, claims religious and historical rights to the territory.
Stationed throughout the West Bank, Israeli soldiers, police, and private security firms protect settler populations at the expense of Palestinian civilians. In this hyper-militarized environment, Palestinian children have faced disproportionate physical violence, restricted access to education, and psychological trauma.