Year-in-review: Israeli forces target Palestinian children with impunity in 2021

Year-in-review: Israeli forces targeted Palestinian children with impunity in 2021

Dec 28, 2021
Year-in-review: Israeli forces target Palestinian children with impunity in 2021
A Palestinian boy stands behind a fence near the closed gate of the Rafah border crossing bordering with Egypt. (Photo credit: AFP / Said Khatib)

Ramallah, December 28, 2021—In 2021, Israeli authorities, forces, and settlers targeted Palestinian children with military assaults, excessive force, arbitrary military detention, expulsions and home demolitions with impunity, according to documentation collected by Defense for Children International - Palestine.

Part 1: Israeli forces bombarded the Gaza Strip for 11 days in May, killing 60 Palestinian children

Israeli forces killed 60 children during Israel’s military assault on the Gaza Strip dubbed Operation Guardian of the Walls, according to documentation collected by DCIP. During the 11-day military assault between May 10 and 21, Israeli forces killed Palestinian children using tank-fired shells, live ammunition, and missiles dropped from weaponized drones and U.S.-sourced warplanes and Apache helicopters. 

DCIP determined that seven Palestinian children were killed by unguided rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups within the Gaza Strip during the 11-day escalation of violence. A total of 67 Palestinian children were killed during the military assault, according to evidence collected by DCIP.

Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip have lived through multiple Israeli military offensives.

At least 685 Palestinian children were injured during the May military offensive. At the height of the bombardment, 113,000 Palestinians in Gaza were forcibly displaced, and as of November, at least 8,250 remain displaced, according to UN OCHA.

International humanitarian law prohibits indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks and requires all parties to an armed conflict to distinguish between military targets, civilians, and civilian objects. Israel as the occupying power in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including the Gaza Strip, is required to protect the Palestinian civilian population from violence.

Part 2: Israeli forces targeted Palestinian children with excessive force making 2021 the deadliest year for Palestinian children since 2014

Israeli forces shot and killed 17 Palestinian children with live ammunition this year, 15 in the West Bank, and two in the Gaza Strip. Under international law, intentional lethal force is only justified in circumstances where a direct threat to life or of serious injury is present. However, investigations and evidence collected by DCIP regularly suggest that Israeli forces use lethal force against Palestinian children in circumstances that may amount to extrajudicial or wilful killings.

On May 17, 2021, Obaida Akram Abdurahman Jawabra, 17, was shot dead by Israeli forces with live ammunition in Al-Arroub refugee camp located near the southern occupied West Bank city of Hebron. Obaida sustained a gunshot wound to his chest during a demonstration at the entrance of the camp located near Route 60, the main route in the West Bank connecting Hebron and Jerusalem. An Israeli soldier deployed about 70 meters (230 feet) away fired the fatal shot, according to eyewitnesses interviewed by DCIP.

In 2018, as part of a relationship developed through DCIP’s provision of legal aid to Obaida and his family, Obaida agreed to be the subject of a short film produced by DCIP. The film OBAIDA by Matthew Cassel focused on Obaida’s experience as a Palestinian child arrested multiple times by Israeli forces and prosecuted in Israeli military courts.

Obaida Jawabra was imprisoned twice by Israeli authorities before he was 16 years old. Israeli forces shot and killed him on May 17, 2021.

Obaida was first arrested by Israeli forces when he was just 14 years old. He was detained and imprisoned by Israeli forces a second time the following year. Like the overwhelming majority of Palestinian children arrested by Israeli forces from the occupied West Bank, Obaida was accused of stone-throwing.

He was scheduled to graduate in June from a vocational cooking course at the Talitha Kumi Community College located in the West Bank town of Beit Jala, according to information collected by DCIP.

In June, Israeli forces shot and killed two Palestinian boys, Ahmad Zahi Ibrahim Bani-Shamsa, 15, and Mohammad Said Mohammad Hamayel, 16, in the occupied West Bank town of Beita, as they protested the establishment of a new illegal Israeli outpost, Evyatar, on lands belonging to Beita and two other Palestinian villages, Qabalan and Yatma. 

Ahmad Zahi Ibrahim Bani-Shamsa, 15, (left) and Mohammad Said Mohammad Hamayel, 16, (right) were both shot and killed by Israeli forces in their hometown of Beita in the occupied West Bank.

Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are illegal under international law. Israel’s policy of settling its civilians in occupied territory is a serious violation of international humanitarian law and amounts to a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Part 3: Israeli settlers emboldened by the state attacked Palestinian children and continued seizing Palestinian land and property

Expansion of illegal Israeli settlements throughout the occupied West Bank contributed to an escalation of Israeli settler violence against Palestinians, including children. Violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and their property is widespread and occurs daily throughout the West Bank. Israeli settlers perpetrate violence, damage and destroy Palestinian property, take over Palestinian land, and commit other offenses against Palestinian civilians living in the occupied West Bank. As of December 20, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs documented 450 settler attacks in 2021, a 26 percent increase over the previous year.

