When Palestinian boys, the majority teenagers, stand up to protect their homes and land, the Israeli army responds by beating them, and throwing stun grenades and tear gas at them. It is nothing short of a full-scale assault.
“The majority of the Palestinian children who are targeted by the Israeli occupation forces are young males,” says Ayed Abu Eqtaish, the accountability programme director at Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCIP).
According to a DCIP report, 15 Palestinian children have been killed by occupation forces since the start of the year.
The victims included: Muhammad Akram Ali Abu Salah, 16, Sanad Muhammad Khalil Abu Attia, 16, Muhammad Hussein Muhammad Qassem, 16, Shawkat Kamal Shawkat Abed, 17 and Amjad Walid Hussein Fayed, 16.
DCIP added that on 13 February an Israeli sniper shot 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Salah, a resident of Al-Yamoun village in Jenin, in the eye, killing him.
“The violation against Palestinian children’s rights are caused by the presence of the Israeli occupation forces in the occupied Palestinian territories,” says Ayed.
Despite the many legal instruments and the standards that the international community has tried to put in place to protect the rights of children, the amount of child violations is getting increasingly worse over the years.
“For example, last year we documented the killing of 78 Palestinian children at the hands of the Israeli army. Sixty-one of those children were from the Gaza Strip and 17 were from the West Bank.”
“Sixty of the 61 children who were killed in the Gaza Strip were killed during the military assault against Gaza in May 2021. But most importantly, we see from our documentation that there was no need to shoot to kill towards Palestinian children, because they did not pose any threat to the lives of the Israeli soldiers.”
Israeli air and artillery strikes during the 11-day assault killed 253 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,900 people.
DCIP documents the arrest, injury, death and incarceration of Palestinian children and youth, and offers legal defence to those prosecuted in Israeli military courts.
“During the last ten years, only one Israeli soldier has been indicted for the killing of a Palestinian child, for which the punishment he received is less severe than what a Palestinian child is punished with for throwing a stone at an Israeli vehicle.”
For Ayed, this is a painful but perfect microcosm of Israel’s policy of total impunity and its corrupt legal system, and of the bitter frustrations of the Palestinians’ struggle to live in their homes on their land.
The main issue, he explains, is centred around the level of accountability and impunity the soldiers enjoy in the eyes of the international community. “International impunity is the backbone of Israel’s occupation,” he stated.
Soldiers serving in the occupied territories know very well that nearly anything they do will be excused. They will never be punished, not by Israel, not by its authorities nor by anyone else.
The occupation forces’ killings, nightly raids and arrests and detentions without trial, collective punishment, home demolitions, land confiscation, settlement expansion and exploitation of natural resources are repeatedly left unchecked.
Data collected by Israeli rights group Yesh Din shows that only two per cent of complaints against Israeli soldiers filed by Palestinians lead to indictments. Meanwhile, over 80 per cent of cases are closed without a criminal investigation ever taking place.
“Despite the many violations of international human rights laws, Israel has not been held to account for any of its brutal practices and believes its has a green light to proceed in its killing and violating the rights of Palestinian civilians, including minors.”
Adding to its neglect, Ayes accused the international community of openly applying double standards in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. There is no difference between Moscow’s invasion of Kyiv, he explains, and Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian lands.
“There is no political will from the international community to abide by its legal obligation, which is to punish and sanction Israel for its illegal practices. All it’s doing is sacrificing its human rights responsibilities in order to maintain good political and diplomatic relations with Israel.”
He also called out the UN for failing to punish Israel accordingly, particularly for refusing to
include Israel in its list of violators of children’s rights and report on Children and Armed Conflict, after one of the deadliest Israeli wars on Gaza in 2014.
“The number of Palestinian children who were killed that year was the biggest on the international level and despite our persistence to the UN to add Israel to the list of armies and armed groups who violate the rights of children, they repeatedly declined.”
Every year, DCIP collects hundreds of statements from Palestinian children who were arrested and subjected to long periods of interrogation without the presence of a parent, guardian or lawyer.
Children are often coerced into signing false confessions, in documents written in Hebrew, a language most Palestinian children do not understand.
Moreover, while Israeli military and civilian law stipulates the minimum age of criminal responsibility as 12 years old, DCIP says that Israeli forces routinely detain Palestinian children younger than this.
“The statements we collect give an idea how the system is operating and the types of ill treatment and torture the children are exposed to, which we then use to compose our advocacy campaigns,” says Ayed.
What we found is from the moment of their arrest, Palestinian children encounter ill-treatment and torture at the hands of Israeli forces. Three out of four experience physical violence during arrest or interrogation, involving slapping, kicking, punching and forcing children to sit in stress positions.
All the while, children detained by Israel also suffer from intense psychological abuse, consisting of solitary confinement, threats against their family and intimidation and being jailed without conviction under administrative detention.
Moreover, there are no counsellors in the prisons and, despite their age, they are often held alongside Israeli criminals. Their arrests are frequently at night and involve inhumane means of restraint and transport intended to destroy their spirit. The whole process has a profound psychological, physical and social effect on them.
“Psychological methods of torture are used to put as much pressure on the person, who is under interrogation, as possible to break their resistance,” explains Ayed.
“We believe that every child who passes through this system will be psychologically affected, because Israel’s whole system is designed to attack not only physically, but mentally and the psychological well-being of these children. They want to break them from within.”