This video, shot by the Research Journalism Initiative, shows Israeli soldiers using Palestinian children as human shields in Balata refugee camp near Nablus in the occupied West Bank in 2007.
Two more such incidents - in Tulkarm and Hebron - are reported in a new publication from the Israeli veterans’ organization Breaking The Silence with disturbing testimonies from Israeli soldiers about the maltreatment of Palestinian children under Israeli occupation.
Children are exposed to a harsh daily reality of constant friction with occupation forces, arrests, violence, intimidation and harassment. They are wounded or killed because soldiers ignore them at the scene of events, or by targeting them directly, sometimes at random. The disturbing actions the soldiers describe — some undoubtedly amounting to war crimes — took place in the occupied Palestinian territories between 2005-2011. This post is the first of two which summarize shocking examples of the abuse of children by Israeli forces.
Using children as human shields
Two soldiers testified how children were used as human shields. In Tulkarm in 2005, the “neighbor procedure” was used in an arrest mission.
Usually a resident of the neighboring house is summoned and required to enter the wanted person’s home and call all its inhabitants to come outside. “We got all the people out. No one was the wanted person. We feared he was still there, inside. So at first neighbors were used, then some kid. Bilal, I even recall his name. I remember because I got very angry over this. And they kept sending him into that house to check that no one was inside, open all the doors, turn on all the lights, open all the windows.”
“So there’s a school there. We’d often provoke riots there. We’d be on patrol, walking in the village, bored, so we’d trash shops, find a detonator, beat someone to a pulp, you know how it is,” said a soldier relating incidents in Hebron in 2006-2007. “Search, mess it all up. Say we’d want a riot? We’d go up to the windows of a mosque, smash the panes, throw in a stun grenade, make a big boom, then we’d get a riot,” he continued.
Once, “We fired a lot of rubber ammo. A lot. Every time we’d catch Arab kids, hold them like this, with stones, like retards. You know, so that the others would throw stones at them, not at us.” When asked if the children were turned in human shields, the soldier replied “Yes.” The kids cannot run away, he explains, because they will be badly beaten. “You catch him, push the gun against his body, he can’t make a move, he’s totally petrified.”
Use of handcuffs for torture
In 2009, the Israeli army’s Kfir Brigade was ordered to take over a school in the town of Salfit in the occupied West Bank and turn it in into a detention facility. Anyone between 17 and 50 years had to be arrested to collect information for the Shabak (Israel Security Agency), however, even 14-year-old children were brought in.
People arrived blindfolded and shackled. “There are soldiers who know what the point of the [plastic] handcuff is, and then there are others, who think that it is meant as a device to stop blood flow from the wrist to the fingertips. [T]hey think it should be on so tight that no blood can get through.”
Many people were very tightly shackled “and they were begging to be released just a bit. Eventually, after they cried and complained, the company commander ordered them released, and after a while [about seven hours] they even had their hands in front instead of behind their backs. It takes time for hands to turn blue. Not everyone had blue hands, but many people already turned numb.”
The operation lasted from morning until noon the next day. Detainees had to stay the whole time blindfolded and shackled in the sun. When they asked to go to the bathroom, they were beaten to pulp and cursed at for no reason by the soldiers who took them there. A 15-year-old child was taken the bathroom “to piss and a soldier slapped him, took him down to the ground while he was shackled and blindfolded. Just like that, because he is an Arab.”
“Choose someone, aim at his body.”
A soldier who served during 2006-2007 in Nablus explains that when children hit you with stones, you don’t get out of the jeep. “You shoot through the loophole.” Asked “Do you choose some kid at random?” a soldier replied “Yes. Choose someone, aim at his body.”
“I remember one time we put a kid down. We didn’t kill him but someone hit the kid in the chest and he fell and probably lost consciousness, or at least, it was pretty close. About 10 meters.”
The soldier stated that his brigade was not instructed in how to use rubber ammunition. “There are rules. They tell you to shoot four. There’s this cluster of rubber bullets, pieces with four parts, packed in a kind of nylon. You can break it in two, so it’s stronger and flies further. As soon as it’s four it’s less strong and flies less far. We’d usually break it in half. [W]e figured it out ourselves. It’s something that’s common knowledge in the army.”