In 2021, DCIP documented 17 Israeli settler attacks in the occupied West Bank as of December 16. These attacks injured 24 Palestinian children between the ages of two and 17. Israeli settlers attacked Palestinian children by beating them, throwing stones, using pepper spray, terrorizing children while attacking their home, and shooting live ammunition. The attacks occurred in close proximity to a number of illegal Israeli settlements spanning the occupied West Bank. 

Israeli settlers from the Jewish-only Yitzhar settlement shot and injured two 17-year-old Palestinian boys, Shadi S. and Mahmoud S.*, around 2 p.m. on May 14 during a settler attack in the occupied West Bank village of Urif, located south of Nablus, according to documentation collected by DCIP. Dozens of Israeli settlers from the Yitzhar settlement, accompanied and protected by Israeli forces, attacked Palestinian residents and their homes with stones and live ammunition.

Yitzhar is widely known as a hotbed of Israeli settler violence against Palestinians. The illegal settlement was founded in 1983 as a military outpost that soon turned into a civilian settlement. Nearby villages previously used the land for agricultural purposes, and Palestinian villagers are frequently targeted with violence by Yitzhar settlers. The Od Yosef Chai yeshiva is based in Yitzhar and is known for encouraging its students to perpetrate violence against Palestinians. The yeshiva was previously located in Nablus until it moved to Yitzhar in 2000 during the Second Intifada.

Despite being civilians, Israeli settlers are issued firearms by the Israeli government and many subscribe to ultra-nationalistic beliefs that manifest in extreme violence towards Palestinians, including children. Israeli settlers who attack Palestinians are motivated by the drive to dispossess Palestinians of their land, according to Israeli human rights group Yesh Din.

Israeli settlers abducted and assaulted 15-year-old Tareq Z. on August 17 near Homesh, an evacuated Israeli settlement located south of the occupied West Bank city of Jenin. The settlers pursued and struck Tareq with their car, tied him to the vehicle’s hood, hung him by his arms from a tree, and beat him until he lost consciousness, according to information collected by DCIP. He awoke inside an Israeli military vehicle and was subsequently taken by a Palestinian ambulance to the Jenin governmental hospital where he was treated for his injuries including a fractured knee, according to documentation collected by DCIP.

“I looked around and saw around 70 settlers. Once they saw me, one of them hit me more than once with a metal bar on my back and legs,” Tareq recounted to a DCIP field researcher. “Then another settler came towards me and pepper sprayed me, while I was screaming and hurting. I was really scared.”

Israeli settlers tortured Tareq Z. for hours. In this video, he recounts the experience in his own words.

Despite living in the same territory, Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are subject to Israeli military law, while Israeli settlers living illegally in permanent, Jewish-only communities built on Palestinian land are subject to the Israeli civilian legal system. Since Israeli forces occupied the West Bank in 1967, Israeli authorities have established more than 200 Jewish-only settlements that house around 700,000 Israeli citizens, according to the Times of Israel. 

Impunity is rampant for Israeli settlers who attack Palestinians. According to Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, 91 percent of investigations into ideological crimes against Palestinians are closed with no indictments filed. 

Israeli authorities consistently fail to investigate complaints filed against settlers. According to Yesh Din, between 2005-2019, 82 percent of investigative files on ideological crimes against Palestinians were closed due to police failures.

Part 4: Despite COVID-19 pandemic, Israeli authorities held Palestinian children in administrative detention without charge

The COVID-19 pandemic did not prevent Israeli forces from continuing to detain, interrogate, prosecute, and imprison Palestinian children. DCIP estimates an average of 160 Palestinian children were held in Israeli military detention each month. Precise data is not available because the Israeli Prison Service has stopped releasing detainee headcounts on a monthly basis.

DCIP documented several cases like Mohammad's where a Palestinian child tested positive for COVID-19 while in Israeli military detention.

Israeli authorities held at least six Palestinian children in administrative detention, which is a form of imprisonment without charge or trial regularly used by Israeli authorities to detain Palestinians, including children. Palestinian children held under administrative detention orders are not presented with charges, and their detention is based on secret evidence that is neither disclosed to the child nor their attorney, preventing them from preparing a legal challenge to the detention and its alleged basis.

Two of the six Palestinian children held in administrative detention in 2021 have been released as of December 16, while four continue to be detained.

One Palestinian child held in administrative detention, 17-year-old Amal Nakhleh, suffers from myasthenia gravis, a rare chronic autoimmune, neuromuscular disease that causes muscle weakness, including in the muscles used for breathing and swallowing. His treatment requires ongoing medical treatment and that he takes medication regularly and without interruption. Israeli authorities have held Amal in administrative detention since January 21, 2021. 

17-year-old Amal Nakhleh, held in administrative detention, suffers from chronic autoimmune disease myasthenia gravis.

Regional military commanders issue administrative detention orders. Military court judges, who are active duty or reserve officers in the Israeli army, have the authority to approve administrative detention orders lasting up to six months. There is no limit to the number of times an administrative detention order can be renewed. As a result, children held in administrative detention face the added uncertainty of indefinite imprisonment, in addition to the ordinary struggles child prisoners face. 

