'The occupation is violent': Palestinian children pay a high price in Israel's crackdown

6 min read
09 August, 2021

Palestinian children are being increasingly arrested, imprisoned, attacked and even killed by Israeli forces.

In just a one-week period in late July, two children, 12 and 17, were killed by Israeli army gunfire while a third, 17, succumbed to injuries received after being shot in May.

Most recently, 12-year-old Mohammad Al-Alami died on 28 July after Israeli troops shot at his father's car, which he was inside in the occupied West Bank town of Beit Ummar.

Jason Lee, Palestine director for Save the Children (STC), said in a statement: "Three children shot in the chest, neck and back: [it] is totally unacceptable that any life should be cut short so young.

"Israel's security forces have now shot and killed 11 Palestinian children this year in the West Bank"

"The loss of these children will leave lasting emotional scars on their family and friends".

With Al-Alami's death, Israel's security forces have now shot and killed 11 Palestinian children this year in the West Bank, Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCIP), the Palestinian wing of a global children's rights movement, said.

This comes after Israel bombed Gaza for 11 days in May, killing 66 children, the Gaza-based health ministry said. In addition, 450 other children were injured.

The number of children killed in Gaza alone is almost double the 35 Palestinian minors killed by the Israeli state's security forces in 2019 and 2020 combined, based on data from Israeli rights group B'Tselem.

The escalation in Gaza and persistent West Bank anti-settlement protests could well be behind increases in violence and other abuses, STC senior Palestine advocacy officer Lana Ramadan said.

However, this is exacerbated by a fundamental societal problem. "At the end of the day… the occupation is violent, it's never been peaceful," Ramadan continued.

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DCIP general director Khaled Quzmar said Israeli troops "live under full impunity" from consequences. He suggested this gives them no reason to end the killings they commit.

Coming to occupied Palestine young and being given power for the first time, an Israeli soldier starts to "feel that he is a hero, so he can do what he want[s]", Quzmar added.

The number of Palestinian children detained by Israel in 2021 is also up on previous years.

In the first six months of 2021, 854 children were arrested, with 225 being held in prison as of early July, according to prisoners' rights organisations Addameer, the Palestinian Prisoners Club, the Prisoners Affairs Authority, and the Wadi Hilweh Information Center, or Silwanic.

The arrest figure is twice what it was at the same point last year, while there were 170 child prisoners at the end of 2020.

Although coronavirus somewhat impacted detentions, STC's Ramadan said, the number of children imprisoned as of early July is still greater than at the end of 2019, before Covid-19 was first identified in Palestine-Israel.

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Israeli security forces routinely arrest Palestinian children. [Getty]

Meanwhile, the number of arrests for the whole of 2019 was only slightly above what 2021 has so far seen, at 889.

Ramadan said Palestinian children face numerous rights violations while in the military judicial and prison system Israel uses on Palestinian civilians in the West Bank. Israeli settlers, whose outposts go against international law, are not subject to military prosecution.

In the military system, the age of criminal responsibility is 12, whereas in the Israeli civil system, it's 14.

While being held, children are frequently beaten, denied healthcare, food and water, placed in solitary confinement and sometimes even attacked with dogs. The results are catastrophic.

"We've seen isolation, we've seen… their relationship with their families, their peers being affected, we've seen depression," Ramadan explained.

Their schooling also often suffers.

Arrested at the age of 16, Amir was released after six months' detention and then attempted to resume his education. He was informed he had to make up for missed schooling.

"He didn't want to repeat his class… he's already going through a lot of psychological trauma… and doesn’t wanna be with the younger children," Ramadan said. "He ended up dropping out of school".

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Amir now has a factory job.

DCIP's Quzmar said Israel often targets children for arrest. "It's easy to deal with a child… he is not aware about his rights".

Children often give implausible confessions, including by implicating many others, the NGO leader added. 

Frustrated at daily Israeli abuses and violent domination, children often find themselves in confrontations with security forces which then lead to their arrest.

Quzmar noted how some Palestinian youths reacted after Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, was kidnapped and brutally murdered in 2014 by a group of Israeli extremists.

"For [these children]… life, and to… die is the same. So, they tried to take their own action".

DCIP does not support such tactics.

Meanwhile, occupied East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood is fighting legal efforts to expel Palestinians from their homes in favour of Israeli settlers.

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This is despite them having lived there for decades after becoming refugees during Israel's creation in 1948.

Although everyone suffers, children face specific challenges in heavily policed Sheikh Jarrah, said resident and youth committee member Tawfiq Al-Jaouni, 36, whose family is currently fighting expulsion in court.

Younger children don’t have full IDs, but instead have a paper document called a koshan displaying basic information like their name and date of birth which, being children, is often lost or not with them.

This poses problems when Israeli officers ask them for ID even to enter their own neighbourhood.

"Sometimes they cry, and then they will get arrested," Al-Jaouni said. "We tell his parents. His parents come to the police station and just wait outside for hours and they get him out after that".

Sheikh Jarrah has come under further police and army repression since around March, according to Al-Jaouni.

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This coincided with the latest expulsion attempts against 13 families proceeding through the legal system and the resultant media attention.

Tear gas, police raids and arrests are common. Children are physically pushed by Israeli officers, Al-Jaouni said, and this environment causes serious psychological damage.

Al-Jaouni recounted a recent Israeli security house raid.

"There's children over there. Imagine they're sleeping and they wake up… suddenly. Imagine… what the child will be… thinking".

He said some children request psychological help due to nightmares. Facing the threat of expulsion also has serious emotional consequences for children.

"They feel so bad. They cry, they say they don’t want to leave their houses – 'This is my house'," Al-Jaouni noted.

Amid all the violence Palestinian children experience, their defenders at DCIP were recently also targeted. The organisation's Al-Bireh head office was stormed by Israeli security forces at about 5.15am on 29 July.

Several computers and documents were removed, though DCIP claimed no list of what was taken or notice giving justification for the raid was left.

CCTV shows "more than a dozen" kitted-out officers in the building, even though it is in Area A of the West Bank, meaning it is supposedly completely under Palestinian Authority administration.

According to Quzmar, an Israeli army legal adviser on Wednesday provided the military court at the Ofer army base reasoning for the raid.

"We've seen isolation, we've seen… their relationship with their families, their peers being affected, we've seen depression"

This concerned "new media information" that DCIP had "materials" related to a past or possible future "attack against the security", Quzmar maintained.

He said it was alleged this may be connected to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which Israel considers a terror group.

DCIP has for years been repeatedly accused of PFLP links, and Quzmar rejects both this allegation and any claim his organisation is involved with violence.

In a statement, he called the office raid part of "an ongoing campaign to silence and eliminate Palestinian civil society and human rights organizations".

Quzmar told The New Arab he believes DCIP is being targeted because of its growing overseas advocacy, particularly in the US, and since it's a children's rights group.

"When we present the violation[s], the crimes against children… [there is] more sympathy. Nobody believe[s] why they are doing that with the Palestinian children".

The Israeli army declined to comment.

Featured image credit: Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Nick McAlpin is a journalist at The New Arab.

Follow him on Twitter: @NickGMcAlpin