Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Israeli forces committed grave violations against Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip throughout 2020 at rates comparable to previous years.
Part 1 Israeli military detention: business as usual despite pandemic
Ramallah, December 31, 2020—In 2020, DCIP documented 79 Palestinian child detention cases from the West Bank that detail widespread and institutionalized ill-treatment of Palestinian child detainees.
The vast majority, nearly 85 percent, said they were physically abused by Israeli forces during the course of their detention. Every child detainee had their hands bound; 68 percent had their legs shackled, and 91 percent were blindfolded, according to documentation collected by DCIP.
The majority of children, nearly 57 percent, were arrested from their homes at night, and 76 percent were not told why they were being detained.
Israeli authorities imprisoned an average of 167 Palestinian children each month between January and September 2020, according to Israel Prison Service (IPS) data. Comparatively, during 2019, Israeli authorities imprisoned an average of 198 Palestinian children in the Israeli prison system each month.
DCIP documented 27 cases where Israeli authorities held Palestinian children in isolation for interrogation purposes for two days or more, a practice that amounts to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. The longest period of isolation that DCIP documented in 2020 was 32 days.
Israeli authorities held an average of two Palestinian children pursuant to administrative detention orders each month. Administrative detention is a form of imprisonment without charge or trial.
Palestinian children detained by Israeli forces and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system have no right to have a lawyer or a family member present during interrogations.
Since 1967, Israel has operated two separate legal systems in the same territory. In the occupied West Bank, Israeli settlers are subject to the civilian and criminal legal system whereas Palestinians live under military law.
Israel applies civilian criminal law to Palestinian children in East Jerusalem. No Israeli child comes into contact with the military courts.
Israel has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes approximately 700 children each year in military courts lacking fundamental fair trial rights.
COVID-19: Palestinian child prisoners languish in deteriorating conditions
In 2020, DCIP confirmed at least three Palestinian child detainees tested positive for COVID-19 while in Israeli custody. The most recent case is a 14-year-old Palestinian boy detained by Israeli forces from the occupied West Bank village of Beit Ummar on December 27, just days ago. The first case, confirmed by DCIP in August, involved a 15-year-old Palestinian boy detained by Israeli forces in July from Al Jalazoun refugee camp located north of the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah. The second case involved a 14-year-old boy detained by Israeli forces in September from the occupied West Bank city of Hebron.
Extensive documentation by DCIP shows that Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system live in close proximity, often in compromised sanitary conditions. They typically have little or no access to resources with which to maintain basic hygiene practices, including practices that reduce the spread of COVID-19.
On March 19, DCIP called on Israeli authorities to immediately release all Palestinian child detainees in Israeli prisons due to the rapid global spread of COVID-19.
In May, three United Nations officials called on Israeli authorities to release all child detainees and to end arrests during the pandemic. Nonetheless, Israeli authorities routinely detained Palestinian children throughout the year.
We continue to demand the release of all Palestinian child detainees and an end to the use of military detention against Palestinian children.
Several Palestinian children detained since the outbreak told DCIP that Israeli soldiers did not take precautionary measures to reduce the spread of the virus and did not wear masks or gloves. The children were not medically examined or tested for COVID-19 upon arrival at Israeli facilities and were placed inside rooms, including with other children, that did not contain cleaning supplies, hand soap, or adequate ventilation.
DCIP publishes report on the solitary confinement of Palestinian children
On December 2, DCIP published a 73-page report, “Isolated and Alone: Palestinian children held in solitary confinement by Israeli authorities for interrogation,” detailing and evaluating patterns of arrest, detention conditions, and interrogation practices by Israeli authorities.
Over a four-year period, between January 1, 2016, and December 31, 2019, DCIP documented 108 cases of Palestinian children detained in isolation by Israeli authorities.