Between 2012 and 2014, Israeli authorities briefly suspended the practice of detaining Palestinian children under administrative detention orders. However, since October 2015, DCIP has documented a total of 41 Palestinian children held by Israeli authorities pursuant to administrative detention orders, a practice that amounts to arbitrary detention under international law.

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) introduced H.R. 2590 on April 16, a bill that seeks to promote justice, equality, and human rights for Palestinian children and families by prohibiting Israeli authorities from using U.S. taxpayer funds to commit human rights abuses in the occupied West Bank. As of December 16, H.R. 2590 has 31 co-sponsors.

The Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act, or H.R. 2590, provides that no U.S. funds to the Israeli government may be used to support the military detention or ill-treatment of Palestinian children; the seizure, appropriation, or destruction of Palestinian property and forcible transfer of civilians in the occupied West Bank; or to facilitate further unilateral annexation of Palestinian land by the Israeli government in violation of international humanitarian law.

The bill establishes annual certification and reporting obligations on the Secretary of State to show that no U.S. funds have been used by the Israeli government to support the prohibited activities included in the legislation. The McCollum bill also requires oversight reporting detailing the Israeli government’s human rights violations against Palestinians.

The legislation also calls for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a legislative branch government agency that provides auditing, evaluation, and investigative services for lawmakers, to submit a report to Congress detailing Israel’s expenditures for offshore procurement. 

On November 20, World Children’s Day, DCIP premiered a new documentary featuring the experiences of three Palestinian children detained by the Israeli military. More than 300 individuals from around the world attended the virtual premiere. 

Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes between 500 and 700 children in military courts each year that lack fundamental fair trial rights.

Part 5: Israeli authorities escalated delegitimization campaign against Palestinian civil society by criminalizing and outlawing six prominent organizations

2021 marked a sharp escalation in Israeli authorities’ campaign to delegitimize Palestinian civil society, culminating in the designation of DCIP and five other Palestinian civil society organizations as “terrorist organizations” on October 22, 2021.

Israeli paramilitary border police forces raided DCIP’s headquarters located in Al-Bireh’s Sateh Marhaba neighborhood, located just south of Ramallah around 5:15 a.m. on July 29. More than a dozen Israeli soldiers forced open the office’s locked front door and confiscated six desktop computers, two laptops, hard drives, and client files related to Palestinian child detainees represented by DCIP’s lawyers in Israel’s military courts. No documents were left in the office to give any indication of the reason for the raid, and they did not leave behind any receipt of materials seized.

Video surveillance footage from inside the DCIP office shows Israeli forces entering the premises at 5:15 a.m. The Israeli soldiers moved through the DCIP office gathering computers, laptops, and files, and then cut the closed-circuit television camera feed at 5:27 a.m.

On October 22, Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz announced that six Palestinian civil society organizations, including DCIP, were designated as “terrorist organizations” pursuant to a 2016 Israeli law. A military order followed on November 7, effectively outlawing these organizations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The military order effectively criminalizes the activities of these organizations and authorizes Israeli authorities to close their offices, seize their assets, and arrest and jail their staff members.

“Rather than demand Israeli forces end serious breaches of international law or that Israeli authorities hold perpetrators accountable, these rising conservative nationalist social forces in Israel, including government ministries and agencies, aim to silence and eliminate DCIP’s human rights work that exposes widespread human rights violations inherent in Israel’s military occupation of Palestinians,” DCIP’s General Director Khaled Quzmar said in a statement after the designation was announced. “We reject the Israeli government’s recent designation of DCIP as a 'terrorist organization' as it is another unjust action by Israeli authorities to criminalize and eliminate our lawful human rights and child protection work.”

Government and United Nations officials, including human rights experts, condemned the designation and called upon Israeli authorities to reverse the designation immediately and cease efforts to criminalize human rights work. Many solidarity statements were issued by trade unions, academics, editorial boards, human rights and development organizations, celebrities and artists, and individuals.

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) and nine other members of Congress introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives on October 28 condemning the Israeli government’s designation. As of December 14, the resolution has 11 co-sponsors.

Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights and humanitarian organizations face an increasingly difficult operating environment and shrinking civic space in Israel and the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Recent attempts to delegitimize humanitarian and human rights organizations operating in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in particular, have been on the rise in recent years, negatively impacting their ability to deliver assistance and advocate on behalf of Palestinian human rights.

Delegitimization attempts and disinformation have been advanced by a network of rising nationalist Israeli civil society organizations and associated organizations elsewhere, with the support of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These efforts take the form of targeted and organized defamation campaigns based on a range of allegations related to the violation of counter-terrorism legislation and international law. In most cases, if not all, these allegations are erroneous, misrepresent, and distort critical factual or legal elements.

DCIP demands the international community use all available means to hold Israeli authorities accountable for their targeted attacks and repression of Palestinian civil society organizations and to act to end international complicity and support to Israel’s apartheid regime.

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