Interviewer: “As soon as this pack of rubber bullets is broken in half, it becomes lethal.
Soldier: “Really? Well, that’s what we did.”
Interviewer: “We did, too. As soon as the ‘tampons’ are separated, they’re lethal. The nylon must not be removed.”
Soldier: “Not removed?!”
Soldier: “We barely fired a whole cluster, I mean four. It’s like you want to save ammo, too.”
Violence against Palestinian children
The booklet presents numerous examples of shocking violence against children.
- “At first you point your gun at some five-year-old kid, and feel bad afterward, saying it’s not right. Then you get to a point where… you get so nervous and sick of going into a village and getting stones thrown at you. But it’s obvious, you’re inside the village, you’ve just passed the school house, naturally the kids will throw stones at you. Once my driver got out, and without blinking, just grabbed some kid and beat him to a pulp. And that kid was just sitting in the street and looked like some other kid, or wore another kid’s shirt, or perhaps he was that kid but that’s not the point” (Nablus in 2005).
- “We’d go on two night patrols in the designated area. I was driving and suddenly I see some Arab boy, about 18 years old, with his face mangled, really bad. He had a black eye, his lip was torn, in really bad shape. So I stop, offer him water, and he points at my jeep and say the license plate number was 06543, so he goes: “No, 0666 hit me.” I don’t understand what he wants from me and then the other jeep arrives. The sergeant in it says: “See how I handled him?” (Bethlehem 2006-2007).
- “Kids would throw stones at us, we’d catch some kid who happened to be there and beat him to a pulp. Even if he didn’t throw stones. He would know who did. ‘Who is it? Who is it?’ Finally he’d tell us who did it.” The soldiers gives an example of the heavy beating of 10-year-old child which is suspected of throwing stones. “That commander had no mercy. Really. Anyway the kid could no longer stand on his feet and was already crying. He couldn’t take it anymore. He cried. The commander shouted: ‘Stand up!’ Tried to make him stand but he couldn’t. He really couldn’t. From so much beating he just couldn’t stand up. The commander goes: ‘Don’t put on a show,’ and kicks him some more.” In response to the question “If I were a Palestinian, what would I get beaten up for?”, a soldier replies “It was enough for you to give us a look that we didn’t like, straight in the eye, and you’d be hit on the spot. We got to such a state and were so sick of being there, you know what I mean” (Hebron 2006-2007).
- “There was another instance of a 14-year old, an illegal alien. He was detained, kept on the side, so he stood there and hummed to himself. This annoyed one of the guys. He went up to him and said: ‘Something amusing you?’ The kid said: ‘Yes, gotta keep my spirits up.’ ‘Spirits up, eh?’ and the soldier slapped his face” (Tulkarm 2008).
- A commander who wanted to to detain a child, “tore him away from his dad’s leg and we put the kid in the jeep. I did nothing at that point. At the end of the day, something has to make these kids stop throwing stones on the road because they can kill. That specific kid who actually lay there on the ground, begging for his life, was actually nine years old. I think of our kids, nine years old, and a kid handling this kind of situation, I mean, a kid has to beg for his life? A loaded gun is pointed at him and he has to plead for mercy? This is something that scars him for life” (Qalqiliya 2007).
- Following a riot at Qalandiya, there was an ambush put up in an abandoned house in Ramallah. “Soldiers got out with army clubs and beat people to a pulp. Finally the children who remained on the ground were arrested. The order was to run, make people fall to the ground. There was a 10-12 man team, 4 soldiers lighting up the area. People were made to fall to the ground, and then the soldiers with the clubs [a 30 centimeters long wooden club] would go over to them and beat them. A slow runner was beaten, that was the rule. We were told not to use it on people’s heads. I don’t remember where we were told to hit, but as soon as a person on the ground is beaten with such a club, it’s difficult to be particular” (Ramallah 2006-2007).
My next post will contain examples related to arrests and detention of Palestinian children, the order to shoot in case of suspicion of Molotov cocktails, and the practice of documenting abuse.