This documentation overwhelmingly indicates that the isolation of Palestinian children within the Israeli military detention system is practiced solely to obtain a confession for a specific offense or to gather intelligence under interrogation. DCIP found no evidence demonstrating a legally justifiable use of isolation of Palestinian child detainees. The report concludes that Israel’s routine detention of Palestinian children in isolation solely for interrogation purposes is a practice that constitutes solitary confinement and amounts to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment under international law norms.
Part 2 Fatalities and injuries: Palestinian children targeted with excessive force
In 2020, DCIP documented the killing of nine children by Israeli forces, all of them boys aged between 14 and 17, including seven from the West Bank and two from 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 do not appear to be warranted and may amount to extrajudicial or wilful killings.
On December 4, Israeli forces shot and killed 15-year-old Ali Ayman Saleh Abu Alia as he observed clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian youth from the village of Al-Mughayyir, just northeast of the central West Bank city of Ramallah. Ali was shot in the abdomen with live ammunition and did not pose any threat to Israeli forces, according to documentation collected by DCIP.
On October 24, Amer Abdel-Rahim Snobar, 16, was beaten and killed by Israeli soldiers near the occupied West Bank village of Turmus’ayya. Amer had been helping his 17-year-old friend move a broken-down car around 10 p.m. when Israeli forces arrived. Amer was placed in a chokehold, then at least six other soldiers beat him, according to information collected by DCIP. His friend, who fled by foot and hid behind nearby trees, was an eyewitness to his killing.
Amer was transferred by ambulance to a hospital in Ramallah where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy at An-Najah National University Hospital in the northern West Bank city of Nablus found that he likely died from asphyxiation as a result of strangulation, according to information collected by DCIP. The autopsy also noted substantial bruising and wounds to his chest and abdominal area. Israeli authorities subsequently claimed that he was chased, fell, and injured himself and that Israeli authorities did not use excessive force.
DCIP documented incidents involving injury to 54 children by Israeli forces and settlers in 2020, including four cases involving Palestinian children under eight years old.
DCIP also documented the killing of 11-year-old Amaal al-Jamali by her father on July 9 in the eastern Gaza City neighborhood of Al-Tuffah. An autopsy revealed that Amaal suffered injuries to her head, hands, feet, and chest, including a skull fracture. In May, Adham Mahmoud Mohammad Al-Masri, 17, died from a gunshot wound in an apparent accident while stationed at a Palestinian armed group reconnaissance site in northern Gaza, according to an investigation by DCIP.
Part 3 Israeli authorities accelerate demolition of Palestinian homes
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and surging cases in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Israeli home demolitions accelerated in 2020, increasingly destroying much needed shelter for Palestinian families.
Between January 1 and December 17, 2020, Israeli authorities demolished 815 Palestinian-owned structures, including 151 donor-funded structures, in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, nearly a 31 percent increase from 2019, according to UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA). These demolitions displaced 173 households consisting of 974 people, including 505 children.
Palestinians in East Jerusalem were particularly impacted by Israeli home demolitions in 2020. DCIP documented 23 total demolitions of structures in East Jerusalem that displaced 155 Palestinians, including 87 children. In every case, the demolition was ordered due to a lack of building permits. The majority of these demolitions took place in the Silwan and Jabal Al-Mukaber neighborhoods.
The Jerusalem municipality has long excluded Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem from development plans rendering construction unlawful despite the fact that the Palestinian population there has grown more than fivefold since Israel unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem in 1967. Palestinians can apply to build within a mere 13 percent of East Jerusalem, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
Palestinians living in the northern Jordan Valley were, likewise, acutely impacted by demolitions in 2020. DCIP documented several demolitions in the northern Jordan Valley in 2020, including what UN OCHA has described as “the largest demolition in years.” On November 3, Israeli authorities razed the village of Khirbet Humsa Al-Fouqa. The demolition displaced 11 families consisting of 72 people, including 38 children, according to DCIP documentation. The families were given mere minutes to evacuate.
