Year-in-review: Israeli forces carry out genocide against Palestinian children

Dec 14, 2023
Palestinians check the damage at the Shehada family home destroyed in Israeli bombardment in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on December 14, 2023. (Photo: Mahmud Hams / AFP

Ramallah, December 14, 2023—This year has no comparison in the history of Israeli forces’ efforts to exert total control over the Palestinian people and violate children’s rights. Throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, including the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Israeli forces killed Palestinian children at an unfathomable, unprecedented rate.

“It has never been more clear that Palestinian children are targets as Israeli forces pursue a deliberate and systematic campaign across the occupied West Bank and Gaza to destroy Palestinian life,” said Khaled Quzmar, general director at Defense for Children International - Palestine. “Unlawful killing, torture, and other atrocity crimes were the norm for Palestinian children in 2023, forced to endure unrelenting Israeli military occupation and aggression with no end in sight.”

Part 1 Israeli forces kill thousands of Palestinian children in Gaza and create a humanitarian catastrophe

Israeli forces have killed at least 7,870 Palestinian children in Gaza since the Israeli military unleashed a massive military offensive on the Gaza Strip on October 7, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza. Thousands more are reported missing under the rubble, most of whom are presumed dead.

The death toll is expected to rise dramatically as Israeli authorities cut off Palestinians in Gaza from food, water, electricity, medical supplies, and fuel and Israeli forces continue indiscriminate and direct attacks against residential buildings and civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, bakeries, solar panels, water stations, and agricultural land. 

The health care system in Gaza has totally collapsed as Israeli forces besiege major hospitals, force doctors and patients to evacuate at gunpoint, and indiscriminately and directly attack health care infrastructure, including hospitals, clinics, ambulances, and health care workers. Israeli authorities have prevented the entrance of fuel to the Gaza Strip, meaning hospitals operated on backup generators before running out of fuel and electricity entirely.

About 85 percent of Palestinians in Gaza, or about 1.9 million people, are displaced, according to UN OCHA. Israeli military evacuation orders and the expanded ground invasion have pushed many Palestinians south to Khan Younis and Rafah. About 1.2 million displaced Palestinians are staying in 156 UNRWA facilities, mostly schools.

Many displaced Palestinians in crowded shelters are suffering from respiratory infections, chickenpox, lice, and scabies. The World Health Organization has reported record cases of diarrhea resulting from lack of clean drinking water, and warn that a cholera outbreak could spread rapidly. There are also recent reports of a potential hepatitis A outbreak, according to UN OCHA.

DCIP alongside Palestinians in Gaza is suing the Biden administration today for failure to prevent the genocide of the Palestinian people.

The lawsuit, filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights in a federal court in California, asks the courts to stop President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken, and Secretary of Defense Austin from continuing to provide weapons, military funding, and diplomatic support to Israel as U.S. government officials have a legal duty to prevent genocide.

The lawsuit argues that the Biden administration is in violation of customary international law, codified in the 1948 Genocide Convention and the Genocide Convention Implementation Act passed by Congress in 1988.

Under international law, genocide is prohibited and constitutes the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group, in whole or in part. Genocide can result from killing or by creating conditions of life that are so unbearable it brings about the groups destruction.

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. Deploying explosive weapons in densely-populated civilian areas constitutes indiscriminate attacks and carrying out direct attacks against civilians or civilian objects amounts to war crimes.

Israeli authorities have imposed a closure policy against the Gaza Strip since 2007 by strictly controlling and limiting the entry and exit of individuals; maintaining harsh restrictions on imports including food, construction materials, fuel, and other essential items; as well as prohibiting exports. Israel continues to maintain complete control over the Gaza Strip’s borders, airspace, and territorial waters.

Part 2 Israeli-fired live ammunition, drone strikes, U.S.-sourced Apache attack helicopter missiles, and airstrikes kill Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank

In 2023, Israeli forces and settlers killed at least 121 Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank, according to documentation collected by DCIP.

Israeli forces and settlers shot and killed 103 Palestinian children with live ammunition, according to documentation collected by DCIP.

Israeli forces killed Palestinian children in aerial attacks in the northern occupied West Bank for the first time since the Second Intifada in the early 2000s. 18 Palestinian children were killed in aerial attacks by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank, according to documentation collected by DCIP. 13 Palestinian children were killed in drone strikes, four Palestinian children were killed by missiles fired from a U.S.-sourced Apache attack helicopter, and one child was killed in an Israeli warplane airstrike.

81 Palestinian children have been killed in the occupied West Bank since October 7, according to documentation collected by DCIP, when the Israeli military began a full-scale military offensive on the Gaza Strip dubbed Operation Iron Swords.

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.