Israeli authorities reject the overwhelming majority of Palestinian applications for necessary building permits in Area C of the occupied West Bank. Consequently, Palestinians are forced to build homes without permits, leaving homes at constant risk of demolition by Israeli authorities and Palestinian property owners at risk of arrest.
DCIP also documented the demolition of 13 Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank by Israeli authorities, which displaced 86 people, including 44 children. Nine of these demolitions occurred in the southernmost West Bank governorate, Hebron.
Israel, as the occupying power, is obligated by international humanitarian law to protect the civilian occupied population and to refrain from destroying or seizing properties within occupied territory, yet, Israeli authorities utilize housing, land, and property laws and regulations to further expropriate Palestinian lands.
Part 4 With no power and no way out, Palestinian children in Gaza struggle
Electricity crisis costs Palestinian children an education; some, their lives
The spread of COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip exacerbated the challenges that Palestinians have routinely faced due to a protracted electricity crisis, and Palestinian children struggled more than usual to access their most basic rights.
Quarantine measures introduced in 2020 by the Hamas de facto government in the Gaza Strip meant that students were forced to study at home and participate in remote learning. However, due to lengthy power outages, most children were unable to access the internet and participate in online classes. When electricity was available, children told DCIP they found it difficult to participate in classes due to limited devices which they had to share with other children in the household.
On August 13, Israeli authorities banned the entry of fuel into the Gaza Strip, causing Gaza’s sole power plant to close on August 18. On September 1, three siblings were killed as they slept when their home caught fire after their father lit a candle, according to information collected by DCIP. The three brothers from the al-Hazin family, five-year-old Yousef, four-year-old Mahmoud, and two-year-old Mohammad, lived in Nuseirat refugee camp in Deir Al-Balah.
Israel’s closure policy in the Gaza Strip amounts to collective punishment against the civilian population, which is prohibited by international law, and restrictions on fuel imports and cuts to electricity have also been deemed unlawful.
At least two children died waiting for healthcare
Israel’s closure policy toward the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority’s decision to halt cooperation with Israeli authorities combined with the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in devastation for some Palestinian families in the Gaza Strip.
Eight-month-old Omar Yaghi was the first Palestinian patient in the Gaza Strip to die while waiting for an exit permit from Israeli authorities. Omar was born in October 2019 with a congenital heart defect in addition to torsion of the arteries and a hole in his heart. He was scheduled to have surgery at Tel HaShomer hospital near Tel Aviv on April 8, 2020, but Israeli entry restrictions due to COVID-19 and then the PA decision to halt cooperation with Israeli authorities twice delayed his surgery date. Omar died on June 18, awaiting a surgery that would have saved his life.
Anwar Harb, born on June 13, 2020, also had problems with his heart that required surgery. Anwar’s grandfather successfully acquired a referral to Caritas Baby Hospital in Bethlehem for June 22. Due to a lack of coordination between Israeli authorities and the Palestinian Ministry of Health, Palestinian Red Crescent Society, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, Anwar’s grandfather was forced to hire a private ambulance to transfer the infant. Just half an hour after he had arranged the ambulance’s exit from the Gaza Strip, he received a phone call from Al-Shifa Hospital, where Anwar was being ventilated in an intensive care unit, informing him that Anwar had passed away. He was only nine days old.
Gaza’s health sector has been in crisis for as long as Israel has maintained its closure policy, which includes restrictions on essential and lifesaving medical and pharmaceutical resources entering the Gaza Strip, as well as on patients and companions leaving to access healthcare.
During 2020, the prospect of obtaining a medical permit plummeted when the Palestinian Authority halted its security agreement with Israel on May 19, 2020, in response to Israel’s stated plans to further unlawfully annex parts of the occupied West Bank.
Every year, many thousands of Palestinians in Gaza seek Israeli-issued permits to access healthcare in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as well as Israel and Jordan. According to Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), in 2019, Israel denied 363 exit permit applications for children referred for medical treatment and delayed 1,763 applications for children past their appointment date.