Rampant settler violence

Emboldened by the Israeli government and military, Israeli settlers across the occupied West Bank attacked Palestinians with impunity. In one case where a Palestinian child was shot and killed this year, DCIP was unable to determine whether the fatal bullet was fired by an Israeli settler or soldier.

17-year-old Obada Sa’ed Awad Abu Srour.

17-year-old Obada Sa’ed Awad Abu Srour was shot in the back around 3 p.m. on October 11 in the Palestinian village of Qusra, southeast of Nablus in the northern occupied West Bank, according to documentation collected by DCIP. At least seven armed Israeli settlers from the nearby Esh Kodesh settlement, accompanied by Israeli soldiers, entered the village of Qusra and attacked a Palestinian family’s home. Palestinians confronted the group of Israeli settlers and soldiers, who fired live ammunition indiscriminately at Palestinians. A bullet struck Obada in the back and exited his chest. He was transferred to Salfit Government Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. 

Settler attacks usually entail groups of Israeli men throwing stones at Palestinians, often including children, or vandalizing property, such as homes, cars, churches, mosques and schools. Beatings and shootings, resulting in injuries and occasionally fatalities, are also regular occurrences, according to documentation collected by DCIP. 

While they are 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.

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.

Denying access to paramedics and ambulances

Israeli forces routinely prevent or deny paramedics and ambulances from providing aid to wounded Palestinians, including children, according to documentation collected by DCIP. 

In 2023, DCIP documented 38 cases where a Palestinian child was killed and Israeli forces prevented paramedics or ambulances from reaching the wounded child to provide medical care. 21 such cases occurred since October 7. 

Mahmoud Khaled Mahmoud Abu Al-Haija, 17.

Mahmoud Khaled Mahmoud Abu Al-Haija, 17, was shot in the abdomen while he was standing at a window inside his house in the Al-Zahra neighborhood, south of Jenin refugee camp, around midnight, according to documentation collected by DCIP. An Israeli sniper stationed in a building across the street about 300 meters (984 feet) away shot Mahmoud, then Israeli forces entered his family’s apartment. Israeli forces searched the apartment, confiscating Mahmoud’s cell phone and identity card, as Mahmoud’s father called an ambulance. When the ambulance arrived outside the building, Israeli soldiers searched the paramedics and prevented them from reaching Mahmoud for about 40 minutes. Eventually, the ambulance brought Mahmoud to Al-Razi Hospital, where he was pronounced dead around 1 a.m.

Part 3 Business as usual for Israeli forces arbitrarily detaining, torturing, prosecuting, and imprisoning Palestinian children in military detention

DCIP estimates an average of 165 Palestinian children were held in Israeli military detention each month in 2023. Each year, Israeli forces detain between 500 and 700 Palestinian children and prosecute them in military courts.

Children typically arrive at interrogation bound, blindfolded, frightened, and sleep-deprived. Children often give confessions after verbal abuse, threats, physical and psychological violence that in some cases amounts to torture. 

Israeli military law provides no right to legal counsel during interrogation, and Israeli military court judges seldom exclude confessions obtained by coercion or torture.

From testimonies of 75 Palestinian children detained by Israeli forces from the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, DCIP found that:

  • 61 percent experienced physical violence following arrest
  • 96 percent were hand-tied
  • 88 percent were blindfolded
  • 47 percent were detained from their homes in the middle of the night
  • 69 percent faced verbal abuse, humiliation, or intimidation
  • 65 percent were subject to at least one strip search
  • 71 percent were denied adequate food and water
  • 65 percent of children were not properly informed of their rights
  • 97 percent were interrogated without the presence of a family member
  • 95 percent were not informed of the reason for their arrest
  • 37 percent were subject to stress positions
  • 43 percent were shown or signed documents in Hebrew, a language most Palestinian children don’t understand
  • 24 percent were isolated in solitary confinement for two or more days

The average amount of time that a Palestinian child detainee was isolated in solitary confinement in 2023 was 26 days, according to evidence collected by DCIP. The longest period of solitary confinement documented by DCIP was 40 days in 2023.

Israeli authorities held at least 36 Palestinian children in administrative detention in 2023, according to documentation collected by DCIP. Administrative detention is a form of imprisonment without charge or trial regularly used by Israeli authorities to arbitrarily 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.

Israeli forces escalated arrest operations throughout the occupied West Bank after October 7, arresting more than 200 Palestinian children to interrogate, prosecute, and imprison in the Israeli military detention system, according to estimates by DCIP.

DCIP estimates that 130 Palestinian child prisoners were released by Israeli forces as part of a truce agreement with Hamas in November, including 17 children in administrative detention. 

DCIP published a report on May 31, 2023, titled “Arbitrary by Default,” asserting that Israeli authorities' systematic denial of fair trial rights to Palestinian children detained by Israeli forces from the occupied West Bank and prosecuted in Israeli military courts constitutes arbitrary detention.

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